News, Articles & Tips
Homeschool Curriculum: Why Natural, Literature-Based, Connected Learning Is the Best
We had a leak… and before long we were getting new carpet. I’ll spare you the details of everything in the ellipses, but it did give me the chance to go through boxes we had stored in our sons’ closets. As we rearranged our empty nest, I found my youngest son’s notebook from Paths of Exploration. He’s almost twenty-three now and lives a couple of hours from us.
Pages from my son's Paths of Exploration Notebook
It’s been years since I looked through that notebook. Seeing his fifth-grader handwriting, his drawings of birds and trees and flowers, and his creative writing brought such a big smile to my face.
Our Path to the Trail Guide to Learning Series
I had heard about a new curriculum and it sounded like everything I had been trying to do on my own. It was influenced by my “educational heroes”—Dr. Ruth Beechick and Charlotte Mason. I looked at the sample online and knew it was right for us, so I marched over to the table at our convention that year and bought it.
In many ways I loved creating things myself, but as a busy homeschool mom, I didn’t have time to put much together beyond their language arts. The Trail Guide to Learning series did for all our studies what I was only able to do for that one area.
It provided a natural, literature-based, connected curriculum.
Homeschool Curriculum That is Natural
Charlotte Mason formed her philosophy of education based on observing the actual children she was teaching. Even though it seems like that would be the way all methods have been developed, many philosophies and methods simply aren’t.
Dr. Beechick spent her career teaching children as well and formed many of her ideas based on her experience teaching in a one-room schoolhouse setting—teaching multiple ages together at the same time. Sound familiar?
As a result, their methods are based on the way kids are designed to learn. Developmental levels matter when it comes to how we teach children. And it’s not based on just theory… It's based on experience.
Children are made to learn. Without ever opening a textbook or doing a worksheet, your kids learned how to speak. They figured out how to walk. And through a bit of intentional instruction, I’m guessing they are no longer in diapers if they are past the toddler years.
That’s because they naturally learn and by paying attention to how, we can tap into those insights to make it easier when they begin more formal studies.
Homeschool Curriculum That is Literature-Based
We all seem to have a love for stories. Sure, some people don’t enjoy reading… but if you look around you realize that story is everywhere. When relatives gather at a family reunion they spend a lot of time telling stories from growing up together. God Himself speaks to us through His word and instructs us through the lives of people. Even marketing gurus encourage companies to attract people through story.
And who hasn’t had a little one ask for one more story at night or heard the words, “Will you read that to me again?”
Trail Guide to Learning takes this love and uses real books—not dry, boring textbooks—to draw kids into the world of history and science and more.
Homeschool Curriculum That is Connected
Most of us grew up going to a public or private school. It seemed organized in a really smart way. We had multiple teachers trained in different subjects. In order to benefit from their “expertise” we traveled from class to class. But there’s a BIG problem with this approach. Each subject became disconnected from the other subjects. And even within some subjects—especially language arts—there were breakdowns into even smaller boxes of learning.
We had a grammar textbook, readers full of stories, spelling workbooks… you get the idea.
But subjects, thankfully, don’t actually fit into neat little boxes. One of the beauties of home education is that we don’t have to approach education in that way. We have the privilege of teaching in a way that is connected—and that is a very powerful learning tool.
This connected way of learning is my favorite part of the Trail Guide to Learning series. Each “path” in the series follows a thread of American history: exploration, settlement, and progress. Students read biographies and historical fiction to make history come alive, their writing assignments are based on what they are learning about, and their science fits what is going on during history at the time.
Why This Homeschool Curriculum is the Best
Here’s why Trail Guide to Learning is the BEST curriculum for teaching kids. The series…
- Takes a natural, literature-based, and connected approach to teaching children.
- Is designed to be used with multiple children at the same time
- Teaches kids how to learn, not what to learn
- Includes all subjects except math
- Gives you flexibility to teach YOUR children, not the curriculum
Try Before You Buy
Not sure if this is a good fit for your family? We’re offering a chance for you to try it before you buy it. Summer is the perfect time to get started!
