Trail Guide to Learning (Curriculum Fair 2012)

Written by contributor Kris Bales of Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers.

Children’s ages: 16, 12, and 10
Educational Philosophy Influences: Classical, Charlotte Mason, Eclectic

I‘m really excited about the 2012-2013 school year! That’s because we’ll be continuing with curriculum that we found this year – curriculum that we love! Trail Guide to Learning. My older daughter will be continuing with Switched on Schoolhouse, which works well for her in this season of her educational life.

We began using Trail Guide to Learning (Paths of Settlement) in January of this year and have thoroughly enjoyed it! Trail Guide, published by the folks at Geography Matters, is an all-inclusive curriculum that covers everything except math.

I never thought I was an all-inclusive curriculum kind of gal, so I was a little skeptical about trying it. However, we were really floundering for a history curriculum that my kids would enjoy and Trail Guide sounded like what I had in mind – heavy on biographies and historical fiction, with lots of hands-on learning.

I was in seventh heaven when the UPS showed up with “the big box.”

Photo by Kris Bales

There were so many books! Biographies, historical fiction, atlases! Because I chose the complete package, all the books I needed for the upcoming year were included.

Each level of Trail Guide to Learning – there are currently three with plans to add a new level each year through high school –  covers a range of three grade levels and can be adapted for slightly younger or older students, which works great for us since my younger two kids are only two years apart and I’ve always schooled them together.

If your interest is peaked about Trail Guide, I would encourage you to read my complete review. I’ll warn you, though: it may be the world’s longest review. Get a cup of coffee or a glass of sweet tea before clicking over. For now, I’ll give you my favorite highlights:

  • The planning is done for me. I click a button to print out all of the sheets for the kids’ binders each week and a button to print out my checklist. That’s it. My planning is done other than making sure I have all the supplies needed for the hands-on projects.
  • My weekly checklist. It shows, at-a-glance, every assignment for the week with a handy little box for checking off each item as it’s completed.
  • The built-in catch-up day. The Trail Guide schedule is built on a four-day week, with the fifth day left free for catching up missed assignments and wrapping up loose ends. Each Day 5 includes a great list of enrichment activities so that, if you do stay caught up (and don’t have doctor’s appointments, dance class, art, class, book club…), that last day isn’t wasted, but is, instead, filled with great supplemental learning.
  • The daily rhythm. Each day is broken down into a consistent, predictable rhythm. This works so well for my teaching style. The kids and I know what we’re doing and when, which has made it really easy to fall into a workable routine with Trail Guide.
  • The six week cycle. Each unit is six weeks long, which we’ve found to be a wonderful way of keeping learning fresh. Although we may be continuing the same general topic, each new unit feels like a fresh start. We start a new biography and new historical fiction books and we avoid that “in a rut” feeling. I’m liking the six week cycle so much that I’m revisiting the idea of year ’round schooling.
  • The unit study feel. I’ve always enjoyed unit studies, so much so that I wrote my own and we used them exclusively our first several years of homeschooling. Trail Guide is the type of curriculum that I would have written myself if I’d had the knowledge and the organization. It teaches history through literature, includes great hands-on activities, and covers science in a way that relates to the period in history being studied.

We’ve enjoyed Paths of Settlement, the second volume in the Trail Guide series, so much that I’m already planning to use the third volume, Paths of Progress, when we finish the current volume in December. I can totally see us using Trail Guide all the way through high school.

Have you ever found a curriculum resource that you felt was a near-perfect fit for your family? If so, what was it?

About Kris

Kris Bales is the quirky, Christ-following, painfully honest voice behind Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers. She and her husband of over 25 years are parents to two amazing teens and a homeschool grad. Kris has a pretty serious addiction to sweet tea and Words with Friends. She also seems intent on becoming the crazy cat lady long before she's old and alone.


  1. Thanks for this info, Kris! Question: Is it only American history, or do they cover world history as well?

  2. Another hand up here wondering about a broader world history approach. (I’m in Canada). Their website says that this is all american history. I love the concept of the curriculum, and your review, so I just was wondering if anyone knows of a curriculum that is like this but is more geared to world history?

    • Hey Ellen,

      We just wanted to let you know that YES we are working on a world history level for this curriculum. Our plan is to release it in Fall of 2013. You can feel free to contact us with any further questions. We are very excited to delve into ancient history! We think you’ll love it, too. We issue announcements about new releases pertaining to Trail Guide to Learning on our Facebook page and in our email newsletter, so be sure to check those out to keep in touch.

      Jamie at GeoMatters

  3. I like the idea of a catch up day and six week units.
    Steph’s latest post: Letting Them Hurt

  4. Would you say that the approach to history — and I see from your longer review this is U.S. history we’re talking about — comes with a particular, obvious “bent” or no? In other words, are the books and other lessons selected to support a particular thesis about American history or not that you can detect?

