Connecting With History (CWH) is one of my favorite options for Catholic families. It is a four-volume unit study designed for teaching children in kindergarten through twelfth grade together, but it also has charts with lesson plans so that you can teach each child at his or her own level. It uses a classical education approach, focusing on the humanities and using real books with lots of reading and writing. I also appreciate that CWH follows a historical chronology.
In addition to complete coverage of history, CWH lessons can provide a major part of your geography and language arts curriculum. Grammar and composition skills are not taught, but there is plenty of practice in the application of grammar and composition skills along with plenty of reading and development of critical reading skills. While CWH is based on a Catholic worldview, it is not a complete religion program. It will help children become very familiar with scripture, Bible history, and Church history, and many activities are related to religion. But it does not attempt systematic coverage of topics such as the Mass and sacraments.
Titles of the four volumes are:
Volume 1: Old Testament and Ancient Cultures
Volume 2: Early Church and Early Medieval
Volume 3: High Medieval through Early Explorers
Volume 4: American History
A single Connecting with History Teacher's Guide covers all volumes of the program. It covers the philosophy of CWH, an explanation about Salvation History, an explanation of the CONNECT Method™ (six-step model for teaching used throughout the program), instructions for student notebooks, information about learning styles, instructions for Socratic discussions, and a description of classical education stages. Forms, charts, a writing guide, and an activity guide are also included.
The syllabus and daily lesson plans are separate items for each CWH volume. These come as sets of three-hole-punched, loose-leaf pages for insertion into your own binder. Each syllabus guides you through the use of various resources and provides overviews, discussion, questions, activities, and other helps for parents to present each lesson. They also include illustrations and coloring pages. Lesson plans are the charts showing which activities or assignments to use with children at the beginner, grammar, logic, or rhetoric levels. I highly recommend that you get both the syllabus and lesson plans.
The first three volumes also have optional Timeline Cards to be used with students at the grammar and logic levels–150 cards for Volume 1, 108 cards for Volume 2, 182 cards for Volume 3. Cards have black-and-white images with identification on one side. On the reverse, each card has a sentence of information, dates, cross-references to the Bible or other resource used in the program, and to which unit it connects, These cards come printed six to a page, so they need to be cut apart. You should probably laminate them for durability as well. Cards should be used for games and for review rather than for affixing to a timeline.
Rhyme-Line Cards are an option that might be best for children at the beginner and grammar levels. They have illustrations and labels on one side and a four-line rhyme on the reverse that serves as a descriptor. Rhyme-Line Sing-Along CDs are available for Volumes 3 and 4.
RC History sells full-color laminated timelines, but they also have free downloadable pages for creating your own Book of Centuries timeline where you or your children enter your own illustrations and information.
For Volumes 1 and 2 you can purchase optional Interactive Notebook Activities in PDF format. There are three of these for each volume. Geared toward beginner and grammar level students, the Interactive Notebook Activities are very much like lapbooks. They provide hands-on and visually-organized ways for children to record, organize, and review the information they are learning.
Each volume should take one school year to complete. Younger students will almost certainly spend less time than older on both reading and projects. Some of the activities require extensive research or are projects that will take longer to complete. For those unable to use all of the recommended resources, CWH has put together core packages that include only the most essential books, but they also offer deluxe packages with both core resources and literature selections.
Connecting With History might require a significant amount of teacher preparation and presentation time, especially with younger students. However, the methodology is excellent if you have the time to implement it. The narrower you keep the study, the fewer resources you will need and the less preparation time it will require. However, you are likely to best meet the needs of your children and their various learning styles by using at least some of the more time-consuming projects and assignments.
The publisher's website features articles and sample pages from CWH. They also sell almost all of the resources required for CWH. Purchasers of the program also gain free access to online updates and additional resources that will enhance the program.
Volume 1: Old Testament and Ancient Cultures
by Sonya Romens and Andrea Chen
Volume 1 consists of an introductory unit that takes one week to complete and ten thematic units that will take three to six weeks each to complete. The entire course can take from one to two years to complete depending upon which books you read and which activities you do.
For each unit, there are about eight to ten pages that provide background reading suggestions for parents. About a half dozen resources are listed at the beginning of the book, and parents are free to choose which ones they wish to use. This volume of CWH is structured around the time periods of The Great Adventure: A Journey through the Bible by Jeff Cavins. Even though it is optional, you should try to use either The Great Adventure or the teen version titled T3: The Teen Timeline. Both studies are available in your choice of DVDs or audio CD presentations with a study guide and timeline. They do a marvelous job of presenting the story of salvation history and familiarizing the audience with the layout of the Bible.
Other resources such as Walking with God: A Journey Through the Bible and You Can Understand the Bible provide parents with foundational knowledge that will make it easier to lead discussions and answer children's questions. (At the beginning of each unit, specific page numbers are given for each suggested background resource.) Catechism references are also provided for parent preparation. While background reading is recommended, it is not a requirement. Parents can learn alongside their children as the family explores the books and resources together.
Parent information at the beginning of each unit also has discussion prompts, an overview, notebook activities, and exploration charts.
Discussion prompts are a lengthy list of questions that should be used to spark discussion and stimulate interest. The overview gives brief background information. You will probably want to pre-read this, then paraphrase ideas at a level your children can understand.
