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We dedicate this book to all those who have bravely chosen to follow the path that the Lord laid before them, in spite of the time, sacrifice and faith it takes to do so. Most especially—to every mom who picks it up and breathes a sigh of relief. May it be a blessing to your family! —Debbie Strayer & Linda Fowler
Debbie: To my dear husband Greg, who has always put the Lord’s plan for our family first in his life, and by doing so, liberated all of us to be obedient to the call of God and to be blessed for doing so. Thank you so much for being such an incredible example of devotion to the Lord. You are my sweet.
My amazing children Nate, Ashley, and son-in-law Alex: Each of you has inspired me by your boldness to do what you felt the Lord has given you to do and kept me going so many times during the journey with your love and faithfulness. Each of you has been given so many gifts and talents, and you freely share them with others. No mother is more blessed than I.
My dear co-author Linda: What can I say? You are a gift to me from the Lord. Your wit, intelligence, insight, devotion, and determination have kept me afloat so many times. God has blessed us with an amazing friendship, and for that, I am now and will always be truly grateful.
My publishers and newly added family, Josh and Cindy Wiggers: Some relationships are born out of only common wishes or dreams. Ours was born out of divine direction and came with the blessing of common hearts and common dreams. Thank you for making this dream come true for me, and I look forward to all the future holds for us together.
My dear mentor and friend, Dr. Ruth Beechick: Though I have known you for many years, I always feel as though there is so much yet to learn from you. You have freely given of your heart and knowledge to me, and I am truly grateful. I pray that I may carry on your gift to me in the years to come in a way that will be a blessing to you.
Linda: Thank you, thank you, thank you to my amazing husband, Coke, for your unfailing support of this great adventure—evidenced daily by your uncanny ability to offer just the right encouragement and, maybe more importantly, to eat take-out with a smile.
Shout-outs also to my unique and quirky kids, both those birthed and those grafted (through marriage)—Caleb, Cathryn, Betsy, Tracy, and Travis—for being so wonderfully individual and creative and for giving me a measure of understanding;
to the Wiggers clan—Cindy, Josh, Alex, and Ashley—for attaching wings to this project and allowing it to fly far beyond our hopes, for hours and hours of oiling the “engine,” and for literally keeping us out of the ditch;
and to my dear friend and cohort, Debbie, one of the most genuine and gifted people I know. Thank you, Deb, for rescuing me from the aimlessness of my empty nest, for having confidence in me, and for being the creative spark-plug that you just naturally are!
May the Lord bless and protect you all as you come and go, may He give you peace and lavish His grace on all your efforts!
What is the big picture of the Trail Guide to Learning series, and why is it important to know? Because the answer to this question puts the pieces together in a way that you can use them. The two main themes of this book are tools for thinking and the way systems and people work together. How does this information fit with the big picture of the series?
The first level, Paths of Exploration, shows the role that explorers played in the opening of America. It also models the way thoughts begin. When you begin thinking about something, you may only have questions. When the explorers came to our land, they had more questions than answers. Then, they began exploring and discovered much new information, just as you do when you start to think about a question. They opened the way for the rest of us to follow by showing us how to ask questions. They observed their surroundings and recorded what they saw, which in turn brought up new questions as well as new understanding. For the explorers, there were always questions to ask and answer, but with skilled observation, recording, and learning, a path was blazed for those who would come next.
The second level, Paths of Settlement, introduces those who did come next—the builders and settlers. These citizens and leaders came to pursue the dream of freedom and began to build homes, communities, towns, and states that would give that opportunity to all who followed. Men and women devoted their lives to providing the structure of good government, good citizenship, and good examples for others to follow, so that they too could receive the blessings of freedom.
As they designed the rule of law that would govern us and secure the opportunity for freedom, our Founders knew that these laws would be tested with the struggles that all groups of people, both small and large, have to face. This level shows the laws of government and science that provide order to our thinking and the way we live. The third level, Paths of Progress, tells about those who came along to help solve the many problems and difficulties our people and nation encountered. The focus in this level is on the scientists and inventors who devoted their time, understanding, and hopes to finding answers for those struggles and boundaries. The nature of these determined people teaches us much about the thinking process and how to share answers that others can understand. Inventors and scientists work together, building on each other’s work to further the help that they give to others. The various topics studied in this level show the problem-solving process, the resulting improvements, and the way systems—such as those in the human body—work together to create success for the whole.
Journeys through the Ancient World completes the process of preparation for the next step of thinking and learning—a look at ancient and world history. At the middle school level, students are ready in their maturity and thinking ability to look at civilizations of ancient history and compare them to their understanding of what a good citizen, government, and nation look like. Now they have a standard by which to compare other nations, events, and leaders effectively and to see principles in action.
