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Visual Manna Art/Reading Kit Review by Dr. Anne Margaret Wright

Sharon Jeffus
Visual Manna
PO Box 494
Raymore, MO

I've heard wonderful things about Visual Manna, so our family was excited to review Artsy Animals Learn to Read. Unfortunately, we were less than enthused by the actual materials. According to the manual, "The Artsy Animals Reading Program is loosely based on The New England Primer, a reading book in early American history. It is aimed at educating children in literacy through reading, writing, drawing and oral language skills. This program is designed for emergent readers, reluctant readers, and English as a second language students." Sounds good--like a unit study using art to teach reading. I'm just not convinced that the included materials would accomplish this goal.

The Artsy Animals Learn to Read is the first book in this series; and it focuses on teaching children the letters of the alphabet. We looked at the manual, the Artsy Animals Workbook 1, and a CD that contained both of these items, a brief Power Point presentation on how to use the materials, Artsy Animals Being Kind (which introduces the character and storyline), and Artsy Animals Parties (which gives many clever ideas for parties based on the story). Also included in our kit were two copies of a large poster with Raymond the Rhino and the letters of the alphabet as well as a t-shirt with the same picture. The t-shirt and posters were in black and white and included a pack of permanent markers to color them. There was also a pack of Magic Light Brush Paints, a product that looks like fun but requires additional supplies (a Magic Light Brush and Color Wonder Paper) to use. For each letter the manual gives a brief lesson on how to draw an animal whose name starts with that letter. The workbook has some brief additional information and activities as well as room to draw the animal from the manual. There are many vocabulary words and phrases in Spanish, and brief but interesting tidbits throughout the materials about history and various animals, etc.

I love the idea of using art and other subjects to teach reading. We've used unit studies for years in our homeschool and have found that pulling the various subjects together can bring all of them to life. The idea of teaching the child to draw while learning the letters is great! In other words, I really liked the idea, but the implementation was somewhat lacking. For example, some of the text is confusing and disjointed, but some of the questions and ideas are great. Some of the pictures are disappointing, while some are cute. While on the CD both the manual and workbook are in full color, the printed copies are in black and white, even the color wheel and the photos! Perhaps the second edition will continue some of the best features, such as the overall learning model, the Web links, and the great ideas for learning, while improving the consistency and quality of the materials.

Product review by Dr. Anne Margaret Wright, Senior Product Reviewer, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, February 2010