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Trail Guide to Learning is projected to be a complete program for students in kindergarten through twelfth grade, although only three years of the program are available thus far with the fourth coming soon. The methodology is a combination of both Ruth Beechick's and Charlotte Mason's ideas, which overlap and complement each other very well. It uses a unit study approach built around geography in the context of historical events. Science, art, and language arts are also covered with language arts receiving a great deal of attention in a manner somewhat like that used in Learning Language Arts through Literature.
The first three volumes cover American history. The second three volumes will cover world history. The plan is that a separate series will eventually be published for high school.
The first year, titled Paths of Exploration, targets grades three through five, although it can be easily adapted for use with second and sixth graders. The second year course, Paths of Settlement, aims for a slightly older audience in grades four through six. Paths of Progress, the third course, shifts up to grades five through seven. Supplements that will allow you to simultaneously teach children in kindergarten through second grade are also in the works. The world history courses, the first of which will be available in 2015, target middle school. While the layout remains the same, the level of difficulty gradually increases as you move up through the courses.
Each course is divided into six units, with each unit focused on a single theme that reflects a tight integration of geography and history. This approach covers fewer topics but in greater depth than do traditional textbooks. The six themes in Paths of Exploration are Columbus, Jamestown, Pilgrims, Daniel Boone, Lewis and Clark, and Trails West. In Paths of Settlement, the themes are Growing Pains, Freedom Decided, Nation Building, House Divided, Unity Restored, and Sea to Shining Sea. The six units in Paths of Progress are Great Leaps, Making Connections, Perseverance Pays Off, Cultivating Greatness, Success Takes Flight, and Reach for the Stars; these cover from the Industrial Revolution into the beginning of the twentieth century.
You can discern the natural thread of the study of U.S. History reflected in these themes. Paths of Settlement includes study of the individual states as well as a "home state project" which should satisfy any requirement for state study you might have.
Lessons are laid out in detail for each day in two large hard-cover volumes (sold as a set). Each volume should take a semester to complete. At the back of the first volume of each course is a computer Student Resources CD-ROM (runs on Windows or Mac) with PDF files—more than 2000 printable pages! These are primarily forms that students will use as they create their own notebooks, but they also include games and maps students use for assignments. Student worksheets often include check boxes at the bottom for students to check off as they complete other assignments for which there are no student notebook pages. This helps children take on personal responsibility for completing all assignments....
Copywork and dictation are important techniques used in this program. Some student pages with models to copy as well as lined space to do the copying are found on the CD-ROM but most copywork is done from assigned literature. Parents should adjust the amount of copywork as needed for each child. Complete directions for copywork are in the main books.
Worksheets are not only for copywork. Many others are for word studies, dictation, drawing, writing assignments, word searches, map work, scientific observation, spelling, etc. The CD-ROM groups the pages by grade level so you can print out worksheets that are appropriate for each level....
Real books are used throughout the courses. A list of required resources is at the front of the first book, divided into lists for volume 1 and volume 2 so you can purchase what you a need a semester at a time....
Language arts coverage is quite comprehensive including spelling, vocabulary, composition, grammar (informal rather than formal), public speaking/oral presentation, and reading comprehension. Some of these assignments focus on skill coverage, but as often as possible they tie to the lesson theme.
As mentioned at the beginning, geography is a critical part of each theme, so each lesson features map work and other geographical activity or learning that ties to the books and theme of that lesson. For example, those coming to Jamestown started from London. Thus, students locate London on a map, expand to tracing a map of the United Kingdom and identifying its countries, then expand further to neighboring countries across bodies of water.
Science takes a naturalist approach as children learn to observe and record nature through drawing and writing in the first course.... Science in Paths of Progress teaches the scientific process and broadens out to both life and physical sciences, teaching about friction, machines, tools, and anatomy. Art activities connect with other topics studied in Paths of Progress as students learn sculpting and model creation. Under fine arts, children also learn about musicians and different types of music, orchestras, and musical instruments, along with learning to play a recorder....
Hands-on learning methods are built into lessons as drawing assignments, games (e.g, Bingo, Newcomers Game, Mechanics Tool Kit Game), art projects, experiments, demonstrations, cooking, and organizing student-made cards. Frequent discussions are a required element of all lessons. Students create a notebook of their work that does double duty by providing a means of documenting what they have learned. In addition to creating their notebooks, students also do presentations that demonstrate what they have learned.
Lapbooks are available for both courses in print or CD-ROM versions. Lapbook activities might sometimes replace other activities. Paths of Settlement shows a lapbook icon next to an activity when this is the case....
In terms of learning styles, Trail Guide to Learning is best for Perfect Paula and Sociable Sue. It is good for Competent Carl if he can work independently. It is also good for Wiggly Willy if reading and writing assignments are kept brief and balanced with more active learning.
The Trail Guide to Learning series is based on a Christian worldview. While the core book is not overtly Christian, a number of the recommended reading books definitely are. Those who want to incorporate a Christian worldview more intensively should purchase the Light for the Trail Bible Study Supplement CD-ROM for each course. Lessons tie directly to the lesson themes of each course with suggestions for prayer and worship time, and weekly memory verses in addition to connections between faith and the topics being studied.
While the student notebook/portfolio is the best way to document student accomplishments, some states require more traditional assessments. The optional Assessments CD-ROM for each course might prove very helpful in such situations.
The Trail Guide series looks like a promising solution for families looking for book-based unit study that takes the guess work out of the process and is easy for parents to use.
Note: Geography Matters also sells preprinted packages of student pages if you do not want to print them yourself from the CD. They also sell packages of all the required resources. Check their website for prices.