Horizons Phonics and Reading Review

Horizons Phonics and Reading

by contributing writer Angie

Phonics instruction in early elementary school can help to build a foundation for a future strong reader.  Two of my children spent their early grades in the public school system using a whole language approach and came out as struggling readers.  My youngest began her school career at home with a phonics approach and was able to read and write earlier.

This can, of course, also be explained simply by differences in children, but I believe a phonics approach definitely helped to make this possible.  One of the tools that we’ve used for phonics instruction is the Horizons Phonics and Reading books.

What We Like about Horizons Phonics and Reading Books

  • Repetition – Children will usually forget concepts that are introduced and worked on just once or twice, unless they are extremely interested in the concept.  Repetition is vital for internalizing concepts.
  • New Information is Introduced at the Beginning of a Lesson – When new concepts are taught, they typically happen at the very beginning of the lesson.  This helps to free up my time as a homeschool parent because I can help to teach the concept and then the student can work independently.
  • Directions are not Complicated – While using the level one set of the Phonics books, I have not needed to use a teacher’s guide in order to teach the lessons.  In fact, directions are so straight forward that my youngest often just reads them on her own before proceeding.
  • Tests are Integrated into the Phonics Workbook – After every tenth lesson, the student takes a test.  Since we don’t keep grades for younger children, we just use this as a chance to check the understanding of concepts that have been covered.
  • Visually Appealing – Unlike dull, colorless workbooks, Horizons has colorful workbooks that are full of fun graphics.

What I Would Change About Horizons Phonics and Reading Books

The only thing that I would change in the Horizons Phonics and Reading program is that the phonics books are so chock full of lessons and tests that it can be difficult to finish in one school year.  With the typical school year being 180 days, the 160 lessons and 16 tests of the phonics workbooks can be difficult to complete in a single year.

However, there a couple of easy fixes for this issue.  The first would be to make sure that the student works on phonics every single day.  Another option is to use the phonics books meant for one year over the course of more than one school year.  For instance, we opted to use the level one phonics books, since there are two actual phonics workbooks, spread out over both first and second grade.

Other Information about Horizons Phonics and Reading Books

  • Pricing – Pricing varies by grade level.  There is an option at each grade level to purchase all of the books together in a bundle or to buy them individually.
  • Grade Level Availability – Horizons, which is produced by Alpha Omega Publications, is available for kindergarten through third grade.
  • Length – The phonics books in the program have 160 lessons and 16 tests.  The first half of these are found in book one and the second half in book two.

We saw much growth in our daughter’s reading and writing abilities after we began using the phonics program from Horizons.  We will continue to use it, and I feel comfortable recommending it to others as a great addition to their early elementary curriculum.

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Educational Benefits of Camping

The following is a post from contributing writer Angie.

Learning Opportunities with Camping

One of our favorite learning-filled field trips each year is to go to our favorite state park and rent a rustic cabin for a long weekend.  Children often learn most effectively through active, hands-on experiences, and a camping trip can be a perfect opportunity!

To honor the beginning of the National Park system, which began in March 1872 with the naming of Yellowstone National Park, I am sharing some of the educational benefits of camping with your family.

Educational Benefits of Camping

Survival Skills

Being out in the wilderness is an opportune time to work on all sorts of survival skills.  Not only are these all handy life skills to have, but many of them can pull in science and mathematical studies:

  • Taking Care of a Fire – This can include building and starting a fire (including trying to start it using a variety of methods), maintaining the fire, cooking over an open fire, and fire safety.
  • Finding Safe Water or Food – Even if you don’t eat the food or drink the water, this could be a mission to recognize those things that are safe and those that are unsafe.
  • Navigational Skills – Whether you use an electronic compass or go old school, few times are better suited to working on navigational skills than on hikes and trails.