It has taken years of labor and a team of workers, but we are excited to have met these goals in Paths of Exploration.
It is important for you to know who worked on it, because that helps explain why it is different from other curricula, and why you can have confidence when using it. The team of people who designed, wrote, read, edited, and supported this effort is impressive. It includes veteran home educators Greg and Debbie Strayer, Coke and Linda Fowler, Josh and Cindy Wiggers; young adults who were home educated Ashley (Strayer) Wiggers and her husband Alex Wiggers; and renowned home education author Dr. Ruth Beechick. We also highly valued the input of our “test driver” families, who used the curriculum with their children and gave us helpful feedback. Why does all this matter? As we say in our Steps for Thinking, “The key to understanding the actions of others is to understand their thoughts.” If you know what our goals were, you will have a good starting point to use this curriculum to fit your own objectives for your students. When you look at the parts of the book, you will see how easy it is to make your goals a reality.
Paths of Exploration is divided into six units that are designed to cover a continuous 36-lesson school year. Although we recommend using the curriculum in its intended form and sequence, it is entirely possible to study one or more individual units effectively. Unit themes are:
Each unit is printed as an independent package, complete with text, instructions, appendix items, and game cards (printed on cardstock) needed for the study. Also, a digital file containing all three levels of Student Notebook pages is included. Books and other resources specific to that unit are sold separately or as part of the package.
Units are made up of six lessons, each with five parts—allowing one lesson to fit perfectly into a five-day week. However (and this is very important!), even though one part can take one day, this curriculum was created to be your servant, not your master. This means you always retain the freedom to make its schedule fit the needs of your students and your family.
Flexibility is built in, since every Part 5 (typically Friday) provides time and activities for review of the previous four parts (typically Monday through Thursday). Every Lesson 6 completes the assignments for the unit and provides a time of review and assessment. In addition, large parts of all the lessons in Unit 6, Trails West, are devoted to review of the other units studied throughout the year.
This curriculum targets grades 3, 4, and 5 but can be easily adapted for second grade abilities by reducing reading assignments and substituting oral responses for written work. Likewise, sixth graders can be accommodated and challenged through increased reading and writing and through the provided Enrichment Activities. In most assignments, the recommended activity levels are noted with icons:
If there is no icon (or trail marker) present, the activity is intended for all levels.
Before beginning a lesson, look at the Materials List in Part 1 to be sure you have what you will need to complete the regular activities. In addition, every Part 5 contains extra resources for Enrichment Activities. Enrichment Activities are available for your older students (sixth grade and up) who are completing the curriculum with you, advanced students, or students who want to learn more. Younger students who complete the lessons quickly, or who just enjoy learning on a more in-depth level, can use the Enrichment Activities as well.
Margin notes appear in the text for several reasons, including to offer encouragement, expand or recall instructions, and explain teaching strategies. Think of them as your teacher guide, and be sure to read them all as they appear. Sometimes the margin note is repeated a second time as a helpful reminder for those who may have missed it the first time.
Answers to most questions asked in the text are located on the last page of each lesson. Each Unit Appendix contains teacher aides that include a Unit Summary, At-A-Glance guides for each lesson, charts and references helpful to the lessons, instructions for various games assigned in the text, and answers for those games.
Below is an in-depth description of each section in a typical lesson and how to use it. After you read this and begin using the curriculum, there are many margin notes in the text to remind you of the important points contained here.
Since a primary focus of the Trail Guide to Learning series is to develop and sharpen your student’s ability to think, each lesson in Paths of Exploration begins with several Steps for Thinking. These are the big ideas demonstrated through the reading, discussion, and other activities of the lesson. Explain each step to your child, and discuss any ideas or questions he may have. You will revisit the steps regularly, so look for opportunities to connect examples to the concepts whenever possible. By the end of the lesson, your student will have more experience with the concepts and be able to discuss them more thoroughly.
Copywork and dictation provides a consistent method for students to see, hear, and write language correctly. It is the first step in learning language skills. Always start your student with copying the passage. It may take more than one day for your student to complete copying or dictation assignments, which is perfectly appropriate. This means that you may be using only two passages per week until, and for a while after, he begins to experience success.
When he is comfortable with the shorter assignments, gradually increase the length of his copywork or dictation, being careful to safeguard his sense of achievement. Meeting your child’s individual need to successfully complete the assignment is more important than trying to keep up with a suggested schedule.
