Paths of Progress Review (Trail Guide to Learning)

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We’ve been using the third installment of the Trail Guide to Learning series, Paths of Progress for almost a year now and I’ve been promising y’all a review for awhile. We’re halfway through the fourth of six units and should finish up before Christmas break.

Rather than rehash the layout, which is essentially the same as Paths of Exploration and Paths of Settlement (see my review), the two preceding volumes, I thought I’d give you an overview of what’s covered in this volume, then tell you what this very eclectic homeschooling mom loves about this all-inclusive homeschool curriculum.

Trail Guide to Learning Paths of Progress Review

Overview of Paths of Progress

Paths of Progress explores the industrial growth of the United States through the eyes of the thinkers and inventors of the time. Students will learn about the lives of men such as:

  • Michael Faraday (who actually lived in England)
  • Thomas Edison
  • George Washington Carver
  • The Wright Brothers
  • Alan Sheppard

Geography is integrated through history and economics as students learn about the natural resources of the states and the role that technological progress played in the expansion of our country.

Science focuses on  inventions and inventors; tools and technology; and human anatomy. Art and music include creating clay sculptures, learning to play the recorder (which we skipped because my kids had four years of recorder music class), and studying the orchestra.

As in previous volumes, spelling, vocabulary, copywork, dictation, and writing are integrated for a natural approach to learning. Students begin to learn Greek and Latin root words to increase vocabulary skills. (We really enjoy playing games with Rummy Roots.)

Paths of Progress

Hands-down one of my favorite components of the Trail Guide to Learning series is the quality literature. I just don’t think there is any better way to learn history than studying the lives of those who lived in. In addition to the fantastic biographies, there are wonderful historical fiction titles, such as:

We’re even enjoying The Hound of the Baskervilles, part of the optional high school extension. I decided to start reading some of the high school extension books this semester since Josh is an 8th grader. Okay, and because I wanted to read them.

For nearly three weeks Megan has complained that The Hound of the Baskervilles is boring. I know the language is challenging, but I’ve been interpreting, as needed, and pointing out the funny parts. Just yesterday, she complained about the place I chose to stop reading – because she’s finally interested in the book and didn’t want to stop!

What I Love about Paths of Progress

Minimal teacher prep

There was a time when I loved to write my own unit studies and plan my own lessons. The fact is, though, that I’m at the stage in my life where I really appreciate having the lessons planned for me. I’ve said before that Trail Guide to Learning is written the way I would have written it myself. You know, if I knew what I was doing.

The daily lesson plans are written for me, so all I have to do is open the teacher guide and go. And, in Paths of Progress the Lesson-at-a-Glance pages are written to the student. That means that as students progress through the Trail Guide to Learning series, they’re continually being moved to greater independence.

Paths of Progress Review

Now, you may have seen me comment that I’m using a different lesson plan sheet. That’s because all three levels of student assignments are on the Lesson-at-a-Glance pages. That’s a bit confusing/overwhelming for my kids, plus I like to put the other things we do on their assignment sheets. There is actually room on the TGLS for adding in extras, but it’s a simple task to transfer the information from the TGLS sheet to my lesson plan sheet.

I used to spend almost an entire Saturday writing lesson plans. These days, it literally takes about 15 minutes, at most. I love that!

Four day school week

Like its predecessors, Paths of Progress is designed on a four day school week, with the fifth day being either a make-up day or an enrichment day. This makes the curriculum perfect for people who are also involved in a co-op – no stressing over getting behind. It also makes it easy to plan field trips, play dates, or extracurricular activities.

Or, you know, to just feel like you’re able to stay caught up without drowning in school work.

Six week units

If you’ve read my blog for any time at all, you probably already know how my family and I have come to love our year round homeschool schedule – six weeks on and one week off. We’ve just started our fourth week of school and I told my oldest yesterday, “Just two more weeks until we get a week off!”

