Like their math, Horizons uses the spiral method for their Phonics and Readingseries. Phonics rules and concepts that appear early on may disappear in the next lesson, but they will reappear eventually and the exercises contain a lot of review. Kids will typically remember a concept better if it is introduced and reintroduced, as opposed to one that is introduced and dropped forever (though this isn't true for all kids). Don't be fooled by the repetition, though—Horizons Phonics and Reading is fast-paced compared to many phonics programs.
The course covers grades K-2. For kindergarten, there are four consumable student worktexts, four student readers, and four teacher's guides. Grades 1-2 each have two consumable student worktexts, two student readers, and a single teacher's guide. This keeps the price down and makes keeping track of everything less of a problem.
How Do These Work?
Each student text and reader are brightly colored, though not cluttered. At the beginning of each 2-page lesson (160 per year) there is a new rule or a review of an old rule which the student is supposed to memorize. The exercises in that lesson then illustrate the rule and require students to apply it. Exercises involve letter/sound recognition, fill-in-the-blanks, word searches, and manuscript writing, along with reading selections that get more difficult as the curriculum progresses.
This is primarily a rule-based phonics program. The kindergarten books cover letter recognition and sounds, and the 1-2 grade books discuss the rules associated with those letters and sounds. The pace is breezy, though there is enough review—both in the exercises and in the main lesson topics—that most kids should be able to keep up. While students are expected to memorize the rules, if they don't quite grasp one right away it's certain to show up again; this spiral approach works well, as new material is introduced for familiarity, and as it shows up repeatedly students are able to internalize and apply the information.
Rules kids learn are "road-tested" in the accompanying readers, where they will encounter words they haven't officially learned yet. The stories are fun (often rewritten bits of Bible or classic stories) and you don't have to worry about your kids encountering anything objectionable. Each story has a moral or lesson at the beginning which you can discuss with your child after he reads the assigned segment. Sometimes the exercises in the worktext relate to the corresponding assignment in the reader.
The teacher guides provide answers to all the exercises, reduced student pages, and notes and suggestions for teaching the material. They also contain important information concerning the rules taught in each student lesson, so that teachers are able to understand connections between the different rules and pass those observations on to their students. This is definitely a teacher-directed program, and each lesson will require some teacher preparation. This is less true for the second grade texts, though much of the information will probably make more sense to kids if they are being directly instructed rather than trying to figure it all out on their own.
Our Honest Opinion:
Teaching your kids to read is probably the most important contribution to their education you will ever make, so it's important that you do it right. Horizons offers a program based solidly on traditional phonics rules, while at the same time engaging kids' interest. Teaching kids to read requires active teacher involvement, and Horizons tries hard to make instruction as easy as possible, both for the student and for the teacher.
The most common complaint against Horizons Phonics and Reading is the rapid pace. More and more writing is required of students throughout the texts, and though some parents complain that their child's reading level is way ahead of his writing level and he is therefore frustrated by the written assignments, if you begin with Horizons and maintain a good pace your students should have had enough practice that they are able to keep up. There is also a lot of memorization, which may pose more of a problem as there are new things to learn and remember in each day's lesson.
Overall this is a good course for teaching kids to read. It provides them with the basic tools for understanding the English language, and is a good segue to a proper study of grammar. While other phonics programs might be more involved or flashy, with a little effort on your part Horizons Phonics and Reading is an excellent way to teach kids to read and thereby open to them the whole world of knowledge and learning.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur.Read more of his reviews here.
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