News, Articles & Tips
Unexpected GIFTS Trail Guide Gave Us
Have you ever received a thoughtful or significant gift when it wasn’t even your birthday (or any special occasion for that matter)? You might have experienced, as I did, an array of emotions from complete shock to sheer delight or profound humility to deep thankfulness.
It's happened to me only a few times. I can still feel the overwhelming emotions.
In a recent interview with my daughter on the Trail Guide to Learning Facebook page, I experienced some of these same emotions as she had the opportunity to share her perspective on using Trail Guide through the middle school years.
It really was like receiving a meaningful gift! All the “feels”—surprise, sheer delight, and deep thankfulness as she shared some unexpected consequences which themselves turned out to be tremendous gifts!
Let me begin by saying that I intentionally chose to use the Trail Guide knowing some of its potential strengths and benefits. Developing critical thinking skills and a love of learning were at the top of the list. But, it wasn’t until this interview with my oldest child, Eliya, that I realized just how significant these unexpected gifts from Trail Guide were to my children...and to me.
Discovering Learning Challenges
As parents, we do the best we can to research and choose curriculum that best fits our vision and values as a family. We put considerable time and thought into the needs of each child and even the particular season of our family's lives.
At a minimum, we at least to experience the benefits of our curriculum choices but there will always be some things that go beyond our expectations and, quite frankly, even surprise us.
Having high hopes for each child—no matter what personal challenges or struggles they are faced with—we intend to give them the best opportunity to succeed and excel in whatever God is calling them to do in life.
I’m no exception.
However, I’ll be honest enough to admit that raising four children within eight years of each other in age sometimes left me overwhelmed in homeschooling and often wondering if my kids would indeed reap the benefits I hoped for using Trail Guide.
It wasn’t until a couple of years after finishing the series with my oldest two children that we realized they both had mild to moderate reading difficulty. As their mother and teacher, I found myself questioning how it was I missed such important learning challenges in my kids.
My oldest child self-diagnosed with mild dyslexia and ADD. My second child was diagnosed by an opthamologist with eye tracking issues that required thousands of dollars and many hours of eye therapy to correct.
What?!?! How did I not know?!
How in the world did they do as well as they did in school?
As much as I have been tempted to feel guilt for not having known and helped them in some way, I’ve come to a deeper understanding of the bigger picture. But this deeper understanding was truly crystallized through my daughter’s reflection.
Over these years, I’ve come to trust that God really means it when He says that He uses all things for our good. I no longer experience the fear or regret that plagued my past.
I am more confident than ever that He wants to use even our greatest mistakes and challenges for something purposeful in all of our lives. That is a key part of why NOT being aware of their challenges while we used Trail Guide is such a gift to me NOW.
This interview helped me see God’s good plan for my children’s challenges in ways I never could have expected.
How was Trail Guide the answer?
The flexibility to adapt lessons, along with the engaging of many learning styles, significantly helped my children navigate their difficulties.
Trail Guide’s approach to learning allowed them to develop strategies to compensate, turning potential weaknesses into strengths and ultimately building confidence instead of discouragement.
And they did it on their own, unaware of what they were actually doing.
Connected Learning Makes Sense
Research proves that when learning is related students better retain and enjoy more what they are learning. However, it didn’t occur to me that this unified approach also offers a flexibility to learning that enables students to work around challenges without needing to emphasize them.
My kids could not only do work at their own pace/ability level, but they also discovered how to learn absent a rigid method.
That flexibility allowed them to adjust and do what they were good at and stress less about what was difficult.
For example, Trail Guide has copywork or dictation lessons. I often observed writing was a stressful activity for kids, so we adjusted to accommodate their needs. Sometimes we did copywork. Sometimes I dictated to them. And sometimes we needed to skip a day.
If writing in any subject was a struggle, we did less. Sometimes I would write for them or allow them to process verbally.
Often my kids gravitated heavily towards the art and music lessons. I took advantage of that by allowing more time and emphasis when it came to those subject areas. We listened to the orchestra CD used in Paths of Progress for hours on end—not just the lesson it was assigned.