After copying, he should match what he has written word for word to the text and correct anything that is not the same. This level is appropriate for many second and third graders throughout the year. It may also be appropriate for older students, and needs to continue for as long as your student seems sufficiently challenged. From time to time, you may want to attempt a bit of dictation by allowing your child to choose a sentence or passage that he has already worked with, to build confidence. Don’t worry, this isn’t cheating! Your goal is to build the ability to read and write language, and teaching means providing the support needed to be successful. Assessment should come later.
If your student is a fourth or fifth grader, evaluate his success after he has copied several passages, and decide whether this activity seems too easy for him. If so, try dictating (or speaking) the first few words of the sentence slowly, and ask your student to write down what he hears. If he can write at least a portion of the words correctly, then he is ready for dictation. The ability to write from dictation is a skill that must be learned. It may be difficult at first, so give your student the help he needs. Initially, allow him to become familiar with the sentence, or sentences, you plan to dictate. You may even want to let him choose the sentence(s). After he is very successful at writing from dictation using this method, gradually start adding a few words at a time. Remember that success is your goal, not quickly moving to more difficult dictation passages. Going through the process too quickly, without allowing your student the time to become successful and confident, may create resistance towards this type of language learning.
Another common problem, especially for younger students, is the struggle with handwriting. Before beginning the copywork and dictation process, your student needs to know how to form each letter. If handwriting is especially frustrating and difficult for him, try different writing tools and surfaces. If he continues to experience difficulty, it is perfectly acceptable to allow your child to type the passages. This is also an effective approach for the older student who prefers typing to handwriting. Again—the goal is for your student to see the words, hear the words, and write the words. Remember that it is more important for him to learn the spelling mechanics and reading skills that result from dictation and copying than it is to handwrite the passage.
The natural method of learning continues in this section with the Reader assignments. These assignments occur in real literature, and there are several reasons why this is important:
Students are regularly instructed to read assignments aloud in order to build reading fluency. In turn, fluency, or the ability to read something effortlessly, is an important part of comprehension. If a student can read a passage aloud with expression, correct phrasing, and attention to punctuation, it is much more likely that he will also understand its meaning. To practice fluency at all levels, begin with passages your student can read without constant decoding. In other words, start with a few sentences that seem easy to read. Often, you can have him choose the passages, and sometimes you might select them in order to gauge his growth. To do this, find a passage that is a sentence or two longer than the last one he read or one that requires attention to punctuation, such as dialogue. Real books are perfectly suited to fluency practice. And since literature provides such an abundant source of reading materials, artificial activities are unnecessary.
Each Reader is coordinated with the unit and provides a ready-made history lesson, as the lives of real people become linked to places and events. In turn, this connection brings character and convictions to light, as well as great adventures and drama. Examples of mechanics and word usage, as well as phonics principles, spelling patterns, and vocabulary, come directly from the wellspring of literature.
Every student is to read or listen to both literature selections for the unit. Reading or hearing the two perspectives adds richness to the stories and depth to the understanding of events and circumstances of the times. Critical thinking skills build as the two related stories allow students to compare and contrast to find similarities and differences. An artist’s illustrations contribute to learning about context clues, and the divisions of chapters and paragraphs help students recognize important main ideas and details. All of these lessons come naturally from real books.
Most parents agree that it is beneficial to read aloud to young children to develop pre-reading skills. But the benefits don’t stop there. Reading aloud to children of all ages is one of the easiest, most enjoyable, and effective ways to share ideas and begin thoughtful conversations. Since students do not have to worry about decoding during read-aloud time, they can focus totally on the meaning of what they are hearing. This allows them the opportunity to think about the ideas and information being presented and to formulate their own thoughts. In other words, it prepares them to respond to what they have heard through discussion, retelling, or reflective writing. And these skills provide a natural way for teachers to see what their students have understood from passages read aloud.
As you read aloud, you also model fluency, expression, and comprehension. When your voice reflects punctuation, students can see its purpose and the way it makes the passage more understandable. As they listen and sometimes follow along with their eyes, students see the language and hear it read correctly, which provides an excellent example for their own reading. Because of this, Read-Aloud assignments are an important part of each lesson.
Read-Aloud assignments provide the basis for student responses. As they listen, it is natural for them to respond by speaking, which is a good first step toward meaningful discussion. Bear in mind that meaningful discussion in this context is intended to be an exchange of thoughts and ideas, but not an argument or debate. Accurately putting thoughts into words is an important skill and a first step toward expressive writing. In the give-and-take of discussion, you can listen to your students’ understanding of the passage, ask questions, and share your thoughts. All of these combine to expand their thinking on the topic. It also lends itself to the natural memory practice of narration, or retelling. As students become familiar with the process of retelling, their abilities to pick out main ideas, recall details, and sequence events develop.
