The Illuminate Bible series offers homeschooling families a resource for in-depth Bible study. They say: “Enough with the fluff!”
The series is written from a viewpoint that tends to reflect Reformed Protestant doctrine, although it is not intended to advance any particular denomination. (The publisher’s statement of faith is more generic and limited than the theological positions taught in these courses.) I point this out because both courses that I reviewed have strong theological content that is often deeper than what you find in other Bible study courses for these levels, and many of my readers will want to know what denominational viewpoints they are likely to support.
This new series consists of two courses thus far—one that can be used with students in grades one through six and the other for grades seven through twelve. With the younger-level study you can teach all of your children in the elementary grades together. The study for older students is probably best used for independent study, although it can also be used with a group class.
All of the books are printed in full color and have plastic spiral bindings so the books will lie flat.
The entire series will be focused primarily upon Jesus Christ, drawing from the entire Bible for each course. The courses show how both the Old and New Testaments point toward Jesus. While these courses are intended to be taught in sequence, they are not chronological studies of the Bible that teach the Old Testament separately from the New Testament.
Both courses are laid out quite differently, so I will discuss them one at a time.
Note: You can view samples from each book on the publisher’s website.
Volume 1: God Our Savior (for grades 1-6)
Volume 1: God Our Savior is the first in this series of six courses for grades one through six. The overarching theme of God Our Savior is the story of redemption reflected through the entire Bible. For example, the lesson for the third week of the course is titled “The First Sin.” It retells the story of Genesis 3: 1-24 in a storytelling fashion. It ties that story to Romans 16: 17-20, Exodus 25: 18-22, Ezekiel 1, Colossians 2: 13-15, Psalm 51: 1-5, and other selected verses to develop the meaning of the story and make theological points. The memory verse for the week is Psalm 51:10.
The course consists of the Discovery Guide for the parent or teacher and your choice of three student workbooks. The student workbooks are identified as 1st - 2nd, 3rd - 4th, and 5th - 6th and are to be used for those grade levels. The course is taught from the Discovery Guide with daily lessons, then students complete an activity page in the workbook each day. The workbooks for grades three and above include unit tests for each of the eight units in the course. The answer keys for the tests are at the back of the Discovery Guide.
The course is very much designed for homeschooling families rather than group classes. The Discovery Guide has many full-color illustrations that children will need to be able to see. It’s perfect for cuddling up together on the couch.
Each week’s lesson begins by presenting an important Bible story that is retold and embellished with applications and doctrinal points. Then the next four days present supplemental passages and commentary that deepen understanding of the main story and develop ties to other passages in the Bible. The fifth day of each lesson includes oral review questions for each of the previous four days. Each group of questions should be preceded by the parent's brief summary (they say narration) of that day’s lesson. Suggested answers follow each of the questions, so you don’t want your children looking at the Discovery Guide for this part of the lesson. Note that some of these questions are similar to the questions that appear in the student workbooks, so I would use them only after students have completed their student notebook pages.
Students at all levels should master the week’s memory verse. The location of the verse is given, but it’s up to you which version of the Bible to use.
Every day of the week has a “Prayer Point” and a “Christ Focus.” The Prayer Point” ties to the lesson in some fashion. For instance, one of the Prayer Points in the lesson on the first murder says, “Pray that God would help you show kindness, even to your enemies” (Discovery Guide, p. 43). The Christ Focus is a key theological statement about Jesus such as, “Matthew 4 describes how Jesus was tempted by Satan, but He refused to sin” (Discovery Guide, p. 42). I can see how the Prayer Point can easily be used as part of your prayer time, but the Christ Focus seems a little more awkward to fit into the lesson.
I’ll turn now to the student workbooks. The workbook for first and second graders is intended to be used more interactively while older students can complete most of the activities in 3rd - 4th and 5th - 6th on their own.