Try Unit 1 (the first six weeks) of Paths of Exploration along with all the resources you need to complete the unit. Every subject is covered with this engaging program except for math. Your students will see the path of Columbus through multidisciplinary eyes, but always with the same goal: to make learning enjoyable, memorable, and motivating. Learn more about our Try Before You Buy offer by clicking here.
Get 10% off complete package purchases during the month of July! Use code: PACKAGE10
Summer Learning Your Kids Will Love
Whether you homeschool year-round or take breaks during the summer, you know that kids never stop learning. What the world has defined as “school” almost makes it sound like a punishment! But learning shouldn’t carry that connotation. Instead, let’s help our kids see it as a never-ending adventure—one that doesn’t stop and start according to the calendar.
If we see it as an adventure, if we provide resources made for the way kids learn, and if we make it fun…we won’t be able to keep them from learning.
Three Tips for Summer Learning Fun (or Any Time of the Year)
Did you notice that last phrase: “if we make it fun”? That’s the key. When something is fun we don’t have to motivate our kids to do it. They want to. And when they want to learn something, they’ll remember it better, see connections, and understand why they would need to learn the information or skills.
Tip #1: Provide Engaging, Interactive Resources
No matter what type of learners your children are, all kids benefit from engaging as many senses as possible in the educational process. Whether it’s doing puzzles, cooking, creating art, answering questions, or simply discussing what they are reading about with you—interaction involves children in the subject matter, and that is a powerful learning tool!
Homeschool Evaluation: Get a Better Perspective of Where You Have Been and Where You Want to Go
Sometimes when we are in the middle of something it is hard to get an accurate picture of what is really going on. But seeing the “view from the top” gives us the perspective we need to cultivate the homeschool we want. That’s why a homeschool evaluation is key when it comes to planning your new year.
I took this photo while hanging over the side of a tall building in our city (don’t ask why…I question it myself every time I see this). And as you can imagine, my stomach did a little flip as I looked down from my perch high above the city street. But it did help me see things from a completely different perspective.
When I was editing it later I began to notice things I hadn’t when I was taking it—how the colors all connect with one another, how lines, shapes, and patterns emerged, how incredibly high up I was. I began to see the big picture better by studying the details.
The drivers in those cars had a very different view. And some of the drivers weren’t even in their cars at the time. Each was probably preoccupied with what was going on in their lives at that moment, barely noticing their surroundings or the group of photographers perched above them.
Because they were busy doing, they couldn’t see what I could from my vantage point. And they definitely couldn’t make any of the connections I was able to notice from my bird’s eye view—especially when I had time to study the picture.
When we are homeschooling, we are very much like those drivers. We are in the middle of it, so we are unable to see the whole picture or the little details that make it up. But if we want our families and homeschools to thrive, we need to take a step back and evaluate every once in a while.
So let’s park the car (or minivan since we are homeschoolers), climb up the stairs, and view our homeschools with some perspective. Let’s take a picture from the top as we evaluate our homeschools.
Evaluate Where You Have Been
To make a plan for your new year, think back over this past school year. If possible, discuss these questions with your spouse, too.
What You Need to Know About Homeschool Timelines
Timelines are a great tool for teaching history, pulling together a variety of topics, and organizing studies. Your children from elementary through high school can benefit from using them in a variety of ways.
The Framework Approach
We sometimes forget that children don't think in the same way adults do!
As adults, we have a better sense of time, so it’s logical for us to put people and events along a chronological timeline. However, developmentally, children don't have the same concept of time. (Just think about how you view waiting for Christmas to arrive as an adult versus when you were little!)
We like how Dr. Ruth Beechick approaches using timelines with younger learners in her book, You Can Teach Your Child Successfully.
“For children, timelines are not for pulling together the scattered pieces of knowledge…children haven’t yet collected enough pieces to pull together. What timelines can do for children is to provide a framework into which they can put pieces of knowledge as they learn them. For this framework purpose, timelines should be very simple—so simple that children can memorize them.”
New Year: Who Needs A Change?
Maybe you're finding that getting started in your new year back to school is off to a slow or rocky start. Sometimes we find ourselves procrastinating or, at the extreme, dreading getting back to our school-time routine.
