Monday, November 22, 2010

Illuminations

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Have you ever felt like you were stumbling in the dark in your homeschool? Perhaps you stumble in the dark of worry that your kids might miss something important...or the dark of anxiety that your personal and/or educational shortcomings might hinder your children's education. Or perhaps like me you have been in the dark of exhaustion trying to keep the roles of wife, mother and teacher balanced. Sometimes you might be just plain in the dark about what curriculum to buy and how to complete it by the end of the year.

This school year had gotten off to a rather rocky start. Last year's school had dragged into summer and I was feeling rather burned out by the time fall arrived. I had a high school student feeling overwhelmed, a middle school student who didn't like any subject (in spite of trying a variety of curriculum), and three elementary students to keep up with. And instead of feeling like we were all sharing a homeschool journey, I felt as though I was cheering on 5 different runners in their own independent race and I was worn out with the effort. It was at this somewhat "dark" stage in our school year, that I was given the opportunity to try the Illuminations program created by Bright Ideas Press.

So what exactly is Illuminations?
You can watch a great video that introduces Illuminations HERE. Basically, Illuminations is considered a "wrap-around" program in which various subjects are connected to a primary history spine called Mystery of History. Three volumes of MOH are currently available and you can purchase Illuminations for 2 different age levels for the particular volume you are studying:
  • Grades 3-8 for $165
  • High School $95
Families with children in both levels receive a discount on the combined price. The same history spine is used for both levels, but the activities are geared for the targeted age. We reviewed Level 3: Grade 3-8. My students were 7th grade, 5th grade and 2nd grade. I adjusted some of the assignments for my 2nd grader but he participated in nearly all of our History and Literature studies.

Illuminations can be used in a variety of ways. At the bare minimum, you can use it for history and literature in which weekly assignments are all prepared for you. Specific pages to be read and assignments to be completed are all spelled out in a ready-to-print schedule. The schedule is a fun, rainbow color schedule that is customizable. If you want to tweak, rearrange, or substitute, you can type that into the grid, save, and print it off. If you change your mind, you can easily revert back to the default information.

As you progress through the history course, there are a number of literature selections recommended to complement your studies. Literature guides are provided for both Family Study books (for read aloud) as well as Read- Alone books. The guides are extremely detailed and everything is laid out for you; you can print off copies for students or you can just use the guides from your computer and discuss topics orally. Answers for guide questions are also provided. Vocabulary, discussion questions, extra activities, online links and quizzes are included in the guides. For the level we reviewed, there were 8 Family Study guides as well as guides for 5 different books (some books were used multiple times over the course of the year). There are also book suggestions for Early Learners in case you have younger students included in your studies. These picture books help include your preschoolers through 2nd graders in your studies.

But there is so much more to Illuminations than just History and Literature. Included are suggested schedules for:

  • History (using Mystery of History)
  • Literature (books can be borrowed from library or purchased separately)
  • Bible (reading schedule included)
  • Spelling (includes lesson plans for The Natural Speller)
  • Vocabulary (using English From the Roots Up, volume 1)
  • Copywork (selected from literature being read)
  • Geography (using Ultimate Geography and Timeline Guide or Galloping the Globe)
  • Writing (schedules for WriteShop or The Write Stuff Adventure)
  • Grammar (schedules for Winston Grammar or Easy Grammar)
  • Science (Christian Kids Explore Chemistry)
  • Composers (A Young Scholar's Guide to Composers)
If you choose to use the programs recommended, you would have complete lesson plans for your entire school year for all subjects except Math. In addition to schedules and literature guides, Illuminations offers an arsenal of "Graphic Organizers" which includes forms for writing helps and brainstorming, book report forms, vocabulary forms, note-taking forms for Bible reading, and many others. Over 30 different forms for your convenience to print off as many as you need for your family.

According to their website, Illuminations is meant to be Practical, Fun, Affordable and Encouraging. I can attest to the fact that they hit a home run on each one of those areas--or should I say they "glow" in those areas?!

Practical
  • completely laid out: forms, charts and worksheets right at my fingertips
  • ties history to other subjects to provide continuity in your studies
  • suggestions for links, crafts and other activities saving user loads of prep time
  • schedules are customizable so users can plot in their own choices for subjects
  • attractive, useful forms for nearly everything under the sun
Fun
  • brings the family together for enriching literature selections
  • hands-on learning and learning extensions to bring the lessons alive
  • visually pleasing charts, forms and helps
  • great audio suggestions to enhance learning
  • Netflix suggestions for movies to enhance the lessons
  • suggestions for books to include younger learners in your home
Affordable
  • for less than $20/month, I have an overarching plan for my history and literature studies (the literature guides themselves are worth the price)
  • material can be used with any number of family members
  • re-use the material with subsequent children (I'll have 2 more to be able to reuse this with)
  • the larger the family, the lower the per-student cost
Using this with three of my students, brought the cost to $55/student which covered their reading/literature, spelling, and copywork as well as lesson plans for history. Having everything prepared for me at that price per student, I find an incredible value. When I use this product again with 2 younger students, the cost per student will end up being only $35/student.

Encouraging
Before you purchase, you may want to join the Illuminations 1 group and just observe, ask questions and find out what others think of the program. You can also become a Fan of Illuminations on Facebook and participate in conversations there. The encouragement and help from other users is invaluable.

I have to say that the company support was encouraging as well. When I initially received the product (via download), there was a problem with a particular link. The company sent out a solution in very short order. When I contacted the company by phone or e-mail with other questions, they were extremely helpful and friendly and answered queries in a very timely manner.

Our verdict
I am utterly thrilled with this product. The family read alouds that helped illuminate our history studies have been out of this world. The literature books do need to be purchased separately or borrowed from a library (check on interlibrary loan services if your branch doesn't own a particular title). I found the selections so wonderful, that I went ahead and purchased most of them for our home library. Book selections can be purchased through The Book Peddler or you can also find many new or used titles through Amazon.

I really liked learning about composers right along with our history studies. Although I did not purchase the suggested composer book, I was able to find information online about their life as well as being able to listen to examples of their music.

We will definitely continue on the Illuminations path and look forward to the historical and literary adventures that await us on the path ahead!

Contact Information
Bright Ideas Press can be reached by
Internet: www.BrightIdeasPress.com
E-mail: Contact (at) BrightIdeasPress.com
Post: Bright Ideas Press PO Box 333 Cheswold, DE 19936
Phone: toll-free at 877.492.8081. [Office hours are Monday—Friday. 8:30—5:00 EST]

If you are curious what other reviewers thought of this product, you can visit the TOS Crew Blog. Don't stumble around in the dark any longer--let Illuminations light your path, "lighten" your load, and help restore the joy in your journey toward excellence!

Disclaimer: I was provided Illuminations for the purpose of reviewing and sharing my experience. No other compensation was received. The opinions expressed are my own.

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