This is the most complex response for students, because it involves having them write their thoughts about something they have heard. But it is also a concrete, natural way to practice thinking about and answering questions in writing. The answers that students give are correct, because they come from their thoughts and understanding of what they have heard.
The Word Study section exists to equip students with strategies to gain meaning from unfamiliar words and to begin gently introducing the basic elements of language mechanics. This information must be connected to other learning in order to remain with children on a long-term basis. As a result, the best time to teach them about phonics, word usage, mechanics, vocabulary, spelling, and grammar is when they read a word or hear it used in a story. Study of a sound or word form is natural and makes sense to students when they see a need to read, understand, and use that word. Word Study activities occur in every lesson, taking advantage of the opportunities presented in the literature to connect meaning and structure for your students.
Vocabulary is a focus of this curriculum as students make and collect cards with words and meanings listed. The purpose of this activity is not memorization or dictionary skills, but understanding. By building an awareness of new or unusual words, you are teaching your students an important strategy for understanding what they have read or heard. New vocabulary words appear in the context of a lesson or story, which helps students recognize the connection between the way a word is used and its meaning. This is an important reading strategy called using context clues. As children complete the vocabulary activities in this curriculum, they see the importance of learning and using new words as they read, write, discuss, and retell.
Spelling is a skill that has several components, such as perceptual ability and memory. Some of us are naturally good at spelling, and some are not. The goal of the spelling assignments is to improve your students’ ability to spell by helping them make connections to meaning, phonics, and word patterns. Memorizing a list is not as valuable to students as increasing their ability to comfortably write words that express their understanding and opinions. The goal, then, is to increase their ability to recognize and spell more words correctly, not just to be able to spell a new word correctly for a week or two and then forget it.
Grammar study in Paths of Exploration is approached in the most natural and meaningful way possible—through the children’s literature. As students engage in Grammar Scout searches and activities, they become familiar with fundamental language mechanics in an unintimidating, realistic way. They are given opportunities to see parts of speech modeled in actual stories or through games, which prove far more effective than pages of artificial activities.
Making connections is an important part of this curriculum, and the studies of geography, science, and history are naturally connected. The knowledge of one area contributes to knowledge in the other areas. By considering the linkage of subjects in real life, connections readily occur for the students. This helps them add to what they know when they encounter new information. It also helps students remember what they have learned.
Geography is the umbrella under which the other studies connect. It includes the study of places. If you learn about places, you learn about the impact those places have on people. If you learn about people, you learn about cultures and worldviews and the impact those people have on places. So in the study of geography, you naturally learn about people, places, and all the ways they affect each other. All culture, history, and science connect to concepts of geography, so we study science and history in the light of their connection to the people and places encountered by the explorers and their paths.
Science is naturally enjoyable to children through the study of nature. Following the practices of Charlotte Mason, students gain skills that allow access to more information about nature and its connection to people and places. Observing, recording through drawing and describing, discussing, evaluating, and connecting new information to previously learned concepts are the core of the science instruction. This curriculum also uses reading as a means of obtaining more information that is useful to your students, since reading about topics is just as valuable in learning science as doing activities.
History is a daily part of the curriculum through literature readings, discussions, and activities. The study of history that focuses on dates and facts alone can be dry and hard to remember. However, when events in history are associated through the literature, geography, and relevant science concepts, they connect the learning and are much more likely to be retained. Great stories and biographies help students connect to the struggles and triumphs of the times. Literature provides a basis for discussion and evaluation of the decisions made and the results that occurred. Books read by the students and read aloud by the teacher provide the thread that ties the events, discoveries, and decisions of the explorers together. Learning history could not be more natural!
Learning new things should inspire a response. Since we are not limited to conventional school-type methods, we can employ an array of effective and enjoyable ways to gain and respond to information.
Writing is an integrated part of this curriculum. It is not a separate subject, but rather a set of skills with which to become familiar. Writing ability improves with practice and time, both of which come in the context of literature, history, science, and geography learning. The best writing occurs when it is a response to content learned, new ideas, or as a result of an activity or experience. Since writing begins with thinking, once your students engage in assigned thinking activities, the way is naturally prepared. As you use this approach, your students will begin to see themselves as writers, which is the first and most important step to becoming one.
Drawing was used by scientists for many years to record new information. It was also a tool used by explorers to communicate what they encountered with others. As your students develop the important skill of drawing, they will naturally build their power to observe and notice detail. This, in turn, equips them to communicate what they learn more effectively. Combining what your students see with an activity builds powerful thinking skills. Also, use of the North American Wildlife Guide develops the ability to research and compare what they notice to what others have seen. Not to mention the fact that drawing is fun! Experts like Barry Stebbing and Sharon Jeffus help your child develop needed skills to observe and draw successfully.