Who knew that this choice to be flexible was growing into such confidence!
Various Learning styles
Trail Guide engages not just one style of learning but many. If your child is not naturally inclined to one learning style, you can adapt it or choose to expose them gently, considering that it may create unnecessary stress in learning.
My kids were very verbal and tactile in their learning styles. They wanted more discussions and hands-on activities.
We had elongated and sometimes lively discussions (that may or may not have strayed off topic). I often chose to have them share verbally rather than in writing.
I’m convinced this allowed them to also enjoy our relationship in learning more, as I focused more on their strengths and less on perceived weaknesses.
Trail Guide has a weekly review which employs many types of games. They loved to play the games together and compete with each other. Because learning was fun, hands-on, and competitive with his sister, I feel that my son (who later had a year of eye therapy) could push himself further than he would have otherwise.
Eliya always loved literature and learning through storytelling. I think it was one of her favorite parts of using Trail Guide, which is so rich with good literature. Even with her reading challenges, Trail Guide afforded the opportunity to read at her own pace or to listen as I dictated.
Looking back after all these years, it’s my daughter herself who expressed that this approach to learning “allows kids to feel successful even if they have disabilities.” I don’t think either one of us had considered this before.
No matter what difficulties she or her brother were overcoming, they were motivated to learn. They inadvertently learned some of the most valuable lessons in life. That is better than solid gold!
What were challenges that could have held them back or discouraged them, turned into strengths instead! Thank you, Trail Guide authors!
Subjects Perfectly Intertwined
Sitting down with Rachel Martin to talk about her return to the Trail Guide to Learning series was so inspiring! She reminded me what an amazing curriculum we have.
One of the aspects I don’t think gets highlighted enough is something Rachel referenced several times in our conversation—how well the subjects flow together!
Or as Rachel put it, “They (the lessons) are seamlessly intertwined."
I liken the way Trail Guide to Learning is written to weaving on a loom because it not only is a good analogy for how it works, but also because of the beautiful product it brings.
Have you ever seen tapestry being woven together on a loom? On one of our homeschool field trips I watched—mesmerized—as the fabric was intricately threaded through the loom and then woven with the others to create the larger piece of tapestry.
Meticulously and thoughtfully woven together, the tapestry of the Trail Guide to Learning provides lessons that make sense while being easy to use so that children can learn better and learn together.
First, it makes sense.
Weaving subjects together and relating them enables learning to be a natural process.
When a subject like Christopher Columbus discovering America can not only look at the story and character of his life but also include information on how to navigate by the stars and ocean currents which affected the course of his ship, learning science makes sense.
Further, when vocabulary words come from the places where Columbus traveled and the people he met, your word study makes sense. When an art project is to build a model ship that Columbus sailed on and label the parts of the ship, again, the word study and art make sense.
Learning for the child is natural. It doesn’t seem forced, out of context, nor artificial.
I will always remember my first few weeks using the Trail Guide to Learning with my first set of kids. We began with Paths of Exploration. Having never experienced this way of learning, I was absolutely blown away by how easy the teaching and learning process became.
It was a new concept to me personally. It didn’t take long to convince me that this way of learning was not only easier but more effective.
Now those subjects (which taught out of context would likely be quickly forgotten) are remembered and connected to a person and place in history. They make sense to a bigger picture.
Second, they learn better.
As would naturally follow, when learning for a child makes sense, they retain what they are learning better, too.
I loved that my children were learning vocabulary and spelling words that were not random but completely connected to everything they were learning and experiencing. Yes, they seemed to learn better, but even more, they seemed to enjoy what they were learning and to feel more confident in their studies.
Research supports that kids learn better when the subjects relate, but I’m not sure how you can measure the joy that comes from learning that way!
Third, they learn together.
Rachel mentioned that as she used Paths of Settlement she was teaching four different children with four different learning levels, even within their respective grades. Yet her kids worked together regardless of their different strengths and weakness, unaware of the pressures of a particular grade level.
