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Trail Guide to Learning: Paths of Exploration (Volumes 1 and 2) Profiles from History: Stories of Those Who Are Worthy of Remembrance Lewis & Clark: Hands On Art & English Activities Review by Donna Campos

Trail Guide to Learning: Paths of Exploration (Volumes 1 and 2)
Debbie Strayer and Linda Fowler
Profiles from History: Stories of Those Who Are Worthy of Remembrance
Ashley M. Wiggers
Lewis & Clark: Hands On Art & English Activities
Sharon Jeffus
Geography Matters
PO Box 92
Nancy, Kentucky 42544

This review is primarily for the Trail Guide to Learning: Paths of Exploration curriculum, Volumes 1 and 2. In addition, two books (Profiles from History and Lewis & Clark: Hands on Art & English Activities) were included as two of the resources necessary to adequately use the Trail Guide curriculum. Each Trail Guide volume has 380 gray-scale pages and a glossy hardcover, and Volume 1 includes a CD-rom that has 2,076 pages of printable Student Resources. In the Appendix you will find games, support forms, and the materials for creating the student notebook. These pages can be copied as needed, and some of them are also available on the CD-rom. Materials for both volumes are included on the single CD, with different notebook pages for each of the three grades; 3rd, 4th, and 5th. Each volume has three units: Columbus, Jamestown, and Pilgrims in Volume 1; Daniel Boone, Lewis and Clark, and Trails West in Volume 2. The curriculum is designed to teach students "How" to think rather than just "What" to think, using real books and activities with a purpose. The books follow the steps of famous explorers and pioneers as they travel across America, and students will create a personal notebook to show what they have learned. The program connects geography with science, history, language skills, and the arts. It is a one-year course for 3rd, 4th, or 5th graders (adaptable for 2nd and 6th grades). It can also be used for teaching multiple ages/levels together, based on methods developed by Dr. Ruth Beechick. An extensive resource list is included in the back of each volume, as well as within each unit, and the books are necessary for successful completion of the course. All of the additional materials for the course are offered from the Geomatters website at approximately $270, but several books may be available from your local library. The core resources are also available in sets (one for Volume 1 and one for Volume 2), allowing families to obtain the materials in separate purchases for separate semesters.

Profiles from History: Stories of Those Who Are Worthy of Remembrance is a glossy soft cover book of 203 pages. It includes discussion questions, follow-up activities, word games, critical thinking, maps, and timelines, and it covers approximately the years 1200 to 1890. The book focuses on notable people, their motivations, and the impact their lives had on others. The book is referenced regularly in both volumes of Trail Guide to Learning, and the activities are assigned. The book is considered resource material for the Trail Guide course.

Lewis & Clark: Hands On Art & English Activities
is a glossy soft-cover of 66 pages. Activities include making a quill pen, various mapping activities, work on portraits, several activities on perspective, and drawing a variety of animals (including a couple of dinosaurs). English activities are in shaded boxes throughout the book. Specific activities are assigned throughout the Lewis & Clark unit in Volume 2 of Trail Guide to Learning.

The assignments in Trail Guide to Learning cover Reading, Writing, Geography, History, Science, and Art. Math will need to be added separately. Very much a notebook format, this course will appeal to those familiar with Charlotte Mason teaching, and particularly the more specific ideas of Ruth Beechick. Each unit is divided into six lessons, and there are five parts to every lesson (to be completed in a week). Answers for assignments are included at the end of lessons, and assignments are marked with superscript numbers within the lesson. There are even games included to help solidify the information learned; these can be found in the back of the book as well as on the CD-rom. Reading logs are included for every grade level, with the printable pages on the CD-rom.

Students will complete a broad range of mapping activities including spherical globe work, blank outline flat mapping, and reading of regular maps. Language arts activities cover word endings, synonyms, narration, root words, context clues, and much more. The various geography and science activities provide hands-on fun as students make salt dough maps, use timers, and perform experiments--all while connecting the information to the other subject areas seamlessly. The copywork was low stress while yielding results, and we didn't dread it as we often have in the past. Each assignment was an integral part of the overall lesson and helped with a greater understanding of the material; even my ten-year-old didn't mind doing the work. Discussions were wonderful as I saw my children truly engaged in the stories, caring about the quality of material put into their notebooks, and looking forward to upcoming reading assignments. The art activities, particularly the grid map activities, were a huge hit and helped extend my son's desire for additional art assignments. The extra resource materials, although costly, were wonderful additions to our home library and are already being used in other educational activities outside of this curriculum.

This curriculum has probably had me more excited than any other that has recently crossed my desk. Though I admire Ruth Beechick, I have not been a hard-and-fast Charlotte Mason homeschooler, and I have only dabbled in notebooking with smaller topics. Dr. Beechick's philosophy is fully applied in the Trail Guide to Learning curriculum, and the website lists the principles that have been adhered to within this curriculum. The activities provide a range of sensory experiences, allowing parents to choose activities most suited for their children. I was absolutely thrilled to find references to "the parent" "your child," and "your school day." What a wonderful change from other curriculums that left me feeling like I was intruding on a product intended for larger classrooms. We found the margin notes to be factual and thorough as well as encouraging. They even comment on the fact that Pluto is no longer classified as a planet. We love printing off our own pages for the Student Notebook, but Geography Matters also provides printed Student Notebook pages for those who prefer them. We noted the heavier 60-lb. paper offered in the printed pages, which may very well encourage some families to purchase a set rather than printing at home. The printed notebook pages are available in the grade-level options: 3rd, 4th, or 5th.

Although the curriculum seems to be biblically sound, it does not include an actual Bible curriculum. For an additional fee, users can purchase the coordinating Bible curriculum, Light for the Trail--Bible Study Supplement. Since the authors claim the most important connection for students to make is the one between their faith and the view of the world around them, I believe this Bible curriculum should have been an included portion of this course. One potentially annoying aspect is that certain margin comments are included over and over again. The user is told repeatedly that the small superscript numbers refer to lesson questions and that the suggested length of time for reading may be adjusted as needed. Also, those who dislike "commercials" of any kind may be annoyed that various support materials are "plugged" within the pages For instance, companies like Visual Manna and How Great Thou Art supplied particular portions of lessons. These companies are thanked for their contribution, and then the reader/user is informed that the companies offer other items appropriate for use with the Trail Guide curriculum. We were not necessarily annoyed by this; rather, I was glad to know where I might find additional activities if desired. For me, the biggest disappointment was that the checklist pages in the back of each book were not included on the CD-rom for easier printing. Smashing a hardcover onto a copier is something I certainly prefer to avoid!

Trail Guide to Learning: Paths of Exploration offers guidance as well as flexibility for different ages, developmental levels, and learning styles. It is true that the necessary resource materials are somewhat costly, but considering the broad use of the items over many years of schooling and the ability to use the same course with several students of different ages, we found the cost justifiable. I am thrilled to know that Geography Matters has additional courses in the planning process. At the time of this review, Paths of Settlement is expected for release in August 2010, and Paths of Progress for release in August 2011, along with upcoming middle school and high school level offerings. Our family loved this course and will enjoy using it for years to come, along with the upcoming products as they are released.

Product review by Donna Campos, Senior Product Reviewer, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, September 2009