Horizons Spelling and Vocabulary is a word list-based course, and probably the easiest-to-use spelling program we carry. New words are introduced based on frequency of use, appearance, and spelling patterns. Since Horizons also publishes a phonics course, the instructional approach of the spelling program is phonics-based, though there are also aspects of sight reading (since not all words are spelled the way they sound). This is a Christian publisher, so many of the exercises have students writing Bible verses, writing down prayers in the form of letters to God, etc.
The course is for grades 1-3, though you could conceivably use it with slightly younger or older students as needed. There is a teacher handbook, consumable student workbook, and Spelling and Vocabulary Dictionary for each level. The teacher handbooks and dictionaries are spiral bound for ease of use, and the student workbooks and dictionaries are illustrated with engaging full-color pictures.
Each student page is reproduced with exercise answers in reduced size in the black and white teacher handbook. A number of possible activities are listed next to each reduced student page, as well as teaching tips. Reproducible worksheets and full-page flashcards are included in the back, along with answers to the worksheet problems; the flashcards review essential phonics-based spelling rules.
There are 160 lessons per grade to be taught five days a week over a 32-week period. You shouldn't need to spend too much time in preparation for the lessons, and they should last about 15-20 minutes each. Instructions for exercises are pretty self-explanatory in the student texts, and the teaching tips accompanying each lesson are straightforward enough most parents will be able to teach them on the fly. Some of the activities require preparation, but there are enough of them you can skip the ones you don't feel like doing.
The emphasis is teaching spelling so that students will be better writers. Each week begins with students writing the week's word list in a column the way they think each word should be spelled. In the second column, teachers either write or direct the students to write the words correctly. After studying the proper spellings, students write the words a second (or third) time in the last column. This helps instill the proper spelling in their memory, and the words are further reinforced with repeated use throughout the week.
Many of the exercises require students to compose short sentences or paragraphs using the week's words. This helps them understand how to use the words properly in context, and to thoroughly understand their meanings. The purpose of this course is not simply to teach students how to spell words they already know, but also to expand their vocabularies.
Each word that appears in the weekly lists is included in the student dictionary for each level. The words are not defined; instead, it is used in a sentence, its part of speech is identified, and its different forms are listed. This reinforces the practical aspect of spelling/vocabulary building: by seeing the word used in its proper context, students get a feel for its true meaning and how they can use it in a sentence of their own.
This is a straightforward spelling program without a lot of bells and whistles. While there is helpful information in the teacher handbooks, they aren't necessary. All the word lists are included in the student books, and with some parental help students should be able to figure out how to complete all assignments. The dictionaries are very useful and should be used to supplement the student texts.
Since the course ends when most students are just beginning to get a grasp on the language, you should probably find another spelling course when they finish this one. It is a solid start, it just doesn't go far enough. For those looking for a comprehensive approach they can use over multiple years, Spelling Power may be a good choice. Parents looking for a more moderate program may want to investigate BJU's spelling program.