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Art Through the Core Series Review by Krystin Corneilson

By Sharon Jeffus
Visual Manna
PO Box 553
Salem, MO 65560

Teaching art and integrating it into our lesson plans has always seemed somewhat daunting to me. Like writing, I enjoy that it is a personal expression of who I am, but instructing others (especially my kids) how to do it has intimidated me. Enter Visual Manna. In an e-book format, their "Art through the Core" series applies art study and lessons to Science, History, American History, English, Astronomy, Social Studies and Math. Perfect for visual and kinesthetic learners, each subject is in a separate file, each opening with applicable Scripture and continuing into a broad explanation of how art fits with the topic, goals for the curriculum, and the targeted age range. There is a detailed table of contents, so it's easy to see how the material fits in with other curricula.

Here are some highlights from the seven e-books:

In Teaching American History Through Art, students learn about Johnny Appleseed and then create an apple tree or learn to draw an apple. American symbols and historical figures are discussed and drawn using the grid technique. Quill pens, cloth dying, paper quilling, quilting, and pottery are covered and sampled. The importance and making of maps, Native American symbols, and cartooning are covered, as are sand painting and famous painting and drawings. This e-book ends with a timeline test.

Teaching Astronomy Through Art opens with an explanation of the rationale of teaching astronomy through art, quoting Psalm 19:1--"The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth His handiwork." As the students work through the book creating an "outer space art gallery," they learn about astronomers, telescopes (drawing and shading cylinders), stars in art (and how to draw a perfect star), mapmaking, chalk and oil pastels (how to shade and blend), contrast in art (showing pictures drawn by Galileo), the sun and its meaning to cultures throughout history, galaxies/nebula/asteroids, the International Space Station, and outer space comic strips.

"The earliest writings of man were visual symbols or pictographs. Communicating takes the shape of the written word and the visual picture. It is very important for students to see the connection and be able to communicate their own ideas. That is the purpose of this book." So starts Teaching English Through Art, which targets grades 4-9 but can be modified for a greater range of ages. The primary goal in this volume is for students to create a writing portfolio. Art and word art blend as th e students consider e motions, coloring with words, drawing a face in proportion (using the Mona Lisa), and personification. Basic language instruction is given in parts of speech, types of sentences and paragraphs, elements of a story, dialogue, and outlining. Students learn about different kinds of writing, such as the biography (character sketch/caricature), propaganda, editorials, newspaper articles, letters, and poetry. Rudyard Kipling is introduced using a poem and a drawing by him. The work of C.S. Lewis demonstrates three ways to tell a story. The students are given a brief introduction and illustration of several famous people. After additional investigation, they write a particular kind of paragraph or paper and then draw the researched person using the grid technique. The curriculum ends with a checklist for producing a video, which will keep their creative juices flowing even after the lessons are done.

On the cover of Teaching History Through Art, Rich and Sharon Jeffus use Ecclesiastes 3:1 to remind us that "To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven." The book's introduction indicates that this volume goes along with Visual Manna's History Through Art audio tape (suggested but not necessary) and that it is a good for group or family activity. Besides the included timeline, each lesson provided is an overview so that students can do more research using recommended resources--with the ultimate goal of making history interesting and unforgettable.

This history volume is perhaps the richest one. Part one covers diverse and interesting subjects such as prehistoric art, petroglyphs/hieroglyphics, purple dye, the Bronze Age, glass in history (plus a recipe to make glass candy), fresco painting, Stonehenge (and clay recipes to build a model), pyramid building, Greek architecture, and a lesson on one-point perspective. Also included are vase painting, mosaics, and relief sculptures; the hanging garden of Babylon and DIY instructions; the Great Wall of China; the history of sails and the catacombs; and castles, knights, and metal work for their armor. Tapestry as a visual story teller was fascinating, as was the building of the great cathedrals. Famous explorers and pirates were studied, with projects to make them even more memorable: Marco Polo and three projects that make him more exciting than a game in a swimming pool; Vasco de Gama and making authentic-looking maps; Christopher Columbus and drawing the inside of a ship; and Blackbeard and pirate maps. Royalty in general (and Queen Elizabeth in particular) were highlighted, with students instructed to draw a crown and also the queen's face. There is also a lesson in designing a shield and a coat of arms (using drawing, clay, and plaster of Paris).

Part two encompasses the study of specific Renaissance artists, scientists, and writers as well as architecture, painting, triptych, calligraphy, bookbinding, and illuminated manuscripts. The illustrated timeline at the end is great. The pictures make it come alive and give it meaning, which makes it more memorable.

The volume I was most interested in reading was Teaching Math Through Art (aimed at grades 3-8). As a lefty, I learn math concepts much better if I can visualize them. This volume appropriately supplements other math curriculum, offering real-life, applicable reasons to learn math. Covered are clocks and time, fractions (using a chocolate bar) and how fractions are used to draw a face; money (domestic and foreign), estimation, using a compass, sequences and reflections, measuring angles using a snowflake, kaleidoscopes (including a website resource offered for students to make their own), Fibonacci Sequence and what it looks like in nature, 2D and 3D objects, and fractals and fractal art. I can't wait to use this with my visually oriented boys!

Teaching Science Through Art is for ages 7-12. Psalm 19:1 is appropriately quoted again. This e-book is a fun supplement to a student's main science curriculum and requires a sketchbook. Notables such as Audubon and da Vinci are studied, as well as typical science topics such as animals of all kinds, trees, plants, weather, earth, water, and minerals (with a Mt. Rushmore tie in). More of the "outside of the box" ideas include patterns in nature, science in a sunset, and drawing from photographs. Finally, there are inventions, machines, airplanes (design your own), kites, boomerangs (make your own), and a classification calendar.

Finally, Teaching Social Studies Through Art (supplement to Teaching Geography Through Art ) starts with the students making a map of their home state in the shape of an animal--how cool is that! They then learn about the moon, lighthouses (and how to draw the shapes the make them up), landscapes and cityscapes, nutcrackers, and flora and fauna (and what it takes to be a landscape architect). The diversity continues with Monet and impressionism; sculpture and 3D art; windmills, tunnels, and airports; the ten largest world cities; Russian Orthodox Churches and Faberge eggs; the Orient and the bonsai tree; mountains, rainforests, deserts, oceans, and islands of the world; Iceland and Australia; Antarctica and Africa; and how to draw eyes.

The ways these e-books can be used are as varied as the subjects they cover. The main age group is middle school and above, but most lessons could be adapted for younger students. Students could "read and do" on their own or as part of a homeschool or co-op class. The e-books could be used for summer, vacation, or weekend learning. They might be used in their entirety or in an as-needed capacity. The options are many, and the limitations are few.

Pros: There are many great things about this set: it can be integrated into other curriculum, it's adaptable for multiple levels taught simultaneously, and it points out the art that is all around us all the time--showing students and teachers alike that learning opportunities happen constantly. It also takes the intimidation factor out of teaching art and looks FUN for the teachers too!

Cons: There are only a few issues that could be improved. The table of contents would be easier to navigate if it were "clickable." Also, as easy as the e-books are to read and understand, the Visual Manna website is hard to manage and figure out. Finding contact information was difficult.

Although the curriculum package may seem pricey ($200 at The Old Schoolhouse® Store), it can be used by students of most ages to complement almost all of their subjects. It's a bargain when you consider the quality, how long it can be used (even over and over again by the same student), and the lasting ripple effect of learning the other subjects more completely.

Product review by Krystin Corneilson, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, November 2010