Trail Guide to Learning is an American history and geography course that includes science, writing, spelling, copywork, logic, economics, art, music... everything but math (and presumably, the kitchen sink).
The series is built on the premise that learning comes from real books. A day-to-day lesson will consist of reading various resources and then referring back to the book for related activities. It's, quite literally, a "guide" for learning about multiple subjects in relation to geography, history, and language. There is a rather long resource list for each set (we have categories on our website of everything you'll need that we carry.)
One of the stated features of the series is its multi-level curriculum. It's designed so that the whole family can learn together (or at least, those between grades three through seven.)
How it works:
Currently there are three sets, with a middle school and high school series in the works. Designed for a 36-week school year, each set has six units, (though older editions of the first two levels come in two hardcover volumes, as does the third level) (update: a fourth set called Journeys through the Ancient World has been released; it has 4 volumes). Each unit has six lessons which are split into five parts—one for each day of the week. The course states that "flexibility is built in" and teachers are encouraged to do what's best for their schedule. However, the curriculum is fairly structured, so be prepared for that. As part of the multi-level approach, activities have icons next to them indicating the recommended levels.
This is essentially a literature-based course, so you'll have to gather the appropriate books for each lesson. The lesson begins with reading a passage from the relevant book, normally a biography or history book, followed by some copywork and dictation from the book. Students will do some discussion, narration, or reflective writing on the topics to "cement" the concepts being learned. This is followed by word studies (vocabulary, spelling, or grammar), a geography section, and a science section. The geography text is often written in the book itself to be read aloud.
After the history, geography, grammar, and science are completed for the day students are given activities to do—writing, drawing, art, mapmaking, games, music, or others. These include some fun ones like learning morse code, building model ships, weaving, or even a long project in Paths of Progress in which students make their own claymation video or flipbook. At the end of each lesson students are given a required independent reading time. They pick something they'd like to read, related or not to the lesson, and read for the required time (20-35 minutes.)
Over the course of the series students will put together a portfolio or student notebook of their copywork, maps, chart, and other activities. Some of this material is included in the resource CD and will need to be printed. You can buy preprinted student pages from Geography Matters. The appendix for each volume also contains a ton of teacher resources, including unit summaries that are checklists for teachers or students, teacher aides, planners, instructions. It also contains answers to games, instructions for activities, materials lists, and other resources.
Our honest opinion:
At first glance these books can look intimidating. The series is fairly teacher intensive—teachers are required to be involved and engaged all along the way. But this curriculum aims to equip the teachers, with margin notes that provide helpful hints on how to present the subjects being taught. These include commentary by Dr. Ruth Beechick of You Can Teach Your Child Succesfully.
A unique highlight of the course is the "tools for thinking" discussion questions at the beginning of each lesson. These attempt to place the whole learning process in the perspective of big picture ideas, showing how "systems and people work together". Critical thinking and discussion is woven into the heart of this curriculum, guiding students to think critically about all subjects in a wide perspective, while also seeing how all subjects work together.
Of course, it is three grades worth of teaching structured around American history and geography, which may be a narrower focus than some might desire. The series states that it looks at American history first so that students will have a standard of good government through which to then filter the study of ancient and world history. It's an assertion that we would take issue with on a few levels, one of them being that this seems to be the anti-Classical approach (America is not the standard for government, and it's helpful to be able to trace the roots of American democracy from Greek and European civilization). However, every family will have different priorities, and we think this could work really well for large families who would find a stimulating, multi-subject approach like this helpful.
An Overview of the Trail Guide to Learning Series from Geography Matters on Vimeo.
Review by Lauren Shearer
Lauren Shearer writes words for fun and profit. She also makes films, but everyone knows you can't make a profit doing that. Her other hobby is consistently volunteering way too much of her time. You can read more of her reviews here.
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