The curriculum allowed each child to learn and influence the others at whatever level they were at without fear or pressure.
This unified approach brought a harmony that bonded them together. As they were a newly blended family, this was a huge unexpected blessing.
In my family I found that it helped the younger or weaker child in a certain subject area to have the benefit of learning from the older or stronger sibling with no negative peer pressure.
Fourth, it’s easy to use.
There is no denying that having one book to teach from is much easier than having several books for several different subjects. More than that though, it’s so much easier to teach when the subjects relate to one another.
It allows for natural discussions both in and out of the school day. We already have plenty of things to complicate and challenge our lives. Our curriculum choices certainly shouldn’t!
Fifth, it’s free to try.
With the “Try It Before You Buy” option there is no reason not to give this curriculum a try. Geography Matters offers the first unit (six weeks) of Paths of Exploration, along with almost all of the resources needed to teach it, for FREE! There is no risk or obligation.
MORE INTERVIEWS TO COME: Many thanks to Rachel Martin!
Rachel is the first interview to kick off this year of interviews with veteran Trail Guide to Learning moms. I look forward to interviewing these moms monthly who can share their insights and experience as they’ve used the curriculum. Having different children and life experiences, they will each bring a unique perspective to the table which I feel confident will help all of users and potential users to feel supported and encouraged. I hope you’ll join us each month!
Making Geography “Stick”y
Do you remember your first experience with learning geography? Was it positive? Was it memorable? It might have been an inspiring teacher who made it come alive, a family vacation that ignited excitement to travel or explore map skills, or a television show on world travel. Or, like many of us homeschool moms, it may have been as you taught your kids!
While preparing to write this, I was reminded of what I believe to be one of the only actual classes on geography I ever took. It was in Seventh grade with Mr. Grist.
Mr. Grist, a retired, silver-haired, ex-military colonel who took up teaching as a second career, was from Alaska and had lived there for many years. Having traveled extensively, he always had fascinating stories to share about different places. He brought pictures and objects to class (mostly from Alaska), but also from other places. He must have worn his parka to class often because in my memory of Mr. Grist, he has that coat on.
I believe he not only passed on to me a love for travel and a desire to see the places we learned about, but specifically a love for Alaska. I even remember the Bering Strait as the location where the easternmost point of Asia and westernmost point of North America meet and where the Arctic and Pacific connect. I remember the temperature, varying length of daylight throughout the year, terrain type, animals, and that Denali is the highest peak in North America.
You can imagine my thrill in 2018 when I had the opportunity to work with GeoMatters at the homeschool conventions in Alaska!
As an adult looking back on that geography class I can tell you those stories, pictures and objects all helped me remember. It stuck for me. Beyond just learning, I was inspired to learn more!
Being able to visualize and relate to Alaska through the storytelling of my teacher and the relevant objects and pictures he brought, gave me context and made the location come to life! Many of us understand learning is most successful when connections are made and subjects relate to one another flowing naturally together. It stands to reason then, that studying geography in connection to other subjects will help the content stick.
If you wanted to learn about Mexico, you could read a book and use a map worksheet to label a few key landmarks. Or, you could do some research and a report on the ancient ruins of Chichen Itza with pictures and drawings of the ruins in the Mayan art style. This would include language, writing and research skills with and an art lesson.
What about the studying several active volcanoes in Mexico and finding out how they’ve affected the population when an eruption took place? Subjects covered include: language, research skills, science and history.
For the creative “foodie” who loves experimenting in the kitchen, what better way to learn about Mexico than to prepare a Mexican meal and play Mariachi music while eating it? Bonus points for learning and sharing a few Spanish words while enjoying the meal. Who can forget Mexico after a connection like this?
(Ideas taken from Trail Guide to World Geography.)
Beyond remembering the facts of the ancient ruins, volcanoes, or the food and music of Mexico, imprinted on your young learner’s mind will be the fun they had. Fun motivates and inspires the desire for more learning. Win!
