We homeschool on a shoestring budget. That is one reason that I was excited to receive a one-year subscription to Reading Horizons at Home, a research based reading intervention program.
The other reason was because my daughter was struggling to read, and I knew it. My then-7-year-old is a smart cookie! She THINKS about things and processes information in ways that amaze me.
She has a great vocabulary and strong comprehension skills. She has excellent phonemic awareness abilities: she has always been able to hear, identify, and manipulate phonemes with ease. She had and has a fantastic memory, but she wasn’t generalizing anything that she had been presented about phonics into her real reading. Instead, every time she encountered a word she did not know/recognize, she would guess. If I said, “Sound it out,” that seemed to be a foreign language to her. She loves words, but she hated to read.
So, we began our journey with Reading Horizons at Home, the computerized version.
Right away, I liked that phonics rules were presented explicitly. In other words, she wasn’t just given word machines. You know, change the beginning letter of words that all have the same ending. She could do that, no problem, but it wasn’t making a difference in her reading. Instead, she was taught specific phonics rules such as why a vowel makes a short or long sound in most English words and why ‘c’ sometimes makes the hard /k/ sound and sometimes not. She also learned to ‘mark’ the words.
In RHaH, students place an ‘x’ under vowels, move an asterisk over guardian consonants, place an arch under blends, etc. Although my child found this practice to be cumbersome at times, I found it to be one of the most useful tools that Reading Horizons gave us. Here’s why: remember how I said that using the admonition “sound it out” meant a whole lot of nothing to my child?
Well, after a few months of marking words, when we were doing the real work of reading and she approached a word she didn’t know and began to guess what the word was; I could say, “Let’s mark that word.” At first, I would have her physically mark the word on paper (I would copy the culprit word for her). Later, she could ‘mark the word’ in her mind. Slowly but surely, she began to ‘mark the word’ in her mind without my prompting to do so. At last! She had a method to decode those mysterious and scary unknown words.
There were other aspects of the program that I liked. One being that I had the ability to override the progression of the program. This came in handy when I knew more about my child than the computer did! Sometimes she would give an incorrect response because she accidentally moved the mouse and clicked before she meant to do so, for instance. It was a technical problem, not a mastery of information problem. I liked that I could make those changes. It was nice to have the data to back up what she doing, as well.
The computerized version of Reading Horizons at Home comes in two formats: one for older students called Elevate and one for younger called Discovery. We did the younger version. My daughter liked the learning paths, rewards, the club house, and the two cartoon characters that guided her along her journey. She enjoyed most of the stories that accompanied the series, and loved earning lots of gold coins as she read books, finished lessons, and took tests.
I liked that Reading Horizons has free resources for parents. Customer service is available throughout the whole experience. Parents and educators also have a 30-day access to a video series concerning phonics and the method RHaH uses to approach reading instruction.
They also provide free downloadable lessons for supplementing what is being taught in the computer program. Unfortunately, in my busy-ness of life, work, and homeschooling, I didn’t realize that the free downloads were available until late in the year. So, if you decide to try RHaH for your student, be sure to check the free downloads out much earlier than I did!
Some things that I didn’t like about the program had more to do with technical issues than anything else. We have very fast internet speed, but for some reason, the Reading Horizons at Home program ran slow for us at times. I called about this, and found out which browser they recommended and made that change. I also discovered that the program seemed to like one of our wireless network connection options better than another, so I always tried to make sure that those changes were made before we’d start up the program.
Nonetheless, we would often have several occasions where we would have to wait a minute or more as the program ‘digested a response’ or moved from the modeling part of the lesson to the independent practice. It was functional, but when you have a child who isn’t enthusiastic about reading instruction, sitting still, or waiting…it wasn’t a good scenario. My daughter often took those ‘waiting periods’ as an opportunity to suggest we ‘take a break!’. It was difficult to keep her on task with two, three, and sometimes more interruptions due to technicalities.
Another issue had to do with the size of the font used in the program. Towards the end of each independent practice section, the student reads a short passage and answers questions to check for understanding of the skill that has been taught. This passage might be an email or a section of a menu, for instance. Then, at the very end of the lesson, the student reads a short story that again incorporates the new skill that was taught.
As you progress through the program, the stories get longer, and the print gets smaller. I never discovered a way to enlarge the font. I found this to be an odd predicament for a reading intervention program for young children, some of whom may have visual processing issues. For the passages where she had to find certain words, I would often write out the entire passage in a size that she could handle.
For the stories, we would take turns reading alternating paragraphs so that she wouldn’t experience so much eye fatigue. Again, this was functional, but it meant a delay either because I had to physically write out a few paragraphs or because I had to console my child who was crying because she was so frustrated with print that was difficult for her to navigate.
Overall though, I would recommend this program for students who are struggling with reading. It also comes in a print version/hard copy version. This is much pricier than the online version, but it would eliminate the technical difficulties that we experienced.
In the end, I am thankful that we had access to a reading program that is based upon Orton-Gillingham research, the ‘gold standard’ for reading intervention programs. This program checks off all the boxes of quality reading instruction. It was explicit, sequential, systematic, and multi-sensory based. It definitely gave my daughter the tools that she needed to make huge strides in her reading ability.
A year later, she is asking to read easy chapter books at bedtime! She recently took one of her favorites with her on a fieldtrip so that she could share the story with her friends. Her willingness to embrace reading instead of run from it makes this momma’s heart quite happy. Thank you, Reading Horizons at Home, for coming alongside us in our journey to overcome reading difficulties.
Photo Credit: Graphic design by Charity Klicka.