Trail Guide for Learning Paths of Exploration {Review}

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I am so excited to bring you a review today for Trail Guide for Learning Paths of Exploration. This program is one that I have always stopped by the booth to drool over at homeschool conventions, but have never considered giving a try in my home before now. In past years, we’ve always focused on world history following a classical model (start with ancients, move on to middle ages) — mostly because we have spent so much time stationed in Europe that it just made sense to me.

This year, things have changed a bit for our family though. We unexpectedly got orders to the heart of the United States, and in doing my research for our move to Nebraska, I realized that we really needed to jump headfirst into American History to really make the most of living in the mid-west.

I came across Trail Guide for Learning when I was looking for the best possible American History program to teach the kids this year.

Here is what I was looking for in a good American History curriculum:

  • Multi-level: I wanted to be able to teach as many of my kids together as possible
  • Unit Study based: I love to be able to dig deep into topics rather than just moving forward quickly and chronologically. We love rabbit trails and deep learning.
  • Literature rich: I wanted non-fiction and fiction reading along with the program (and tons of it)
  • Easy to use: I don’t want to have to design it myself, I don’t want too many hands-on or intense activities. I wanted gentle, easy to follow, and fun. . . but not overwhelming.

Trail Guide for Learning seemed to fit all of these at first glance – so I went and got it ordered.

You can see my initial reaction to the curriculum here in this unboxing video:

Now that it’s been a few months, and we’ve had a chance to dig into the program, we’ve learned a few things about how it works:

The Main Curriculum

Paths of Exploration is designed for grades 3-5 (I am using it with a fourth grader) and is divided into six units:

  • Unit 1: Columbus
  • Unit 2: Jamestown
  • Unit 3: Pilgrims
  • Unit 4: Daniel Boone
  • Unit 5: Lewis and Clark
  • Unit 6: Trails West

Each lesson contains:

  • Copywork and Dictation
  • Reading (readers and independent reading)
  • Read-aloud, discussion, narration and reflective writing
  • Word Study (vocabulary, spelling, grammar)
  • Geography, Science & History
  • Writing/Drawing/Art/Doing

We have worked through most of the first unit, and have really enjoyed it so far. It takes us 2-3 hours a day to work through each lesson. Every day has just enough in common that Doodle has found a comfortable routine. Each day is just different enough that he hasn’t been bored either. In the first unit, we’ve focused quite a bit on navigation, as well as spent time learning about boats, exploration, astronomy and basic geography. Every day, there is a strong focus on language arts and history, and other activities are rotated throughout the week so your child will be doing science, art and more every week.

The hands-on activities included looking at the stars, creating moon phase models with Oreos, drawing, cooking a meal from India (we went out to an Indian restaurant), milk carton ships, and growing salt crystals. Everything used basic supplies I already had on hand or could get easily, and were simple for Doodle to do — neither of us felt overwhelmed.

I enjoyed the gentle nature of this program. There is a lot of reading and discussion. I enjoy cuddling on the couch with the kids for the read-aloud, and I love the quiet independence of sending the kids to read on their own. At first, Doodle was a bit annoyed at reading more than one book at once, and having to read just a few pages at a time rather than getting to read the whole book (for example, you may be told to read page 3 to the end of page 9), but he’s gotten used to the structure now. If this bothers your child, you may be able to “block schedule” the curriculum with some extra work to do all of the reading for each book in one day rather than spreading them out — but I would encourage you to give it a try as it’s written first. You get used to the way things are broken down.

I do struggle a little bit with a full unit on Columbus, knowing he isn’t really the most upstanding character out there. I feel like the first unit did a good job digging into explorers in general and things that really mattered in early exploration (like astronomy) and included lessons on culture. I do wish they had included more about Native Americans in this unit, and perhaps even some information on where Columbus went wrong. We have added in extra reading about native people on our own, and are visiting a local tribal event in the coming weeks in an effort to round out this information. If I could change one thing about this level of Trail Guide for Learning, it would be to include more focus on Native Americans and a complete picture of Columbus — or retool it as a unit on explorers in general or a unit on Native Americans. We have only just started this curriculum, so I may find this content in future lessons as we work through the program.

The Early Elementary Extension

This supplement includes activities, worksheets and lesson suggestions to adapt the content of the main curriculum for a younger age group. I have been using this supplement (almost) as written with Little Miss, our first grader. This allowed her to participate in the main lesson for some parts (the read aloud, history, science, geography and writing/doing/art) and separate for the readers, word study, and copy work.

If a lesson element is intended to be done together, and adaptations are needed for younger kids, these adaptations are included in the supplement teachers guide. The program is written to be used along with Learning Language Arts through Literature (which we don’t have) but you can supplement your own phonics program in its place.

