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We were so lucky and honored to have the chance to try out an incredible homeschool curriculum this year from Geography Matters called Trail Guide to Learning. I have been searching for a curriculum that was focused solely on American history for our studies this year. I like to study history with a curriculum that is rich in literature and not full of a lot of prep work for me. As I looked into The Trail Guide to Learning Curriculum, I was pretty certain I had found something that would fit my family well. They VERY graciously agreed to work with me on a review (I received it for free in exchange for a review). We have been using it since the start of our school year (September) and I am really excited to finally share with you our experience with the curriculum.
Trail Guide to Learning is a comprehensive curriculum that can be used with multiple ages in your family. I am using it with 2nd and 4th graders this year and it is perfect! It is easily adaptable for older and younger kids, too. It covers history, geography, nature study, science, copywork, literature, writing, and even some art. There are even Bible supplements that go along with the curriculum. The curriculum is very literature rich with a focus on classic books. It is like a giant unit study with a Charlotte Mason flair. 🙂 It is based on the educational philosophies of Dr. Ruth Beechick. Her writings influenced my early homeschool choices, so I was thrilled to see her ideas being incorporated here.
We started with Paths of Exploration the first level for grades 3-5. The set came with a HUGE box of books, the teachers guide, maps, links to print student materials, and a disc with assessments as well as a disc for Bible study. This level has unit studies on 6 topics including Columbus, Jamestown, Pilgrims, Daniel Boone, Lewis & Clark and The Trails West. In the time we have been doing it we have gotten through the Columbus unit (30 lessons or 6-weeks) and are in the beginning parts of the Jamestown unit now. There are a few books that are the CORE of the curriculum that are used throughout including: The Paths of Exploration teacher texts, Profiles from History, Handbook of Nature Study, North American Wildlife Guide, Eat Your Way Around the World, Classroom Atlas, and also some large maps.
Since I am using the curriculum with two different levels of kids I was excited to see when I went to print the student materials that there are three different levels for the student notebooks. There were different level notebooks for 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade students. I printed different levels for my two kids and have been very pleased with the varying levels of work that they provided for my kids. The notebooks are digital files that you download and can reuse with later kids. They include all of the necessary activities of every lesson. You can print a little at a time or all at once. In the teacher’s guide, each section is marked with a symbol for each level so you know exactly what each student has in their books. I have my 2nd grader doing the 3rd grade level without too many difficulties. There are a few things that have been challenging for her that I help her with. There are also middle school supplements that can be used to make it more challenging and make it possible to be used with more of your kids. Also included in the digital files are some printable games and lapbooks to go along with each unit!
I am very much an open and go homeschool mom. if the curriculum takes very much pre-planning on my part, it ends up getting pushed aside for something more realistic. What I absolutely adore about this curriculum is that it is just that- open and go. I do not have to do any pre-planning or prep work. I open the teacher’s book, and it tells me just what to do that day. And it is predictable, easy, and realistic. The lessons really and truly fit our learning style.
Each Trail Guide to Learning lesson has the following components:
A. Copywork & Dictation: each day they have a piece of copywork (or dictation for older students) that they are to write. It is always something related to the unit. The Columbus unit focused on a poem about Columbus called a Journey of Adventure. Each day they had a stanza to write.
B. Reader: During this time students silently (or aloud for younger ones) read a chapter from the student reader for the unit. If students need more assistance, you can read it to them. These books are easier chapter books based on the topic of study. For the Columbus unit the student reader was Meet Christopher Columbus by James T. De Kay. My kids really enjoyed the book. Now that we are on to the Jamestown unit we are reading A Lion to Guard Us by Clyde Robert Bulla. The purpose of this part is not only to learn about the topic, but to practice fluency and comprehension. The books are all interesting literature that kids enjoy. They link real people to events and learn more from it.
C. Read-Aloud & Discussion: This section is for the parent to read to the kids a more complex text that is a little harder for them to read on their own. Following that are some discussion questions about the reading. The book I read to my kids for the Columbus unit was Christopher Columbus by Bennie Rhodes (from The Sowers series) and for the Jamestown unit we are reading Surviving Jamestown by Gail Langer Karwoski. Having two different books on the topic is a great way to get different perspectives on the subject and compare the different stories. There is also narration included in this section. You can have your kids tell you back the story to make sure they understand. This has provided us with some wonderful discussion times and really gives some great things to think and talk about together.
D. Word Study: This section has spelling words and vocabulary lessons that come from the text you read. They collect vocabulary words from the unit and use them to create their own stories, or make connections to things they are learning. There are also selling lists that help kids make connections to things they are reading and learn it in context.
E. Geography, History & Science: The whole curriculum is history focused, so these topics are being learned naturally through the literature, but dates and timelines are also discussed. There is a little geography in each lesson. The geography component is covered by using maps to fill in, geography terms, using a student atlas to learn about different areas around the world, cultures, and more. They work it in seamlessly with the history study and I love how easy and interesting it is to learn in this curriculum.
One of my favorite parts of this curriculum is how they tie in the science connections. Science is not covered every day, just in some of the lessons. I was THRILLED that they use the Handbook of Nature Study for a lot of the science lessons. I have been wanting to incorporate it into our homeschool, but it just so big and overwhelming. The science lessons give me ways to add in little bits of it and it fits right in with what we are learning. . They talk about astronomy, nature, animals, and more. They use observation sheets, drawing and describing to connect the science to what is happening in the history lessons. I love how it ties right in making perfect sense. Columbus needed to learn about astronomy to navigate a ship. He learned about new animals and plants on his journeys to the new world. Another wonderful text used is the North American Wildlife Guide. We use this to look up animals that Columbus write about in his discovery journals.
F. Writing, Drawing, Art & Doing: These parts vary in each lesson, but there is always one of these components as a part of them. There is story writing, thinking activities, and other ways that they incorporate writing skills into the curriculum. I love how they tie in drawing and tell kids that explorers and scientists need to learn to draw to keep records of their studies .here are some wonderful beginning drawing and art lessons included in the lessons. There are also some great activities included to enrich learning. I love how the activities are not overwhelming, but fit seamlessly in with the learning.
G. Independent Reading: this is quiet reading time that is incorporated into the student’s learning. They are given a reading log to keep track of how much reading they do. This is a great way to encourage more reading.
The Light for the Trail Bible supplement is an extra add on. It includes memory work, character traits, scripture passages to go along with each lesson, singing, worship time, and discussion. I think it is fabulous how they have created this extra resource. It makes the lessons so rich and full when you add in the faith component. However if you are not religious (or not Christian), this curriculum can still be used without the Bible supplement.
To purchase the full set it is $400. This may seem like an investment, but consider that this includes all of the teaching texts, the books for each unit, atlases, maps, and student materials. It is an all-inclusive set and it is worth every single penny. You can, however purchase the parts separately. I have been so happy with our Trail Guide curriculum and plan on using this for a long time!