Don’t get me wrong – we really enjoy the school day with Trail Guide to Learning. It’s not like I’m counting days of drudgery until we get a break…but, come on. We all need some downtime and with the busy schedule I’ve had lately, I’m just looking forward to a week to relax and catch up. Then, I’ll be just as excited to jump back into a new unit as I was to take the week off.

We enjoy school!

That’s probably the biggest thing I love about Trail Guide to Learning. Before we discovered this curriculum, we were all tired, burnt out, and just going through the motions. There was no grumbling this year when we resumed school after summer break. It wasn’t even a big production. I guess maybe that’s kind of sad – like there should have been a “first day of school” celebration or something.

Call me weird, but I kind of liked that our first day of school wasn’t a big deal. School is just part of what we do, like fixing dinner or going to church, or hanging out as a family. Trail Guide to Learning has reignited a love of learning while, at the same time, making the school part of our lives much simpler and more enjoyable. That makes every day a celebration of sorts.

If you’re interested in Trail Guide to Learning or any of the other Geography Matters products, don’t miss their August sales specials! They’ll be offering a new special each week, every Thursday in August.

GeoMatters Sale

Disclosure: I have a working relationship with Geography Matters, publishers of Trail Guide to Learning. However, I only recommend products that my family has used and enjoyed. The opinions expressed here are my personal, honest opinions. Your experience may vary. Please read my full disclosure policy for more details.


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Kris Bales is a newly-retired homeschool mom and the quirky, Christ-following, painfully honest founder (and former owner) of Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers. She has a pretty serious addiction to sweet tea and Words with Friends. Kris and her husband of over 30 years are parents to three amazing homeschool grads. They share their home with three dogs, two cats, a ball python, a bearded dragon, and seven birds.

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  1. Kris,

    You finally “talked” me into it! I have been reading your reviews on Trail Guide to Learning for the past year or so and would think “would this work for our family?”. I kept checking it out and thinking no way would this work for us. However, in God’s perfect timing, last week you posted about your school week, and I checked it out one last time. We are entering a different season in our lives and homeschooling. We are bringing our 8th grader back from public school (along with our 6th grader who homeschooled last year), and I need something that is pretty much laid out every day. I fell in love with POS! I was planning on teaching Early American History (using a curriculum you have used in the past – right before you switched to TGL – ha!). I’m pretty much copying your schedule – we love Easy Grammar and Apologia, so I am planning on incorporating it into our day too. So, I just wanted to say thank you for your detailed reviews and your enthusiasm for the product. It makes me excited too!! I just received our package this week, and I have been giddy as a school girl! : )- Can’t wait to get started! Blessings!


  2. I am using Paths of Exploration with my daughter(8) and my nieces who live with us (8 and 9). With 2 3rd graders and 1 4th grader it’s nice to have something that we can all do together.

  3. I’ve been eyeing this material (with extensions) from afar for my high school Freshman. But I”m not clear what does a high-schooler would do after completing Paths of Progress? Any thoughts? What will you be using for your Freshman this next year?

    1. The first middle school book will be out this fall, so my plan is to use that at the 8th grade level and supplement as needed. We plan to continue on that way as a new level is planned to be introduced each year. If they aren’t released in time for us, I guess we’ll go back to our mish-mash of curriculum, which will include Uncle Eric books for government/civics/economics and European history, most likely Apologia for science, Teaching Textbooks, Write Shop, and some great literature.

  4. Hi Kris,
    We are using POP this year with a 5th and a 6th grader. I also have a two year old, which has been a bit of a challenge. However, we are working on keeping her included in our day, but still getting it done. We are in week three and love so much of the program for many of the reasons you’ve listed. If you could help with a couple of questions that would be wonderful. First, I have printed out the two lower level notebooks for the first six weeks. I am not always understanding how those notebook pages work with the science assignments. We have had several pages incomplete in science. I think I’m unclear on following directions in POP guide and the tools and technology book. Science also has seemed to take a long time on a few of the days, so I’m struggling with not being able to complete it. I love the content though, it’s logistics I’m struggling with. Second, I see the suggestion to read fom a parent planner, under teacher connection, in the margin occasionally. I’m not sure what refernce I should be using. Is this Ruth’s book? Lastly, we haven’t started the timeline yet, but hope to this week. Do you have any suggestions for the timeline? Thank you so much.