Meal Planning and Cooking

Since your children will always have to eat, don’t overlook teaching them these important life skills.  When we go on a camping trip, we work very hard to make sure that we’ve carefully planned meals so we don’t have to leave the state park during our long weekend there.  If you are also planning to make all of your own meals while you’re camping, you can involve your children in planning meals, packing up the food to take along, and preparing meals and snacks for your family.

Nature Study

Camping is one of our favorite times to study and enjoy nature.  Not only are we surrounded by an ecosystem that we are not normally in, but we also have the time to just soak it in.
camping scenery
Some of our favorite nature study activities to do while camping include:

  • Observe animals in their natural environments
  • Compare the differences in the environment  in various areas throughout the park.  Our favorite park includes heavily wooded areas, open prairie-type areas, many lakes, and a beach.
  • Nature scavenger hunt
  • Identify plants and trees
  • Art projects and play with fallen objects, such as leaves, twigs, and acorn tops
  • Star watching away from city lights

Park or Campground Activities

I have always been a fan of trying to take advantage of learning opportunities that are offered by others, as they are typically outside of my expertise, and it’s nice not to have to plan everything myself.  Many national and state parks, as well as campgrounds, offer both fun and educational opportunities for families and children.  Plan to look into what your camping spot offers.

Our family has done a hike where we learned about beavers and saw some beaver dams, made pine cone bird feeders, been taught about butterflies, helped to spread seeds for a milkweed field, and more.  All of these things were free to us while we were staying in the park.

Family Read Alouds

While this can be done anywhere, we find that camping offers a special time to curl up with blankets around a fire and read stories that highlight times that we can sometimes feel far removed from, such as the Little House on the Prairie books or other stories that happened during pioneer times.

Unique Opportunities

Most campgrounds or state and national parks have something unique about them which can offer up wonderful learning opportunities.  Our favorite park has kettle lakes, which are lakes formed from glaciers.  Not only does that alone offer very fun learning, but that also means that the park offers opportunities for paddle boats, canoes, and kayaks.  Doing these are a great way for physical activity, learning about boat and water safety, and seeing lake life up close.  Plus, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that it’s just plain fun.

Do you go camping with your family?  What are some of your favorite things to do while camping?

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Tips for Homeschooling While Traveling

The following is a post from contributing writer Angie.

homeschooling while traveling

One of my favorite things about homeschooling is the freedom it gives us to travel.  While we never used to travel, we’ve taken advantage of being able to travel at off times in the last several years, and it has been wonderful.

We always seem to run into a quandary before trips, however.  Is this going to count as school attendance or not?  While I know that there will be some out there who will remind me that learning happens every day, please believe me that I know this.  However, I sometimes get picky about what counts as an instructional day as per my state’s requirement.

Due to that pickiness, I have used some of these tips to help myself when we have decided to take trips.

Tips for Schooling While Traveling

Research Before Your Trip

While you might have just been thinking about a week-long trip to a condo with nothing to do, a little research might turn up many amazing learning opportunities.  Google makes it so easy to find out that a hands-on science museum geared toward children might be in the very next town.  It just involves doing a little research and planning first.

Our beach vacation one year turned into an amazing history lesson when we found out that an hour away, we could go to a naval air museum.  It was a learning experience for all of us that we would have missed out on if we hadn’t done some research beforehand.

Look at Your Trip with an Eye Toward Education

Prior to that same beach vacation, I figured we would just hang around and not do much of anything.  Instead, I realized when we were there that my kids were learning much more about the ecosystem of the beach, how to spot jellyfish and Portuguese Man-of-War, the science behind kite flying, why the ocean water would be so cold even though the weather was so warm, and more.

learning at the beach
These were all things that they would never learn from a book the same way that they internalized them at the beach.  Learning is everywhere, and when you view a trip like that, it can be pretty astounding how much your children are learning.

Bring Portions of Workbooks

This is just a small tip that worked for us when we took an extended month long trip.  We wanted to continue to work on some of our bookwork, but I didn’t want to pack an entire suitcase just for books and workbooks.  Instead, I ripped out only the work that I wanted to get done during our time away.  This was just a little sanity and space saver that helped me a lot while traveling!