Doing an activity is a powerful teacher. Students gain the ability to sequence and organize what they do and think through the activities that are included in this curriculum. The 1911 Boy Scouts Handbook, the North American Wildlife Guide, and other resources included in the text offer time-tested, effective, and enjoyable ways to gain skills and information through activities. Motivation is a key component of successful learning, and our Doing activities certainly help keep motivation strong. Since connecting learning to doing is an important part of this curriculum, these activities illustrate that important connection and provide the basis for authentic writing activities.
This is an important part of each student’s daily schedule. It provides regular practice for word study and reading skills, as well as thinking skills. Quiet time to consider ideas and link new information to old is essential in building new understandings. Though you may be tempted to skip this activity to save time, please don’t! Completing the reading log each day also gives your students a sense of accomplishment, as well as some time to work independently.
The Student Notebook is not only a vital part of the curriculum, but it also provides a portfolio of your students’ work. Maps, charts, and other activities assigned in the textbook are included in an easy, ready-to-use format for the students. In lower level notebooks, copywork passages are located directly above the space for writing, for ease of copying and checking.
Having the Student Notebook on digital files allows you to print all the pages for your child’s level either before you begin a unit, or lesson by lesson. We suggest that students keep their notebooks in a three-ring binder, which allows them to add or remove pages as needed. For example, if students complete an art project on construction paper it can easily be dated, three-hole punched, and inserted in the notebook at the appropriate place. If they would rather complete their copywork assignment on different paper or remove the pages provided to make writing easier, they can do so. All in all, you and your students have the flexibility to adapt the notebook to your individual needs.
How can you begin to transfer the responsibility for completing assignments from yourself to your students? Daily checklists are included at the bottom of each Copywork/Dictation page in the Student Notebook to ease this process. These short lists include all activities for which there is no notebook page and help guide and direct students’ efforts. Plus, teachers can tell at a glance what still needs to be done. This checklist system encourages students to take responsibility for their daily work and allows them to be easily accountable for assignments.
A portfolio is often the best possible written measure of student achievement. And completion of the Student Notebook creates an excellent, consecutive record of student work in reading, writing, geography, history, science, and art. The Student Notebook gives teacher, student, and evaluator a clear picture of sequential progress in each subject area, samples of student work, and examples of creative projects. It includes dates assignments were completed, assisting with the documentation process. This helps teachers to see time spent on each unit, as well as giving students a sense of accomplishment as they look over the finished product.
The following materials are required for use with Paths of Exploration.
Besides the required books and other key resources, most lessons require some or many of these items—so keep them handy:
For those who prefer not to use the portfolio method of evaluation or who want to supplement their child’s portfolio, assessments for each level of the first five units are available as .pdf files either on a CD or as a digital download. These, coupled with your daily observations and interactive discussions and games, provide ample material upon which to base an accurate evaluation. There is no assessment for Unit 6, Trails West, since this unit is largely devoted to review of the previous five. The review activities serve as evaluation tools themselves and can be assigned point values if you choose.
This optional Bible curriculum helps your students make the most important connection of all—the one between their faith and their view of the world around them. This easy-to-use guide, available either on a CD or as a digital download, is Bible-based but in no way precludes a parent’s role in imparting his or her personal faith and worldview to students. Instead, it provides daily activities that facilitate this most important learning experience. Activities include memory verses for the week, discussion topics, writing assignments, and longer-term memory projects. These elements blend with Prayer Times, Worship Times and Blazing the Trail (teacher sharing) to enable students to make real-life connections between the content of the curriculum and the lessons of Scripture.
These resources are available to accompany each level of the Trail Guide to Learning series. The lapbooks were created to build and review the concepts and content taught by the curriculum, with hands-on reinforcement. These graphic organizers can make learning memorable for all ages. If you use the lapbooks, those activities are designed to replace any corresponding Student Notebook assignments, particularly for younger students. They may also be beneficial to many older students who prefer a more hands-on approach to learning, or for review. Assignments that have corresponding lapbooking activities are indicated by the lapbook symbol shown on this page. Lapbooks are available in printed, CD-ROM, or digital download formats.
The Middle School Extension enables older members of the family to learn together with their siblings, while tying subjects together in a meaningful way. It covers the same content with more challenging assignments. At the time of this printing the supplement is available only in CD-ROM or digital download formats.
Six units (for kindergarten through second grade) with associated resources.
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