History Links is a Catholic approach to unit studies that can be used to teach preschoolers through high school level. Thus far, there are ten units available, with others in development; they are General Studies, Creation, Mesopotamia, Ancient Egypt, Ancient Israel, Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome: The Republic, Ancient Rome: Pax Romana, Ancient Rome: The Roman Empire, and Medieval Volume One: Early Medieval. These units are in chronological sequence, although you need not use them in that order.
Most units should take from two to four months to complete, so you would complete approximately three units per school year. The first unit, General Studies, should take only one to two months. Apparently, some families using The Well-Trained Mind approach are completing four or five units per year, albeit with more superficial coverage of each time period. History Links is designed such that you can go back through the entire series at least once more, using the more challenging learning activities suggested for upper grade levels.
This is truly a family-designed curriculum. Activities within each unit are presented for four levels: “P” for preschoolers, “1” for kindergarten and early elementary grades, “2” for intermediate through middle school levels, and “3” for advanced junior high through high school. In addition, ideas for keeping toddlers occupied are included at the bottom of many pages. For those enjoying new babies, there are suggestions for following the “baby track” that pares down the more time-consuming or messy activities. I expect that History Links should take about one to two hours per day, depending upon which activities you choose.
While History Links works well as a family curriculum, it might also be used in co-op settings for once or twice a month gatherings.
You will need reference resources: an encyclopedia, a Bible, a dictionary, either a globe or world map, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Much of the resource information might also be found on the internet. Some other books (e.g., Usborne Book of World History, Usborne Book of the Ancient World, English from the Roots Up, National Geographic Magazines, The Antiquities of the Jews by Josephus) are recommended but are not essential. The authors purposely tried to keep the cost low by having just a few essential resources and recommending materials that you can usually get from the library or online.
The units also incorporate ideas borrowed from another one of my Top Picks, Teaching Writing: Structure and Style (Institute for Excellence in Writing), but the authors encourage you to purchase the seminar itself.
History Links provides coverage of history, with religion, science, language arts, music, math, critical thinking, research, fine arts, and crafts all taught within the context of history. Since only history is taught systematically, History Links' coverage of other subjects should be considered supplemental. On a side note, science units from Media Angels should work well between or alongside History Links units.
Everyone needs to start with Unit One: General Studies. The first half of this book explains the methodology used throughout the series. The second half presents brief, introductory studies on the four key areas covered within all of the units: history, geography, archaeology, and theology.
The same format is used in these introductory studies and throughout all of the other units. Each unit begins with prayers and hymns to learn, vocabulary lists, punctuation and capitalization items to be learned, a Library List of recommended resources (books, videos, recordings, periodicals, websites, encyclicals, church documents, etc.). The bulk of each unit or book is presented under subtopics with brief introductory, background or explanatory information followed by activities coded by subject area and level of difficulty. Extensive appendices in most of the units include many of the source documents you might need. The more recently published units also include resource guides that help you select age-appropriate materials for your children.
Activities address all types of learning styles, but those for the upper two levels direct students toward independent research, reading, and writing much more than traditional curriculum and even more so than some other unit studies. For example, the two following activities from Ancient Rome: The Roman Empire present research questions for older students:
Research Arianism. What belief did Arians promote? What role did Constantine play in this conflict? Who was the staunchest opponent of Arianism? What Church council was held to settle this dispute? (p. 37).
Do you think it is true to say the ancient philosophers lacked ‘faith, humility, and chastity?’ (Although we have already studied the works of Cicero, advanced students might want to do a research project and locate Cicero's and Ambrose's De Officiis to compare them.) (p. 42).
While these activities might seem very challenging, I believe they provide the best type of education. In addition to developing academic skills, they help students think through and develop a thoroughly Catholic worldview. They draw on classical education in both content and methodology. They use primary sources, comparison of ideas, and investigation of important questions while covering content students need to learn.
Lest you think all the activities are overwhelming, here are two examples of activities for younger students:
Divide an orange, cantaloupe, or other fruit. Draw a line around it, and then cut it on the line. Then discuss the concepts of hemisphere and symmetry. Did Diocletian actually divide his empire in ‘half’? Did he divide the Empire along a line of symmetry? (p. 31).
Constantinople is now called Istanbul. Why? (The Ottoman Turks renamed it.) Locate Istanbul, Turkey on a map. Why was this such a desirable location for a city? (p. 36). [Note: children will have already learned something about Constantinople before tackling this activity.]
Like other unit studies, History Links requires parental preparation and presentation time. You will probably need to work quite closely with young children, while older students will need only occasional assistance. Once students have developed their own research skills, they can work more independently. However, you will not have simple answer keys to consult to “check” their work.
Of course, hands-on activities like art projects and cooking will demand more of your time, but you can choose how many such activities to undertake. With younger students, you can research and read material together, then choose whether to have students do written work or discussion. Such choices should depend upon their abilities and your time.
One of the special benefits of History Links is that because it is presented in small units, it's a great way to try out unit study without making an expensive commitment.