There can be many reasons for feeling this way. It would be easy to then feel guilty for said procrastination or dread. One potential culprit behind how you’re feeling could be that some areas simply need to change.
Why Do We Resist Change?
If you are like me, I tend to resist change. I may not like the way things are going.
As I’ve shared in other blogs that I’ve written, I tend to be a driven, moderate Type A kind of person. But being that way has its negative side. I will often struggle my way through a situation before admitting that something is not working. I will plow through and suffer rather than stop and recalibrate.
Honestly, one of the first times I began to recognize this about myself was when I first learned about Trail Guide to Learning. I am ever grateful for the honest conversation at the end of a homeschool convention with the series' main author, Debbie Strayer, as she helped me see this blindspot.
Sometimes it’s not only a driven personality trait, but a false belief that quitting is somehow admitting failure and seems weak or unspiritual. This is certainly not to undermine the powerful virtue and fruit of the spirit of perseverance or faithfulness. So please do not hear what I am NOT saying. We often need to choose to stick with something, to wait or press through challenging things. However, it’s my experience that we often wait too long to change course.
So I write this to encourage those of you who are struggling to consider that maybe you need some encouragement to make some changes.
If things are not going as you hoped, know that you have permission to consider CHANGE.
Homeschooling Through Trying Times
Our world is becoming increasingly tumultuous. With the responsibilities of managing a household and homeschooling (and for some, working) how can we be the best version of who God has made us and called us to be?
Even if you limit your exposure to media and internet, it’s virtually impossible to be immune to the heaviness of what is going on in the world—it’s affecting each one of us in some way.
We’ve likely all dealt with sickness or life-altering loss this past year and a half. Compound this loss with the political climate, environmental catastrophes, crisis in the Middle East, and increasing division within the world and in our community of friends and family. As homeschool parents with the unique and consuming responsibilities that we carry, it’s no wonder that so many of us are struggling. It is a lot!
Now more than ever we must be relentlessly committed to healthy lifestyle practices that support our physical, emotional, and spiritual health.
A Personal Note
I don’t prescribe a “one-size fits all” approach. Not only does that lack compassion, it’s also not realistic. There are as many ways to successfully navigate a time like this while homeschooling as there are different people who need them.
Further, during the past year and a half I have walked through some deeply personal circumstances. I share that to assure you as the reader that I come to this topic with integrity as well as empathy.
This personal experience has dramatically shifted my perspective on how to have true peace and contentment even through the major traumatic events that come. I want to encourage healing and hope for others amid the trials of life—most especially for homeschoolers—as a homeschool mom.
I also hope to inspire anyone who needs it with practical ways to courageously walk a journey towards wholeness no matter what goes on in the world, near or far.
These suggestions are by no means exhaustive or conclusive and I hope they serve as a launching point so that you can homeschool with the joy and peace God intends for your family.
Why take care of “YOU” first?
One of the Ten Commandments God gave to Moses is to “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18). It is not selfish to prioritize caring for yourself. Quite the contrary, I believe God reminds us that how we love ourselves has a direct impact on how we love others. We can only give what we have. It is paramount for us to love ourselves for us to love others. I hope that it goes without saying but I’ll say it: God is concerned with our whole being— mind, body, soul, and spirit.
Off To A Soft Start
The beginning of a school year sets the tone for the entire year. Using a soft start to transition rather than jumping in at full speed can help ensure success for everyone!
A Case for the Soft Start
As a homeschooler, I have always needed and taken a summer break. So every August our family faced the contrast of summer and the school year ahead. This concept of starting slowly truly is something that I heard several times over my early years homeschooling before becoming a “believer.”
In the past when starting something new, my tendency was to prepare well and hit the ground running. While I believe being well prepared is important, I didn’t consider the implications of how this more aggressive approach would impact me and especially my kids.Like adults, kids handle change differently. However, many kids don’t like change and need a transition to help adjust well.