The Middle School Supplement

I have been told that the middle school supplement is currently being re-created and will be a totally different thing sometime soon – so my comments here are going to be a little limited since I have the original version. 

Bug, my oldest, has his own complete curriculum that he uses. Most of the time, he works pretty independently with that program, while I work with the little kids on their studies.

However, I really wanted to include him with Trail Guide for Learning because I am planning so many local field trips to dig in deeper, and I want him to also have an understanding of American History – so he’s been doing this supplement to join in when and where he can.

The Middle School supplement is intended to be independent – I am able to hand it over to Bug, and he is able to work through it on his own. The supplement adds in an age-appropriate reader, additional writing activities, and takes the activities a bit deeper (through research projects, writing reports, and “rabbit-hole” explorations).

Final Random Thoughts

Trail Guide for Learning is a complete program. I know that this shouldn’t need to be said because it’s advertised as a complete program — but so many homeschoolers suffer from “fear of missing out” (FOMO) and add on extra programs. I know that I am guilty of this on the regular, so I wanted to add in right here that really Trail Guide for Learning is a complete program. You don’t need to add anything to it (other than math) and you don’t need to worry that your kids aren’t going to be learning enough (they are). If you are trying to use it as a supplemental, you may feel overwhelmed fast. When I ordered it, I did so with the intention of using it just as our history program — and I totally can, but do remember that you are paying for complete and because it’s designed to cover all the subjects you need, pulling out just portions of it can be challenging. Adding extra on top of the program can leave you feeling overwhelmed and out of time. So, if you think you’d like to use Trail Guide for Learning, try to control your FOMO and don’t pile much more on top of it. Trust the program and give it an honest try.

If you purchase the PDF versions of the student pages, consider getting them printed and bound… and remember that it will add up. I took mine to the UPS store, and paid about 200 dollars for all the student pages for all three levels for all six units. That’s about a wash for the price of getting them all printed and three-hole punched from Trail Guide for Learning – so I wish I had done that instead and saved myself the hassle. Keep in mind that you do need those student pages when you are ordering the curriculum. There is also a lapbook supplement you can order if your child loves to lapbook. I’m terrible at helping the kids get these done — so we didn’t give them a try.

Getting organized to use this program took a bit of work, but only due to the multi-level component. If I had only been teaching the main curriculum it would have been fully open and go for me, but because I needed to wrap my mind around what all of the kids needed to be doing, it took a bit more time to read everyone’s lessons and get myself organized and ready to teach. I also struggled a little bit jumping back and forth between the books for the main program and the early elementary supplement, although this got easier as we moved along. Because of this learning curve, I would encourage parents teaching more than one level to give themselves grace as they learn the system and their new routine — it took me almost a full unit to start to feel on top of what I was teaching and how I was teaching it — but it was worth it to stick with the program.

If you are on the fence, you can order just one six-week unit and give it a try! There is also a robust sample you can work off of for a few weeks to see if the program will work for you – this complete curriculum is an investment and it’s worth taking the extra time to really check it out. I am sure you’ll find it worth it!

Who do I recommend this program for:

I recommend this program for homeschoolers really wanting to dig into American history using literature. I love that it incorporates all the subjects into fun, easy to follow units. This program does require a little bit of parental set up in the beginning (I needed to scan the checklist pages, gather supplies and organize the books in a way that made sense to me) but it’s open-and-go past that point. This program is good for kids who are comfortable with seatwork – there is a fair amount of listening, writing and reading required. While it does have a good amount of out-of-the seat work, it’s great for parents who want to have fun with their curriculum but don’t want to be overwhelmed with too many hands-on projects. There are secular packages for this program that leave out the books with religious content.

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  1. Hello, I am wondering if you still use this curriculum and how the Columbus unit ended up for you. I am also concerned about the fact that there is a full unit on him. That makes me concerned that they are not going to give a full picture for other events such as slavery, civil rights, etc. I’d love any feedback about that.

    1. Hi Emily! I’m sorry, but Heather no longer owns this site. She’s the one who used this curriculum and wrote the review. If you’re a member of the Hip Homeschool Moms Facebook Community (HHM is our sister site), you can ask the question in there. πŸ™‚ Click the following link to go to the group and apply to join. Once you’ve joined, you can publish your question to get feedback from other moms.

  2. We just discovered this program and are really excited about it. I am hoping to use it for the upcoming school year. We would just squeak in to get the 3 years done in Middle for my oldest!

  3. Great review! I just purchased this curriculum at a homeschool convention and super excited to get started! It’s going to be hard to wait till fall!

  4. Thank you for your review!! I am interested in starting this program in our home but I am unclear about whether I would have to buy the complete package, one for each of my 3 kids or just one package and then just separate note booking pages for each? Does that make sense??

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