How to Teach Children Illuminated Letters

Updated April 17, 2017

The term "illuminate" means literally to, "Fill with light." Illuminated letters are an art form that illuminates or lights up letters on a manuscript. In the Middle Ages, illuminated letters were a standard characteristic of religious manuscripts and famous texts such as The Book of Kells. However, the Egyptians were some of the first to create illuminated manuscripts by using gold leaf to embellish The Book of the Dead. Teach children about illuminated letters with clear objectives, historical data, and, if possible, examples for them to observe and create.

Create learning objectives for your unit or lesson on illuminated letters. If you plan to teach children to create illuminated letters, one of the objectives might be, "Students will design and create illuminated letters for a specific manuscript." Make sure your objectives include action statements such as, "create," "observe," or "record." The objectives will serve as a way for you and the students to measure whether individuals have met their learning goals.

Provide historical information so that students understand the long history and process of creating illuminated letters. Historical information may come in the form of a documentary that students watch and take notes on, a slide show with information students research and share, or a guest speaker with actual examples of illuminated manuscripts. If possible, take a trip to the museum to see illuminated manuscripts with actual gold leaf.

Give students the opportunity to reflect on the characteristics of an illuminated manuscript. Students may brainstorm what features they would like to add to their own illuminated letters. They may also begin with a tracing template and then play with animals, shapes, flowers or other features. Give students choices of elements they can add to their own illuminated letters that will add to its originality and encourage creative expression.

Provide work space and materials for students to create illuminated letters. You may choose to provide them with a manuscript and have them illuminate the first letter, or have them create their own manuscripts. Instruct the students to use paper, markers, crayons, pen and pencils to conceptualise their illuminated letters. Younger students may illuminate the first letter of their name. Then, instruct them on how to apply gold or aluminium foil to illuminate the paper.


If desired, students may make their own paper, then use calligraphy to write out a page of the manuscript, then illuminate the first letter. This is a more involved process, but many students, especially those involved in art, enjoy taking the time to create a beautiful original manuscript from start to finish.

Things You'll Need

  • Historical information presentation
  • Examples of illuminated letters
  • Gold coloured foil
  • Markers
  • Drawing Paper (7"x7")
  • Pencils
  • Pens
  • Crayons
  • Tracing forms (if desired)
  • Glue
  • Ruler
  • Coloured Pencils
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About the Author

Julia Barrus is a writer and teacher who has published with several online sources since 2008. Barrus has a bachelor's degree in English and a master's degree in secondary education curriculum and instruction with an endorsement in English from the University of Phoenix.