As a new homeschooler many years ago, learning meant sitting down with a pencil and paper and some instructional manual or workbook. I knew that kids liked to have fun but, to me, that was for after school was finished. I’m not faulting or condemning myself or anyone who has this view of learning. But I will say that my view has significantly shifted over the years. My youngest child of four is much more the benefactor of a mom who believes in learning as fun.
For me, the transition was gradual. It took some time to embrace the extra effort of corralling supplies, cleaning up occasional messes or spending a bit more time preparing for a lesson. It also took some learning on my behalf, from others with educational experience and expertise, to understand the importance of having fun when learning.
As I write this, I am adding a few items on my grocery list because my youngest child always chooses to cook when given the opportunity to learn about a new place. I’ll be honest and say that in the past I tried to dissuade my oldest child, who shared the same eagerness.
Tomorrow night will be lamb stew and Irish Soda bread as we learn about Ireland. I am more than happy to oblige by grocery shopping and cleaning up the dishes to experience his joy and partake in an Irish meal.
Another of the many ways to engage in fun with geography is by making a salt dough map. Have you ever tried this? The part of me that doesn’t like messes hesitated a bit the first time I saw the lesson. My initial experience with a salt dough map was when my oldest children were doing Paths of Settlement, the second in the Trail Guide to Learning series. Over the course of the Nation Building Unit, we constructed a 3D salt dough map of North America. I never could have anticipated how much my children and I would learn as we constructed this map!
First, it required lessons in character building for us to attempt something unfamiliar, patiently following directions and giving plenty of space for mistakes. Working with salt dough and making a topographical map can be tricky. But, if you and your child can keep in mind that it’s not meant to be a science but an art, you can have a lot of fun.
Not only is it fun, but constructing the map engages thinking skills and the artistic, right-side of the brain, in a way I had not imagined. Naturally, you’re asking all kinds of questions and interacting with information that you otherwise would not. I loved that part!
Asking questions leads to new questions, discoveries and “Aha” moments such as “how big the land acquired by the Louisiana purchase really was compared to the rest of the United States.” And, “how much higher the land elevation is on the western side of the United States than the eastern side.”
I am now a big proponent of salt dough maps and any activity like it that engages learning so naturally. I encourage you to try one or all of these options to help make geography memorable. If you are like me and sometimes just need to have a list of what to do, then start with the hands-on aspect. Geography Matters offers cookbooks based on US and world geography, sticker books, an international art book, maps, atlases, globes and so much more to assist to you in bringing geography to life. It will stick for your children!
Use the coupon code “StickyGeo” to receive 20% off any of our geography items. This includes the already discounted bundles! Click here to shop our geography collection.
Unconventional Support for Trying Times
I’m writing this blog post on a day we were scheduled to be at homeschool conventions in Alaska. Alaska!
I’m one of the newest team members of the GeoMatters/Trail Guide to Learning Team, but I’ve been using this curriculum for over a decade and was mentored by one of the authors, Debbie Strayer. Last year was my first time attending the conventions there and my first time in the state of AK. It was a place I had only dreamed of seeing!
Are there places you’ve always dreamed of going but you chalk it up to “just a dream” or an unlikely reality? Alaska did not disappoint. The homeschool moms and families were beautiful people. The endless snow-capped mountains were absolutely stunning. The unique wildlife (so unique to this Florida girl) was unforgettable. When is the last time you had the opportunity to see a whale “breach” or coastal mountains dotted with Bald Eagles? It took my breath away! Needless to say, I feel as if I left a piece of my heart there. Upon leaving last year, I eagerly anticipated my return this April.
I’m sure many of you can relate. You’ve had similar experiences with your vacation plans, your senior’s prom or graduation postponement. My son graduates high school this year. We’re not sure if he will have a graduation ceremony. And, to be honest, we know that those losses are small in the grander scheme and certainly compared to the loss of health and life and economic devastation so many are facing. We have so much to be grateful for!
Alas through the endless cancellations and plethora of disappointments in this season, there have been so many beautiful and truly redemptive stories as well! Not being able to attend a homeschool convention might be a small inconvenience, but yet another challenge in challenging times. Conventions are a source of tremendous support and encouragement on our homeschooling journey. For some, it is a once a year exposure to such support.