My kids were never ready to leave summer behind. (Let’s be honest: Who wants to say goodbye to the fun of Florida summer days with the allure of so many outdoor adventures awaiting us day and night?) They were even less eager to begin a new school year on the heels of such active summers. What they needed was a gentle transition—a slow start to the new season.
Why Keeping the FUN in Learning is a MUST
Fun and learning should not be mutually exclusive. Kids remember more and understand better when learning is pleasurable.
So many homeschool moms were educated in the public school system. Reflecting on that experience, very few of us refer to our education as one that prioritized fun in learning. As a result, we often lack the understanding of how and why to incorporate fun while learning with our own kids.
When it came to educating my first child, I took a more traditional approach. I am one of those moms who started my first child’s early education sitting down at a child-sized (at least I did that!) table with workbooks. The approach was what I was familiar with. There’s no shame or condemnation for me or anyone who chooses that approach. I just think there’s a better way.
“The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education.” —Albert Einstein
My favorite part of teaching my kids was—and still is—reading good books. So we read a lot. We took trips to the library, went on field trips with friends, and participated in dance or gymnastics classes to get out of the house and break up the monotony of “traditional school.”
I didn’t fully realize the value these activities had in my kid’s learning until I met Debbie Strayer, the main author of the Trail Guide to Learning series. I was introduced to Debbie during my first year homeschooling. It was her knowledge and influence regarding the education of children that helped me to see how important having fun while learning really is.
I’m so thankful for her patient and persistent encouragement over the years, especially when I was such a new homeschool mom. I’m even more thankful that she wrote the curriculum all of my children used for years of their education so that they could experience the fun that learning can be.
While it may seem obvious, sometimes just hearing the “why” behind something can spark a new motivation or reignite a flame for something that is already within us. So bear with me for a moment.
Why is FUN so Important?
1. Having fun supports the natural way kids learn. From birth we are processing the world around us to form our own conclusions and find our place in the world. We are born to be naturally curious. School should represent learning that encourages children towards what they are curious about.
What’s your preference: Schedule or Routine?
Considering the complexities of what we manage, we instinctively know that a busy homeschool family needs a schedule or routine.
As we enjoy the rest that summer brings or homeschool as usual, many of us have an inexplicable draw to advance planning. Homeschool moms seem to be some of the most prepared people on the planet.
Rightly so! As both a parent and the primary educator, we carry an even greater responsibility than most. Include the fact that many of us also have special needs and circumstances, and it is apparent that advance preparation is vital to our success.
A schedule or routine can be a great place to begin those preparations! They help us to prioritize and organize, bringing order from chaos.
It is important, however, to remember that these “time managers” are tools and can benefit only as much as they fit the needs and circumstances of each mom and family.
Understanding the differences between routine and schedule while considering which will benefit our family and life circumstance can be critical to our preparation.
What works best for each family will look different, so consider the strengths and weaknesses of each approach as you decide what is best for you.
What is the difference between a schedule and a routine?
The main difference between schedules and routines is simple: Schedules dictate the what and when; routines give the what with a loose order.
Empowered to Teach
“Are you feeling empowered, homeschool mom?”
In my recent interview with Trail Guide mom Tiffany Ingram, she shares how using Trail Guide to Learning as a new homeschool mom with young children empowered her to teach them and gave her the confidence she needed to homeschool.
According to Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary, the definition of the word “empower” means to “give official power or legal authority to.”
Many who choose to homeschool do not necessarily have a degree or special training in education. Thankfully, in our country a degree is not a requirement. This freedom enables parents with a variety of backgrounds to make the decision to homeschool.
Some parents know before their children are born that they desire to homeschool, while others are doing it more out of necessity due to special learning challenges in their children or a particular season of life. Some choose an approach that uses a set curriculum, some do not, and there are certainly families who fall somewhere in between.
Whatever the reason a parent has chosen the homeschool path and whatever their approach, assuming responsibility for their child’s education can feel intimidating, even daunting. After all, there is much to be considered when it comes to educational requirements, as well as the needs, personalities, and even interests of each child.
Regardless of vision, approach, or special circumstances surrounding the decision to homeschool, I believe feeling empowered to teach is a critical element to the success of home education. When it comes to empowerment, the curriculum can be KEY!