    1. I’d love to be able to help, Melanie, but it’s hard to say what the problem could be without seeing the pages you’re talking about. The teaching text should tell you how/where to used the student pages.

      I have no idea about the parent planner. I see where it’s referenced in the front of the book under optional resources and where it’s referenced in the side notes. Maybe it was something that was in the works, but isn’t available yet. I don’t know. I didn’t see it on the GeoMatters website.

      We haven’t really done the timeline. We should, but I’m terrible about keeping them up. We have a timeline notebook that we try to update from time to time, but we’re nowhere near consistent.

      I know I’ve been no help. I would suggest you call or email the folks at Geography Matters. Their contact info is available on their website and they’re super-nice people. They’re always willing to help and want to make using their products the best possible experience for their customers. I know they’d be happy to help you figure everything out.

      1. Kris,
        I appreciate your reply and I will give the folks at Geomatters a call. Your website has been a great resource and help to me.

  5. Dear Kris,
    Thank you so much for your detailed reviews of curriculum! They are so informative and useful. You have inspired our family. We will be starting Paths of Settlement in two weeks, along with another family that will be starting to homeschool for the first time. (We plan to go back and do an abbreviated Paths of Exploration in the summer, before starting Paths of Progress in Fall of 2014). We are all very excited. In fact, I read ahead in two of the books for Unit 1. Couldn’t wait. Thanks so much for all the effort you put forth to help the homeschooling community stay informed. I really, really appreciate your efforts.

    I had one question, if that’s o.k…. What format are you using for a planner sheet? The one they provide is nice, but it is such tiny print, with so many things crammed onto it, that I have a hard time reading it and so do the kids. And I, like you, want to include other things…

    Thanks again, for all your efforts.

    1. Thank you for your wonderful compliment, JC. Your words really mean a lot to me. I hope your family and the other family you mentioned will all enjoy Trail Guide to Learning as much as my family has. I want to go back and read some of the books we missed by not starting with POE. The Captain’s Dog is high on my list.

      I just use the blank one page weekly planner from Donna Young’s site. It’s simple, yet gives me plenty of room. I have a master list for myself, then, I make one for each of the kids with their individual assignments. Hope that helps!

  6. Terrific! Thanks for the help, Kris. The weekly planner looks great.

    As for the new family, they are going through a pretty steep learning curve right now. Until a few weeks ago, homeschooling wasn’t even on their radar, but circumstances with their middle school experience this last year convinced them to try another option for their children. Since our kids are friends, they sought out some additional information from me and decided to take the plunge. I hope to help them through the process so they don’t have as bumpy a start as I did when I started last year. Your posts are truly an inspiration and this site was one of the places I pointed them to.

    Blessings to you and your family,

    1. Thanks, again, JC. I hope this is a great homeschool year for both families. I’m sure that your friends are glad to have someone to help make the transition a bit more smooth.

  7. Hi! I’m in need of your help. I’ve been considering using Paths of Exploration for the past couple of months because the program we’re using isn’t working for use (Truthquest). We’re currently studying the colonial period (early part). Do you think I’d be crazy to order POE and start over in January? There are elements I do like – we use IEW for instance – which we’ll continue doing because those are working for us. I just need a better, stronger history that incorporates geography, science, and activities. So, am I crazy???

    Thank you for your opinion!!

    Amy Jo

    1. We started over in January when we switched to Trail Guide. We’ve enjoyed it because now we have something new to start every January. It helps ease the winter doldrums.

