Monday, November 22, 2010

Bright Ideas Press: Illuminations Year 2 (Grades 3-8 & High School)

Bright Ideas Press (publishers of the Mystery of History Series, Hands-On Geography,  A Young Scholar's Guide to Composers, Christian Kids Explore Earth and Space, and more) now brings us a fully scheduled curriculum, available for grades 3-12.  Illuminations is centered around the Mystery of History or All American History books (depending on year) and is based on the Classical Method of education.  While I don't tend to be a follower of this method, a first glance at the set up and samples of the Illuminations series seemed to have enough of the Charlotte Mason flavor that I was intrigued.  When I was given the opportunity through the TOS Crew to choose from a variety of materials Bright Ideas Press offers, I decided this may be an excellent time to check out this new program.

There were a couple of things that excited me right off the bat.  The first thing is that you can purchase this for grades 3-8 and also for high school.  These programs are connected, so your whole family can study the same topics and stay connected.  I currently have my 10th grader working through a very popular literature based core program on his own, while my 3rd-8th graders work through another unit study with me.  While this works very well for him, I am concerned that my upcoming 9th grader is not quite ready for this much independence.  He and his brother are two different people and I know the amount of reading in the 10th grader's program will be more than is beneficial for him.  The thought of having a high school program that would correlate with the younger kids is very appealing.

The second thing that drew me to this program was the reading list.  I received Year 2 for both elementary and high school and the book lists include Black Horses for the King, Augustine Came to Kent, Robin Hood, Beowulf, The Canterbury Tales, MacBeth, and the like.  There are plenty of yummy books on the list but there are not so many books as to be overwhelming.  The reading schedule seems more doable and a discussion guide is included for each book.

I was disappointed to discover that Illuminations is only available in CD or download format, as I remember reviewing another full curriculum in digital version and being completely lost.  For that review, I had to hunt down a friend with the program in order to check it out in print (which I then discovered I liked, but the digital version was too difficult for me to comprehend).  After downloading the files for Illuminations, I was surprised to discover that it is fairly easy to use.  It did take me a little bit of digging to find the literature guides, but all in all it is an easy to use program.  The clickable links in the introduction section make the learning curve much less intimidating.

The schedule is set up for a four day week, which I LOVE.  We have worked with a four day week for much longer than I can remember so having this already set up for four days a week is perfect. This allows for those days when you have outside classes or activities, without having to revamp everything every week.  Huge plus!  The high school is a five day week plan, which I understand, but I've found that a high schooler can be very motivated to double up on things in order to have a four day week, so I'm not worried about that.  GRIN.

One of the very best things about this is that the authors designed it to be "Totally Tweakable".  They understand that most homeschoolers will adapt the product to fit their family.  This is a completely refreshing approach and one I greatly appreciate.  You can delete any of the lesson plans they have listed by simply typing your own in the box.  You can remove what you don't want and add what you do and everything will still be right there on the page. Print your lessons out and voila, everything in one place.

While this is mostly a planning and enrichment guide, as you still need to purchase the books to use with the program, it does include teacher helps, discussion guides, and the like.  The reading guides for the literature program are quite good and contain Discussion Generators, some of which are mere comprehension questions (not a big fan) but many are true discussion starters and this is a highlight of homeschooling for me.  They also include hands on activities which are actually realistic (no creating an ear out of cardboard and crawling through it).  These are things like write and sing a rhyme, try a recipe, map work, cookie dough map, owl pellet dissection, etc.  I can manage to actually do those, or let the kids run free and try them out themselves.

I am frequently asked for full curriculum recommendations, whether from those new to homeschooling or those who simply want or need a break from doing it all themselves.  I feel confident in adding this to my list of recommended programs.  To sum up, here are several of the things I really like about Illuminations:


* Although I tend to prefer print versions for full curricula, this was easy to work with and the flexibility may outweigh the inconvenience of needing the computer to plan.

* 4 day week schedule for 3rd - 8th grade.


* Utilizes a lot of material I already own and enjoy but tend to forget to schedule in- Write Stuff Adventure, Diana Waring CD's, Drive Through History, Hands on Geography, etc.

* Authors understand that homeschoolers tweak and they expect you too- that is refreshing (Their catch phrase: "Totally Tweakable").

* Can delete their plans that you don't want to use and insert your own by typing them into the lesson plan template.


* Reading guides- Discussion generators.

* Appreciate High School level including course on Life 101, practical and spiritual topics that can sometimes be overlooked in high school planning.

* They integrate "catch-up" weeks into the curriculum- awesome!

* Hands on activities in the literature guides that are actually doable.

* Full curriculum, ease of mind for people not comfortable enough to put together their own, convenient for those who can but appreciate having the framework done and adapting as needed.

Year 2, Grades 3-8 is available for $165 for the year as a digital download or $185 for the CD.  The High School version is $95 for the download or $115 for the CD.  A bundle of both the 3rd- 8th AND the High School is $240 for the digital or $280 on CD.  Course lists and samples are found on their site, as well as an intro video to the program. There is also a Yahoo Group and Blog, for more information and support!



*Disclosure: The downloadable version of Year 2, 3-8th and High School, was provided to me at no cost for review purposes.  For more reviews of Bright Ideas Press products, check out the TOS Crew.*

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