The Trail Guide to Learning series was intentionally designed to be a curriculum that would empower its teacher. Not only was it written by highly-qualified educators with many years of research, but also with thorough, well-organized lesson plans, side notes, and all the extras to make teaching a breeze.
Empowered by Qualified Authors
The primary author of Trail Guide, Debbie Strayer, never touted her advanced degree or extensive experience as an educator. She never needed to, in my opinion. Her passion and zeal said it all!
The beginning of her journey did begin with both a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree. Over the years she gained extensive experience with many different ages and specialties in the educational system, including administration. She was a curriculum writer, homeschool evaluator, and speaker for many years. She was mentored by homeschool pioneer and educator, Dr. Ruth Beechick. Debbie’s qualifications are impressive.
However, it’s not just her experience and knowledge that qualify her to create curriculum that empowers others. Debbie is most known for using her knowledge and experience to encourage, uplift, and empower homeschool moms to do what they were called to do.
Whether evaluating a homeschool student or speaking personally with a mom in the booth at a convention, Debbie was driven by a deep desire to see others strengthened. It is out of this deep desire that she wrote the Trail Guide curriculum.
Since I traveled with her in her later years, I would often hear her speak. There are two things I remember her consistently sharing.
First, she shared that moms (most often she was speaking to moms) are the most qualified teachers of their children. She explained that she believed a parent’s unique love for and relationship with their child would make them the best one for the job—not a degree or letters behind their name. Simply…God’s design of their family.
Second, for anyone doubting the truth of this statement, she would follow up with her own life’s verse: 1 Thess. 5:24, “The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.”
Those words seemed to resonate deeply in the hearts of its hearers. Even the most discouraged mom found great strength to continue on the journey. It really was as if God used her especially in the lives of the disempowered and downtrodden to infuse hope for the seemingly impossible task.
If only she could be physically present to impart this kind of empowering each day! Oh, but wait—she created a curriculum to do just that!
Empowered by Easy-to-Use Lessons
Since my children knew Debbie personally as their yearly evaluator and my close friend as I was using Trail Guide with them, I used to refer to the curriculum as if it were Debbie herself.
I would say, “What did Ms. Debbie say?” “How many pages did Ms. Debbie ask you to read?” (It helped to give credibility to the amount or type of work they were being asked to do!)
While she knew that she could not be physically present in the homeschooling day, she wrote a curriculum that would feel very much like she was right there next to you cheering you on.
I think the authors did a remarkable job organizing and explaining how to use a multi-level, multi-subject curriculum. It was written with simple language, and addresses the student so that directions were easy to follow.
They coordinated the lessons and student notebook pages with animal paw prints for ease with students at different levels who use Trail Guide. They provided charts and check-off lists. They provided summaries at the beginning of every lesson to help the lesson make sense and tie together key concepts so that the teacher did not have to do that themselves. They even provided a section with ideas for how to expand the lesson material for older students and children with interests beyond the lessons provided.
They truly though of everything. That’s empowering!
Empowered by Margin Notes
As I used it, one of my favorite aspects about Trail Guide were the notes in the side margins. Some notes are practical and meant to guide parents through the curriculum. Others are intentionally written to empower even the most timid, inexperienced homeschool parents.
While there is an in-depth description in the introduction section of each Teacher’s Guide, there are also notes in the margins throughout the curriculum that explain why these sections as well as how to use them with your children. These were invaluable to me in the early stages of homeschooling.
For example, in the “Copywork/Dictation” section they explained that copywork and dictation passages were incremental and encouraged the teacher to progress as the child is successful. Further, they explained the difference between copywork and dictation. They then explained the unique skills built in dictation and how to use the method most successfully. This was so helpful for me!
In one of the side notes there is an explanation of how discussion in the “Read-Aloud and Discussion” sections are important in the child’s ability to begin developing their thoughts around a subject rather than simply answer questions.
I may be a bit biased but I’m honestly not sure I could identify what more the authors could have done to create and design such a curriculum that would empower any parent to teach their children so successfully.
If you’ve never used Trail Guide, what are you waiting for?