Notebook activities help children create their own notebooks that will include vocabulary words, timelines, maps, charts, and written assignments. Some copywork material is included in the book—primarily scripture passages and poetry. This material should also be used for memory work.
Exploration charts break down specific assignments for beginning (K-3), grammar (4-6), logic (7-9), and rhetoric (10-12) levels. Reading assignments are divided into three categories: core texts, basic reading, and additional literature. Most essential is the reading from core books.
Each of the four levels requires from one to three core books. The Connecting With History Companion Reader for Volume 1 is used with beginning, grammar, and logic students. This collection of short stories and articles from out-of-print sources includes historical narratives from authors such as Dorothy Mills and Charlotte Yonge, Greek mythology, fables, stories that illustrate spiritual principles, and Bible stories. The readings vary greatly in length as well as reading level, but most will work well as read-aloud books for all ages. Readings correlate closely with the lessons and are scheduled into the lesson plans.
In addition, the grammar level requires Bible for Young Catholics, while the rhetoric level requires a Bible, You Can Understand the Bible, Genesis: The Book of Origins, and Exodus: Road to Freedom. Basic reading assignments are from other books that expand the study as well as from Bible Basics for Catholics (for rhetoric students). Examples of other books used along with CWH Volume 1 are Old Testament Days: An Activity Guide, Tut's Mummy Lost and Found, Science in Ancient Greece, Famous Men of Greece, Alexander the Great, Greek Lives (by Plutarch), and Mythology. This is just a sampling of the many titles used! Additional literature options appropriate for each level are provided for each topical unit. Page or chapter assignments from these books are listed for each unit unless the entire book is to be read.
Margot Davidson has written three Novel Inquiries Literature Guides for CWH Volume 1. Each guide covers four of the books recommended for the course. Novel Inquiries Literature Guides are each available at your choice of grammar, logic, and rhetoric levels.
Volume 2: The Arrival of the King and His Kingdom
by Sonya Romens
CWH Volume 2 covers the New Testament era and the beginnings of Christianity up to A.D. 1066.
Some core resources from Volume 1 are also used with Volume 2. Among them are the Bible (in a version appropriate for each child), Bible History, You Can Understand the Bible, and Roman Lives (by Plutarch). Keep in mind that you will be using only those core books required for the level at which each child will be working.
The 310-page Companion Reader: Early Church Through Early Medieval for this course provides selected readings by a variety of authors. Each chapter correlates with a unit of the study. This Companion Reader is the main text used wit he beginner and grammar levels, and it serves as a supplement for the logic level.
Among additional core books required for CWH Volume 2 are Famous Men of the Middle Ages, Augustus Caesar's World, and 57 Stories of Saints. For the logic level, you should also use the core history text Light to the Nations, and for the rhetoric level, you need to use History of the Church from the Didache series.
CWH offers choices of some core books since some of the excellent newer options (e.g., the Didache series and Catholic Textbook Project history texts) are much more expensive than some older resources. Many books from Volume 2 are also used with the third volume, so keep that in mind as you decide which books to buy.
As with CWH Volume 1, many other titles are on the list of basic books. Just a few examples are: How to be a Roman Soldier, City, Pompeii: Buried Alive, The Great Heresies, and Augustus Caesar’s World.
An optional Discussion & Study Guides book incorporates guides for ten historical novels used in the course with beginner, grammar, or logic students. The discussion guides include vocabulary lists, discussion questions, activities, and projects.
There are only seven units in Volume 2, but they will each take longer to complete than those in Volume 1.
Volume 3: World History Through Catholic Principles
by Sonya Romens
This volume covers the 11th through 17th centuries of world history, reserving United States history for Volume 4. There are eight units that should take from three to four weeks each to complete. Volume 3 focuses more on Western civilization, the source of our Christian culture. It takes side trips to other cultures, primarily through stories of explorers and saints.
Core books for this volume for the beginner level are Founders of Freedom, Once Upon a Time Saints and More Once Upon a Time Saints. For the grammar level, students use Famous Men of the Middle Ages and 57 Stories of Saints. Logic level students read 57 Stories of Saints and Seven Lies About Catholic History, plus your choice of either The Old World and America or Light to the Nations. The rhetoric level uses Lives of the Saints: For Every Day in the Year, the New Penguin Atlas of Medieval History, Seven Lies About Catholic History, and The History of the Church: A Complete Course (from the Didache series).
Volume 4: American History
Volume 4: American History covers from the time of Columbus through the Civil War. (Two more units will soon be added to carry U.S. history up through the years prior to WWI.) Among core books used at different levels with CWH Volume 4 are How Our Nation Began, From Sea to Shining Sea, Keys to American History, Lands of Hope and Promise, A More Perfect Union, Abraham Lincoln's World, and American Saints.
RC History has also developed resources for CWH co-op groups. Classroom packages (with separate packages for each of the four levels for each volume) provide a classroom or co-op teacher with all they need to teach the class, including lesson plans, overviews, discussion prompts, and notebooking ideas for each unit. Co-op Family Packages provide each co-op family with a syllabus, lesson plans, and Rhyme-Line Cards that they will need to use at home. Check the website for more information.