In the 1st - 2nd workbook, the page for the first day of each lesson has a retelling of the Bible story but comes at it from a different angle than the Discovery Guide. This should be read aloud. This story is followed by a few discussion questions, a discussion of the meaning of the week’s memory verse, and a brief activity such as drawing or role playing. Days two through four for first and second graders have additional questions to be discussed and a reminder to work on their memory verse.
In the 3rd - 4th and 5th - 6th workbooks, rather than another story, the first day’s activity as well as those for the next three days, give them questions to answer in their workbooks. Some are simple comprehension questions, while others require deeper thought and personal application. The 3rd - 4th and 5th - 6th workbooks sometimes have students read other Scripture verses and make connections.
Day two features a hands-on activity that is the same for all levels. It is intended to serve as an object lesson to help students remember the main idea. For instance, for the week when students are studying about the plagues inflicted upon the Egyptians, the activity is to make a large fly out of construction paper and cardstock that can be “launched” by blowing into a drinking straw. These activities require resources likely to be found around the house or in the kitchen. Some of these activities are complex art projects that will take quite a bit of time. For instance, an activity in the fourth unit has students make a “treasure cup” using homemade papier-mâché. This will be a multi-step process to allow the cup to dry before it is painted and decorated. Supply lists are included with instructions for each activity, and a comprehensive supply list is at the back of the Discovery Guide.
The fifth day of each lesson in the 1st - 2nd workbook has a coloring page while the other two books have a wide variety of activities that includes things like word search puzzles, charts to complete, simple experiments, games, and vocabulary questions.
The 3rd - 4th and 5th - 6th workbooks each include eight unit tests, but there are no tests for younger students. The answer key for the 1st - 2nd workbook is at the back of that book, but since you will be discussing these questions, it’s hardly needed. Answer keys for the other two workbooks are in the Discovery Guide.
Volume 1 - God’s Glory: The Reason for Everything (for grades 7-12)
Volume 1 - God’s Glory: The Reason for Everything is the first course in this series which will eventually have six courses. Each course has a student guide and a student workbook. There is no separate teacher guide.
In the introductory material in the student guide, it says that the first three courses are designed to teach a basic understanding of the message of the Bible, and the last three courses will shift to look more “at how God’s kingdom is at work.”
As with the younger level course, this course draws from all of scripture each year rather than concentrating only on a part of the Bible in each course.
Each week’s lesson is designed around a key concept and a key Bible verse that are stated on the first page of the lesson. Every lesson consists of a series of articles for students to read from the student guide. These are under the headings: Story Elements, Context, Connections, Doctrine, Application, Worldview, The Bible &…, and Christ Focus. Students also should read the pertinent Bible passages that are the focus of each day’s lesson. Occasionally, a word or a phrase will be bolded and printed in green to show that it is a vocabulary word. These words are defined in a glossary at the back of the student guide.
The student workbook has questions to answer under the headings Story Elements, Context, Connections, Doctrine, Application, and Worldview. Some questions require students to look up Bible passages. Most questions in the student workbook require answers written in one or more sentences, but there are occasional multiple-choice or fill-in-the-blank questions. Unit tests—which are each six pages long— have all three types of questions plus columns to match.
Answer keys for daily assignments in the student workbook are at the back of the student guide. The unit tests are in the student workbook, and the test answer keys are in the student guide. The answer keys for daily assignments might easily be removed if you want to do so. However, the answer keys for unit tests are printed on the back of the first page for the following unit. So students will be able to see both questions and answers in advance. You might want to come up with a way to address this issue before handing the books over to your student.
This course is ambitious with its in-depth coverage of so many areas. It has strong theological content as well as lots of discussion of worldview issues and practical applications that answer the question, “So why do I need to know this?” It does require a lot of reading—about two pages of fairly dense text from the student guide every day plus Bible passages. And the student workbook questions add to the academically-oriented workload. Because of the design of the course, it should work best for students who are independent learners with strong reading skills.