Horizons Math and Saxon Math are two very popular and well-respected homeschool math programs.
In the years since their initial releases, these programs have helped hundreds of thousands of students become strong and capable math learners.
On the surface, however, both programs seem quite similar and parents often have a hard time deciding which of these great programs best fits their homeschool needs.
To help out, we’ve compared Horizons and Saxon so that parents can make a more informed choice.
What is Saxon Math
Developed by John Saxon in 1981 in response to what he thought were issues in the then-new way math was being taught (reform math), Saxon Math is a math program that aims to develop strong math skills through the incremental introduction and continual practice, drill, review and assessment of math facts, mental math and problem solving skills.
Known for its back to basics approach to math, Saxon Math remains one of the more widely used and renowned homeschool math programs in use and is a popular choice in many private and independent schools, as well.
What is Horizons Math
Developed by leading Christian curriculum provider Alpha Omega Publications, Horizons Math is a Christian homeschool math curriculum that strongly emphasizes the development of math skills through more traditional methods, incrementally building skill through drill, memorization, review, practice and a variety of multisensory activities.
By and large, and as of writing, Horizons Math is a complete Elementary School math program. It is intended for students in grades K-8, covering everything from basic counting and number sense to Algebra 1.
In contrast, Saxon Math is a K-12 math curriculum, offering material for Grades K-3, 4-7 and 8-12 and covering everything from basic counting to Calculus.
Overall, Saxon Math, being a complete K-12 program, is a little more expansive in terms of the grades and topics it covers, which can be useful for homeschool families that prefer a single program that they can use through high school.
Being homeschool math programs, it is important to note that both programs can be used outside their respective grade ranges, that is by precocious students taking courses ahead of schedule and by those who are a little behind in their math.
As both programs more or less follow their own scope, pace and sequence, it can be tricky at times for parents switching into these programs from another math program.
Both Horizons Math and Saxon Math, helpfully, have free placement tests available for their respective curricula.
Horizons Math placement tests are available on the AOP website, and can largely be found on any retail website that sells the curriculum.
Saxon Math placement tests are available pretty much wherever the program is sold online.
Generally speaking both placement tests are pretty similar, containing up to about 20 questions (depending on the level) and are pretty straight forward assessments of math skill proficiency, and so neither should be particularly difficult for parents and students to administer or take.
Horizons Vs. Saxon: How They Teach Math
Both Horizons Math and Saxon Math are spiral curricula.
In other words, math concepts are broken up into smaller chunks and topics are introduced and learned a little at a time, with lessons introducing new topics fairly frequently and revisiting previously learned material in more depth later on in their studies.
Rather than dive deeply into a single topic for an extended period of time, as in a mastery program, spiral curricula cover more math topics and are able to keep learning fresh by introducing new topics more frequently – if a student is becoming intimidated by a topic they’re not getting they can move onto another topic and revisit and review the first concept at a later point.
As an added benefit, with spiral programs students tend to get a better idea of how math concepts fit together as a whole, rather than only seeing them as separate, individual topics.
Because Horizons and Saxon both follow this structure, they both tend to provide a good deal of review and revision of concepts.
As students revisit math topics periodically throughout their learning, increasing the depth and complexity of learning as they do so, they are able to more frequently review and practice key skills and knowledge, something that’s a distinct positive for students who tend to forget things over time.
This stands in contrast to mastery math programs, such as Singapore Math, Math in Focus and Math Mammoth, that tend to dive deeply into a concept and then, when a student shows proficiency in it, move on without revisiting the topic again.
Broadly speaking, Saxon Math tends to have a somewhat tighter spiral than Horizons Math, breaking topics down into smaller chunks than Horizons and revisiting, reviewing and practicing previously learned concepts a little more frequently.
Similarly, both Saxon Math and Horizons are more traditional, procedural math programs.
In other words, they tend to focus more on teaching students how to solve math problems quickly and accurately.
Throughout both courses students will learn particular ways of solving math problems logically and systematically, and overall there tends to be a strong focus on repetition, drill, flashcards and learning/memorizing math facts.
In practical terms, this means that students learning with either Horizons or Saxon will spend a good amount of time “doing math” and learning to problem solve using particular strategies, rather than spending time trying to explore math topics conceptually (why math is working the way it does) or trying to find and use alternative or unconventional strategies to solve problems.
As a result, students who excel in these programs tend to develop a stronger ability to solve complex calculations and problems quickly and accurately, that is they develop stronger math fluency.
Both programs tend to have more straightforward math and computational problems and slightly fewer of the complex and multi-step word problems that typify conceptual math programs.
Parent-led vs Self-Study
Both Saxon and Horizons start off being very parent-led, with parents directly teaching the material to students and managing their practice and review pretty closely.
As the grades progress, however, both programs slowly increase the amount of work that students can do independently.
Although neither program really becomes a true “self-study” program, they both gradually reduce the parents’ workload by helping them move into more of an oversight and guidance role, rather than staying in a direct teaching role.
Faith-based vs secular
One big difference between Horizons and Saxon is in their approach to faith.
Saxon is a secular math curriculum and makes no reference to God, religion or the Bible in any manner, keeping the focus solely on math instruction.
In contrast, and as might be expected from a curriculum developed by Alpha Omega Publications, Horizons is a homeschool math curriculum with a strong Christian, biblical worldview.