  8. Thank you so much! Looks like I’ll be ordering this week to begin after Christmas. I’ll let y’all know how things are going! Have a Merry Christmas! Amy Jo

  9. I know this is an old post, but I hope maybe to have a couple questions answered about TGTL? I think I am over planning a bit as I will just be stepping into homeschooling for the first time this Fall with my son in K…but I am just trying to get a sense for how this all works.

    I see TGTL’s first level is 3-5 grade and I originally assumed it could be used for 3rd grade, 4th grade, and 5th grade as my children move up in grades. Upon further research I am thinking I have it completely wrong (ha!)..rookie mistake?

    With children 2.5 years apart (my son is almost 5 and my daughter is 2.5), what age (grade level) would you recommend starting this curriculum in order to teach them together? Would my daughter always be “behind” though? (I guess I don’t know how to teach to multiple grade levels)

    Have you been happy with the level of science and grammar incorporated?

    Also, was it bothersome to you at all that the history doesn’t go in “traditional” chronological order?

    Sorry for all the questions! I’ll cut myself off there 🙂 Thanks for all the great information you have taken the time to provide!!

    1. Each volume covers one year’s worth of curriculum for 3 grade levels. So, if your son were in 5th and your daughter in 3rd, they would be studying the same material, but with slightly different assignments. There are suggestions in the teaching text for adapting the curriculum for a younger student, so, if it were me, I would probably consider starting it when my youngest was 2nd grade. Alternately, you could start when your oldest is in 3rd and just modify and let your younger student join in as much as possible.

      We haven’t used POE because I didn’t discover the series until my kids were older. We were happy with the science and grammar in POS. We did a different science for part of the year for POP because my oldest is in 8th grade and I wanted to start preparing for high school by trying to find the science curriculum that would be the best fit for him.

      This series covers American history, chronologically, for three years. The middle school levels coming out soon will cover ancient history, the Middle Ages, and the Renaissance and Reformation. The idea is that kids learn best when they start with the familiar and American history covers places, at least, that are familiar to them. We were ready to study American history, so this was exactly what I was looking for.

      1. Thank you!! This has helped **tremendously**!! I’m sorry I’m asking so many questions too, thank you for taking the time to help this newbie out.

        I really appreciate your curriculum recommendations for what you used in the earlier years as I am trying to figure out how to “put it all together”. You have a style that seems very much like what I would like to create for our family, so it has all been very helpful!

  10. I’m struggling to get through TG consistently on time. We only finished two units last year and I”m on track to do only three this year. Now, we added in some other unit studies in between stuff so that my kids didn’t burn out so that took up our time and I’m mostly ok with that. But now I’m struggling to know if I should do POS next year or jump up to POP. I have a 3rd grader and 5th grader this year so we are at the upper end of POE this year.

    I’m rambling. Just wondering if you have advice for this stressed out almost middle schooler teaching mom.

      1. Thanks. Of course, my next question is do I skip POP or go onto the new curriculum for older learners when my 6th grader gets to 8th/9th grade since I just can’t see me getting through all of POS in a year like you’re supposed to?

        1. That would probably be more a question for the publishers or a personal preference. I don’t have experience with the new curriculum since it wasn’t ready when we finished POP. I’m sorry I can’t be more help.

  11. I’m going to check it out at the convention this year and see what it’s all about. I overthink things! Thanks for your input.

  12. Hello, I am considering POP for next year but I have not been able to get my hands on a copy of it so I have a few questions that I’m hoping you can help me with. I am wondering if this curriculum touches on the wars that took place during that timeframe, the equal rights movement, the women suffragist movement etc. or at least offered supplement suggestions. Also, we want to continue our IEW and probably sequential spelling, do you think we would get burnt out trying to fit all that in?

    Thanks for your help!

    1. Hi, Christina. POP does not cover those things. It focuses more on the technology of that time period – the inventors and their inventions. It’s hard to say about supplementing with IEW and spelling. We used a couple of other resources while we used POP because they were a better fit for the kids and we didn’t get burned out. Probably the only way you’re really going to know it to try it and adjust if needed. Hope that helps!

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