    • I’ll confess to not being extremely perceptive about that sort of thing, but not that I’ve noticed. I don’t feel like any certain political agenda is being shoved down my throat. You can visit the website to see exactly which books are used with each unit. The lessons in the TG volumes themselves are more of a spine, tying everything together with basic facts.

      They do ask the kids to think about the reasons each side may have had for acting as they did and encourage discussion about those reasons/actions, but it’s not done in a one is right/the other is wrong way.
      Kris @ Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers’s latest post: How to Homeschool: Homeschool and Public School Parents Are not Mortal Enemies

  5. can’t wait to check this out. had never heard of it before!
    Aimee’s latest post: On My 40 Day Break from Facebook

  6. This is the first time I’ve read through a set of curriculum reviews and thought wow! Something like this coupled with Life of Fred sounds like an awesome set up to me. I would’ve liked for my history (and geography) education to have been more robust- I feel like my daughter’s education would be much better by making it the groundwork for multiple subjects.
    Queen of Chaos’s latest post: I tried it!

  7. Your idea seems to be very interesting, please let me know about the results
    kathryn’s latest post: How to choose the best Mother of the bride plus size dresses

  8. Thank you for introducing this curriculum! I think it will be just right for my upcoming 2ndish/3rdish grader. I love the gentler approach to language arts in POE and the option of LAPBOOKS! I think it will also leave quite a bit of time in my daughter’s day to follow her own passions.

    We have been using Sonlight with my older two children (with a detour this year through Learning Adventures’ A World Of Adventure), but I wasn’t thrilled with starting the American History Sonlight cores with my youngest yet–they go a little too deep for her age group. In fact, I may skip Sonlight Core D or save it for much later and continue the next Trail Guide instead, as many of the same books are covered in both.

    I also love that it is open and go. I know I *can* do all the planning myself, but if someone else has taken the initiative to do it and do it well, then yay for me! 😉 I also love the 6 week schedule–I’ve determined that we are going to be year-rounders. Maybe. Starting sometime this summer. After we move. And settle. And unpack.
    Fran’s latest post: Spinning

  9. For being an all-inclusive curriculum (minus Math), how do you feel about the science portion of this? I’m considering this set for my daughter in the fall (will be a 4th grader if she stayed in PS, so I’m leaning towards Paths of Exploration). While I liked in your review that the science matching to what I being learned history, but from the look at the appendix, I’m not sure it’s enough science, but it’s so hard to base it off of just that information too I’m sure.

    • We are strongly considering this for our homeschool this coming year, and I, too, am very interested in the science portion.

    • This is obviously not a determining factor, but from what I’ve seen, I love the visual design elements that go into the materials. If you’re going to have to look at something every school day, it’s so much nicer if it’s pretty. 😉 Looking forward to our time with this curriculum next year!

  10. Christine says:

    I also had not heard of this but it looks great. It sounds somewhat similar to Heart of Dakota, which we are using and LOVE.

  11. Thanks for sharing this! I am looking forward to reading more. I am looking for a Language Arts curriculum for next year, but am a bit worried that this may be a little “too young” for my 7th grader.
    Debbye @ The Baby Sleep Site’s latest post: How Moving Homes Can Affect Your Child’s Sleep

    • Shannon says:

      Hi! Did you ever choose to use this for your then 7th grader? I’m considering purchasing this coming year – I will have a 4th and 7th grader but I would love to start at the beginning of the series with exploration vs jumping into Paths of Settlement

  12. I have been really enjoying using MFW…and it sounds similar to this! When I go to buy curriculum in not this year, but next year, I will have to look at this one! It sounds great!
    Martha Artyomenko’s latest post: I have come to think…

  13. When I was looking for reviews and comments on Trail Guide to Learning, most posts were older so I wanted to add a comment for anyone looking for recent reviews. After my sons and I were feeling burned out from our “same ole” workbooks and textbooks, I decided to switch mid-year to Paths of Exploration (w/2nd and 5th grader) and it was just the shake up we needed. We all like school now. Gasp! We are only in the first unit so I am not able to give a seasoned review, but we really enjoy the way topics are tied together in a way that doesn’t feel like we are doing specific subjects. We aren’t sitting down for grammar or writing or geography, we are just learning and it flows well. Very little prep each week which I love. We have not done enough science for me to comment, but my gut feeling is that we won’t love the science, but that’s okay because we were using a science that I really didn’t want to give up anyways. It is new this year by Dr. Jay Wiles and it is called Science in the Beginning. It’s great and I think it can be easily added to our school day because POE doesn’t take very long. My boys are usually done in about 2. or 2 1/2 hours so adding math and science really isn’t a big deal. I am also going to continue IEW for writing with my 5th grader because he is doing so well with it, but again, it can easily be added and the school day still doesn’t drag on. I wasn’t sure how I would feel about using a Charlotte Mason type approach, but to see the way that my children are enjoying learning, I am sold.

  14. Hannah Jones says:

    Can you tell me how to get hold of Trail guide in the UK?

Share Your Thoughts


CommentLuv badge


Give Your Child the World – on sale for only 99 CENTS! WOW!