Try Before You Buy
We here at GeoMatters, would like to do our small part in easing the hardships. You may not be able to come to our booth and look through the curriculum in person. So we would like to support you with a “Try Before You Buy” offer. With this free download, you’ll receive unit 1 of Paths of Exploration, the older and younger extensions for that unit, as well as any missing assignments from books we publish. We will also have a package with the two readers for just $10 if you’d rather not have to get them elsewhere or from the library. If you’re interested in another level of the Trail Guide series, let us know and we will get you a larger sample to peruse while you contemplate.
Free Curriculum ConsultationNew YouTube Channel
If you’re unsure whether or not this program would be a good fit, or which level you should use, please take advantage of our free curriculum consultations. Simply answer a couple questions so we know how to help and we’ll be in contact shortly with our suggestions.
We have also made some introductory videos available for all of you who are new to Trail Guide to Learning or want to know more about it. These videos will walk you through details that you would have received while speaking with our staff members during conventions. Check them out on our YouTube Channel.
Finally, our team here at GeoMatters would like to extend a discount of 10% off orders over $100. Simply use the coupon code “unconventional” upon checkout. It is our sincere hope that everyone who desires to utilize our curriculum will have the option to do so. From our team to your family, thank you for your continued support!
We Love You!
Actions speak louder than words, don’t they! Someone can tell us all day long the words, “I love you,” but when their actions consistently (not always perfectly) demonstrate love we can know for sure that their words are more than just an empty cliché.
Don’t we all want to be loved that way!
I remember my first introduction by author Debbie Strayer to the Trail Guide to Learning series. I was at our state homeschool convention in Florida totally stressed out about not finding the “right” science curriculum for the following school year.
It was merely hours before the convention hall was closing and I saw Debbie at the GeoMatters booth. Actually, it felt like Debbie saw me! She left the booth as I was walking towards it to come embrace me….I guess I had the look of exhaustion and frustration all over me.
As I briefly explained my dilemma to her, she lovingly asked if I would like to have her explain how the Trail Guide to Learning series could be a potential solution not only to my science debacle but also to my feelings of stress toward homeschooling due to the recent birth of my fourth child.
I remember thinking several things after that meeting.
The first was how nurturing, loving and encouraging Debbie really was for all homeschoolers. I left feeling not only empowered but with curriculum to save me time and invest well in my young children’s hearts. I felt like I had a genuine cheerleader in my corner telling me that I was the best homeschool mom for my kids.
The second thing I learned was how passionate she was to see a practical solution for the already stretched homeschool mom. She could have simply continued to do speaking engagements and homeschool evaluations without adding on the job of writing.
During the month of February, we’d like to express our love to you by offering a 25% discount on any purchases between now and the end of the month. Simply use the code "LOVE25" at checkout.
But instead, she tirelessly and lovingly spent the last years of her life dedicated to creating a curriculum that she felt was needed for many homeschool families. A curriculum that was low on teacher preparation, high in thinking skills, and one that builds a love for learning. Love in action!
I remember getting the opportunity to meet with Debbie a year or two after that convention meeting. She sat down with me during a break at the library when she was writing and preparing one of the subsequent Trail Guides. For a season, the library was where she spent much of her free time writing. I could tell she was tired, yet clearly so full of joy sharing about the book choices and considerations as she wrote the next level—a curriculum put together with every detail included so you can just pick it up from your shelf and teach!
As a matter of fact, I’ve gotten the opportunity to learn about all of the curriculum that GeoMatters sells since I have become a member of the team. As I get to know the authors themselves and listen to their passion, I realize all of the material was thoughtfully and lovingly created.
At GeoMatters, our work and mission flows from a deep place of love and compassion for homeschool families! We are honored to provide services, resources, and curriculum to support and enhance your homeschooling journey.
During the month of February, we’d like to express our love to you, homeschool family, by offering a 25% discount on any purchases between now and the end of the month. Simply use the code "LOVE25" at checkout.
“Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.”
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