Saturday, April 14, 2012

Wrapping Up with Illuminations-A Review

As this school year winds down and I start thinking about curriculum for next year, I thought I would share my thoughts on the main curriculum we used this year. In August of last year, we started using both levels of Illuminations (Year One) by Bright Ideas Press.  Illuminations is a curriculum guide that uses The Mystery of History as a spine. (Read what I said about it after about 5 weeks here.)

Illuminations-High School

The high school level of Illuminations has Bible,  literature guides for 19 books, lessons for The Mystery of History, lessons for English from the Roots Up and Write Shop I.  It also has grammar lessons, geography, humanities, a Life 101 course, and assignments from supplements such as Diana Waring audios, Drive Thru History DVDs and even movies on Netflix.

When you open Illuminations you see the menu below.  There is a Quick Start section where you will find a quick start guide, introductions, an interface guide to teach you how to use the program, the book and program checklist, notebook spines and a literature evaluation guide.

Next, you can browse by either subject or date.  If you choose "Browse by Subject" your menu looks like this:

 Here I selected English From the Roots Up.  It opens in a .pdf document which can be read on the screen or printed.  The lessons are divided up by week and day and you can easily find the lessons by clicking on the bookmarks on the left.   Besides the lessons you will find crossword puzzles and games, mad-libs, a final test and even an award certificate to print. This guide alone is 50 pages long.

The geography lessons are based on The Ultimate Geography and Timeline Guide. There are 2 lessons for each week.  This is a 27 page guide. Other guides include  59 pages for Write Shop I, a 23 page Bible reading guide (no lessons here just a list of readings and memory passages), 4 guides for books in the Life 101 course and a great supplement guide.  Even after a year of using this, I am amazed at how much is included (some of which I forgot about and never even used!).  

Easily choose the week you are on.  You can save any changes you make
without losing the original!

The most helpful part of Illuminations (in my opinion) is the schedule grid which you will find by clicking the "Browse by Date" button on the main screen.  The schedule grid is customizable. You can add things to it and change it to suit you. The only thing you cannot do is cut and paste text from one place in the grid to another. (This is one thing that I did find frustrating because if I wanted to move things around I had to re-type them.  This is not the case if you want to cut and paste from something outside of the grid.  For instance, I wrote up science lessons which I typed into a blank grid ahead of time and could cut and paste that into the grid each week.)

sample of a schedule grid

Watch this video by Tyler Hogan to see more about how this works.  I think it will be much more helpful than reading an explanation. He does show you how to work with the grid in this video.

So you're probably wondering what you need to buy, right? It really depends on how much of Illuminations you want to use.  You will definitely want to get The Mystery of History because it really is the core of the program (plus it's awesome).  I bought a few of the literature titles but I was able to find most of the literature through our inter-library loan system. (A few of the titles are included as e-books.) We have been using Easy Grammar Ultimate so I do not know anything about the grammar lessons included.  You also might want English From the Roots Up, The Ultimate Geography and Timeline Guide and an atlas, Write Shop I and supplements such as Drive Thru History and Diana Waring audios. Science and math are not included at the high school level.  Remember you can use what you already have or substitute if you have something you like better.

You can download a sample that includes the book list, 2 weeks worth of schedule grids, a sample family literature guide and sample of the graphic organizers which I will discuss below.

One question I was asked recently (as in today) was, " How long does it take each day?" I really can't answer that because I think it depends on how much of it you do, what other subjects you add in (such as PE, foreign language etc.) and how quickly your student works.

Illuminations-Grades 3-8

As with Illuminations high school, the spine of Illuminations for grades 3-8 is The Mystery of History.  Bible readings, spelling, grammar, copy work, geography, science and literature are all included as well.  With this program there are Family Study Guides and Read Alone Guides.  Most weeks you are reading a book aloud and the students also have a book to read to themselves with a guide to go along with each.  I chose to read the Read Alone books to the kids as well.  Otherwise, I wouldn't know what they were studying.  Looking back, I think they probably should have been reading more on their own but I can't say that I regret the time I spent reading the books to them. 

I have really enjoyed the literature selections this year.  They have all been really interesting and they are not books that "I" ever would have picked out myself.  I have been extremely happy with them.