Take Advantage of Audio Books

If your trip is going to include a long car ride, audio books can be a great option for keeping children occupied while also fitting in extra instruction.  On one thirteen-hour car trip, we listened to a novel as well as some of our Story of the World chapters.

Create a Journal or Scrapbook about Your Trip

One of my favorite assignments when I was in school was during a family vacation to Florida.  My teacher sent some work for me to do, but she also asked me to write in a journal every day about things that we had done that day.  Even though it was while I was in fifth grade, I still have that notebook, and it has become a precious memory of my first time out of the Midwest, which included adventures like seeing the ocean and going to Disney World.

A journal is a very authentic way to work on language arts skills, and can cover composition, vocabulary, spelling, and more.

Another option is to keep a hybrid journal/scrapbook to include pictures and souvenirs.  While this seems easiest to do once you’re home, I would encourage you to have your children work on it each day during the trip while the day’s events are the freshest in their minds.

Plan to Not Worry about School

Sometimes, it’s just nice to take a vacation.  Let whatever learning happens just happen and leave the book work behind.  Don’t worry about counting attendance days.  Embrace the fact that homeschooling means you can take a week off in the middle of February just because it’s your prerogative.

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How to Get Through Winter Homeschooling Doldrums

The following is a post from contributing writer Angie.

how to beat the winter homeschooling doldrums

With winter’s colder temperatures and less sun, it’s easy to start to feel like you’ve hit the doldrums of the year.  If you’re like me, your homeschooling is no exception to this.

Not only is it the time of year when we feel stuck in a rut, but it’s also the time of year when I’ve had the most friends make the decision to stop homeschooling.  It seems like it’s a harder time of year for many of us.

You don’t have to give into those winter blahs though.  By being proactive, you could even make your winter homeschooling some of your children’s favorite times of the year.

How to Get Through Winter Homeschooling Doldrums

Change Your Normal Way of Homeschooling

Whether this means injecting in a project day, a week long unit study, or some interest-led learning, it can be just the thing to change everyone’s outlook and moods.  Variety can definitely be the spice of life.

Seek Out Some Outside Classes or Activities

While I think it has the possibility of sticking you even further into a rut if you overschedule your family, this can also be a great time to try some classes or activities outside of your home.  Check with your local community center, art museum, children’s museum, and other similar things in your area.

Whether you sign your child up for a recurring class to take on their own in an area that interests them or you do something like taking a one day cooking class along side your child, these are all ways to change things up and add some excitement to your winter.

Embrace the Season

embracing the seasonYes, winter can be cold, dark, and wet.  But, why not just embrace that and go with it?

You and your family can get some outdoor time with nature studies or even just enjoy the physical activities for snowman building or snowball fights.  Near our house, one thing that we have loved during the winter is to visit a nature center that is stocked with outdoor bird feeders and has a viewing area.  While we’ve visited at other times of the year, winter is the ideal time to see the plethora of visitors that come to feast.

Eat Well

A fabulous way to stay in a better mood during the winter is to make sure that you are eating a well balanced diet and that you’re feeding it to your kids too.  This is a time of year when it’s easy to eat too many sweets, which can also make your family feel sluggish and moody.

You can incorporate the better eating with a home economics unit study with your kids.

Get Organized and Look Ahead

One thing that always invigorates our family is a clean and organized house.  There is just something about an organized space that makes for a more organized mind.  Take time to “spring” clean in the winter and clear your house of the things that are cluttering it up.

This is also a great time to look ahead by evaluating what is working in your homeschool curriculum and what isn’t.  It can be exciting to look toward the next school year and start planning.  Likewise, it can be a great time of year to sit down with your family for a night of togetherness and goal making for the whole family.

What are some of your favorite ways to beat those winter homeschooling doldrums?

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