Throughout the curriculum various psalms, biblical quotes and various biblical, inspirational messages can appear in the teaching, and student workbooks can contain references to the bible and use biblical stories as part of their exercises.
Consequently, those looking for a secular or neutral curriculum will probably want to consider Saxon, while those looking for a math curriculum that integrates Christian values and beliefs might prefer Horizons.
Use of manipulatives
Another difference between Horizons and Saxon Math is in their use of manipulatives in learning.
For those who are unaware of the term, manipulatives are physical objects that let students explore math concepts in a hands-on manner, such as blocks, money, counters, dice and so on.
Horizons Math tends to use manipulatives pretty frequently in its teaching, with parents and students working with play money, using flash cards, using counting sticks, building calendars, dividing using plastic counters and so on.
While the use of manipulatives slows down a bit in the upper grades of the program as students become more comfortable with abstract thinking, they are still present during lessons to one degree or another.
In contrast, while Saxon Math does make use of manipulatives at the K-3 level, making use of cubes, cards, charts, teaching clocks and more, they aren’t really used as much as Horizons at the older levels (if at all).
As a result, Horizons can be said to be a little more multisensory and hands-on in its teaching than Saxon, which can be good for more tactile learners.
Use of Technology
Both Horizons and Saxon are fairly traditional curricula, with most of the learning being done simply through textbooks and workbooks.
That said, as Saxon is such a well-known and widely used program, many resources have popped up over the years to help parents teach the program.
For example, there are a number of third-party video courses available specifically for Saxon Math, such as Nicole the Math Lady, that can help parents save time and effort by teaching and explaining key math ideas and helping turn the program into more of a self-study program.
Similarly, there are also third-party online platforms specifically designed around Saxon that can help parents manage the entire homeschooling process, including online grading and drill.
Common Core Alignment
Another difference between the two programs is their relation to Common Core State Standards for math.
Horizons math is not Common Core aligned, following its own scope and sequence and often introducing topics at its own pace and depth.
With Saxon things get a little more complicated due to the different editions of the program that are floating around on the market.
Newer editions and the Intermediate series of Saxon Math are Common Core Aligned.
Older editions, in particular the so-called numbered series that is still sold through homeschooling retailers, are not.
Look and Feel
In general there is also a difference when it comes to the general look and feel of each curriculum.
Saxon Math books are generally printed in black and white, including the student books where students can sometimes be asked to color things in (especially at the lower levels).
In contrast, while Horizons Math Teacher’s Guides are black and white, its student books are full color and richly illustrated, even at the upper levels, which can make it a little more engaging and interesting for students to look at while they work.
Both Saxon Math and Horizons are comprehensive math curricula that thoroughly explore all the material for the grades they are designed to teach.
Horizons Math is fairly rigorous and advanced, even compared to other homeschool curricula.
Although it explains math concepts simply and clearly, and its hands-on learning can be a great way to teach abstract math concepts, there is a strong emphasis on building math fluency through drill, practice and memorization.
It also tends to cover material well ahead of Common Core standards, occasionally up to a year earlier and so can be said to be an advanced math curriculum.
Saxon Math, too, is a thorough and rigorous math curriculum, offering a good deal of practice and challenging exercises, and also placing a strong emphasis on memorization, practical skills and drill.
In contrast to Horizons, however, it tends to be more on-grade in terms of pace, with most newer editions being aligned to a Common Core scope and sequence.
Note: Prices correct as of writing. All prices in USD.
Horizons and Saxon Math are fairly similar when it comes to price.
Both programs can be purchased as complete sets for about $100-120, and parents can fairly easily find their component books online or in bookstores, meaning both programs can be purchased piecemeal.
Parents should be aware, however, that Horizons does include manipulatives work after K-3, so unlike Saxon those switching into the program in grades 4-8 might need to pick up a kit or find manipulatives online, which can add to the cost at first.
|Full Math Curriculum||✅||✅|
|Approach to Math||Spiral||Spiral|
|Faith-based or secular||Secular||Christian|
|Conceptual or Procedural Math||Procedural||Procedural|
|Common Core Options||✅||❌|
Bottom Line: How do I decide between Horizons and Saxon Math?
Both Horizons Math and Saxon Math are excellent and well-respected math programs in the homeschool community that can help build very strong math skills in their students.
Deciding between the two can be a challenging prospect for parents, and to help out we’ve created a small chart with some considerations that parents might want to take into account before purchasing either curriculum.
|I’m a parent and…||Consider|
|I’m teaching grades K-8||Either|
|I’m teaching Middle or High School||Saxon|
|My homeschool is secular or faith-neutral||Saxon|
|I’m looking for a math curriculum that incorporates Christian values||Horizons|
|My student learns best when they are able to touch and explore math using manipulatives||Horizons|
|My student does best when given lots of review and practice||Either|
|I want a program that reviews previously learned concepts||Either|
|I’m looking for an advanced and rigorous curriculum||Horizons|
|I’m looking for a gentle, on-grade curriculum||Saxon|
|I’m looking for a Common Core curriculum||Saxon|
|I don’t want to teach a Common Core math curriculum||Horizons|
|If I get stuck I might like to find teaching videos and other technological solutions for teaching||Saxon|
|My student prefers a full color, illustrated workbook||Horizons|
For More Information
To learn more about these programs you can:
About the Author
David Belenky is a freelance writer, former science and math tutor and a tech enthusiast. When he’s not writing about educational tech, he likes to chill out with his family and dog at home.