One difference between the high school program and the 3rd-8th grade program is that science IS included. The lessons for Year One are from Christian Kids Explore Biology.  The lessons also have readings from the Kingfisher Science Encyclopedia which is a beautiful book but be forewarned it has evolutionary content.  I wish there was a similar encyclopedia written from a Christian perspective. (Anyone know of one?)

As with the high school books, (some of which are the same) I was able to obtain most of the needed literature and read alone books from the library.  There are 19 literature guides plus an additional 3 guides meant for summer use and 26 read alone literature guides and 2 do-it-yourself read alone guides, one for fiction and one for non-fiction.  These guides alone make the price of Illuminations worth it. Many of these guides are available for individual purchase but at $10-$14 each that adds up quickly. (and they are not all available to purchase individually.)

One of the other benefits to using Illuminations are the included Graphic Organizers that are used throughout the lessons.  Here are a few samples:

There are 36 different graphic organizers. (They are the same in both levels.)

The Spelling lessons are based on Natural Speller by Kathryn Stout. I have the book,but we never used it.  I  just used the words in the included spelling lessons.  (For my son in the 6th grade, we just spelled the words until we came across words he couldn't spell and used that as a list.  My 3rd grade daughter was using Soaring with Spelling.)

Lessons in this level are scheduled mainly for Monday-Thursday.  This is ideal for making Friday a fun school day, field trip day, catch up day or co-op day.  (or switch your "free" day to whatever day works for you)

I almost forgot to mention that at this level there are lessons for Early Learners (K-2) included as well.  

So, I think I have talked myself into buying Year Two!  :)  No, seriously, I do think I am going to purchase Year Two.  Mid-year I kept thinking that I missed doing unit studies. Lately, we have had a lot of review items for the TOS crew so we set aside some of our Illuminations curriculum to work on those and when we came back to Illuminations I was so happy and started really thinking that I am going to continue with this next year.  

On the Illuminations website you can download samples of each year of Illuminations (by level). 

Each sample includes:
  • A pdf version of their brochure
  • A Course Offering and Literature List. This will tell you what you need to buy (depending on which parts of the program you want to use).
  • Two sample Schedule Grids. 
  • Literature Study Guides. Family Study Guides (FSGs) and Read-Alone Guides (RAGs) for 3rd-8th grades, and High School Study Guides for the older ones.
  • Some of their favorite Graphic Organizers.

Purchase information can be found here.  You can purchase a full year bundle of both Illuminations 3-8 along with Illuminations High School for $240.  They can be purchased separately as well and there is even an option for purchasing just the first semester.  

My advice would be to buy this at least a few weeks before you start to use it so you can familiarize yourself with the grids and explore everything that Illuminations has to offer.  Please feel free to ask me any questions you may have.  I'd be happy to answer them if I can OR you can contact the folks at Bright Ideas Press.  They have always been very helpful when I've had a question.  

One other thing to note is that once you have registered your product you will gain access to a members area where you will find updates and additional things to download that are not in the program.  There isn't too much there but you won't want to miss it. 

You can find Illuminations on Yahoo Groups and Facebook. Bright Ideas Press is also on Facebook.

***No disclaimer needed on this one. I purchased this myself. :)  


Amanda in RI said...

There's no link to a video. :)

Great review, though. Sounds like something I'd look at if we weren't in co-op!

Amanda in RI said...

Ah! There it is!!! :)

Julie said...

Hi - I realize that I am writing this long after you posted about Illuminations. I am very excited to try this curriculum. I am not happy with what we are using currently and might make the switch mid year. I have a question - I am interested in buying one semester at a time and wonder if you have a recommendation whether you think the download is preferable to the CD rom? I assume with either you get the same things but am not sure (like the ability to "click" onto different sections and change lessons. My email is and if you get this comment I would love to hear your thoughts! Many thanks! Julie

Jackie in TN said...

Hi Karen! I know this post was back in 2012, but I wanted to know if you are still using Illuminations? If so, how are you enjoying it now that you've had more time to work it thoroughly? I would love to read an update!

Silver Fox said...

I'd love an update too! It sounds like a great curriculum. But I can't find a quantity of review to help me make my decision.

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