Harcourt is one of the larger publishers of textbooks for traditional classrooms. I’m generally unenthusiastic about most of their offerings. However, when Harcourt purchased the Saxon line of products, they started taking a stronger interest in home education… or at least that is how it looks from my perspective. One part of that interest has resulted in homeschool packages for some of their courses, sold through the Saxon Homeschool division.
Harcourt Horizons Social Studies series is available in homeschool packages for each level of grades one through six. Originally, the homeschool packages included the two-volume teacher’s edition, student textbook and activity book on CD-ROM, and an Assessment Program book. Harcourt has recently created alternative homeschool packages that make a lot more sense and cost about half as much with a hardcover student text, a homeschool version of the teacher's edition on CD-ROM, and separate student activity book. Activity book teacher's editions that have overprinted answers come with packages for grades 3-6, while answers for activity books are on the CD-ROM for grades 1 and 2.
The CD-ROM homeschool teacher's editions include teaching instructions, answers, assessments, and answer keys for assessments. The teacher’s editions are essential to this program since they include expanded activities to teach to different learning styles as well as across the curriculum. Students are directed to outside research, writing activities, creation of timelines, art projects, critical thinking, discussions, journaling, work with graphic organizers (provided in the activity book), games, role playing, and much more. There are probably more suggestions and activities than you will be able to use.
It does take a little time to become familiar with the TE and sort out the various options you might use. Once that’s done, it should be fairly easy to teach the lessons. Students should do some independent work, but discussion and interaction will also be needed so these courses do require some direct teaching.
The series takes a broad social studies approach for the lower grade levels but becomes more concentrated on history at upper levels.
I requested the World History course for sixth grade for review since the homeschool marketplace seems to have only a few interesting choices for World History at that level outside unit study programs. Those choices are even fewer for those who prefer a non-sectarian presentation. Harcourt Horizons is definitely non-sectarian, yet it does include some respectful coverage of religions including a discussion about studies regarding religious freedom in recent years. In World History, it begins with a discussion of “modern humans” living in eastern and southern Africa more than 100,000 years ago. It doesn't discuss evolution directly or present a chain of human development from non-humans. The overall political tone leans “gently” toward a conservative view. For example, it points out Stalin’s purges and other evils of Communism and gives Ronald Reagan credit for positive events. Beyond the historical content, which includes broad coverage of both eastern and western civilizations, this text also includes basic coverage of geography. Much of this is presented in a unit on map and globe skills at the beginning of the book.
The student text pages are almost a cross between the presentation style of DK and Usborne type books and traditional texts. They are full of color and illustrations with lots of boxes and insets that make them visually engaging. Most of the words of text that students need to read still run in traditional columns, but there’s less of it than in many other texts. Lest you conclude that students will learn less, recall the plethora of extended activities from the Teacher’s Edition and the activity books themselves.
Student activity books reinforce text information with a variety of activities. Students use graphic organizers to analyze and summarize what they have learned in the text. They use data supplied in the activity books to answer questions. They write out complete answers to essay questions and complete fill-in-the-blank and multiple-choice questions. They also work with maps and read passages of new material and answer comprehension questions.
The Assessment Program book presents tools for different forms of assessment: informal evaluation, self-evaluation, performance assessment, portfolios, standard tests, and performance tasks. The first four types are presented as general methods to be used. The standard tests and performance tasks are specific to each unit of the text. Performance tasks generally include individual projects, group projects, and/or student presentations. You are welcome to choose any or none of these as you wish. In the homeschool package, the assessment program is included on the CD-ROM.
Overall, I think Harcourt Horizons World History might be a good choice for many home educators, especially now that a more affordable option is available.