Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Bringing Nature Study Inside with Canvas Factory

This post is sponsored by Canvas Factory! I was given a canvas for free, but not required write a positive review.  I am happy to share these great canvases with you!
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My children and I have enjoyed some great nature walks this summer! We have discovered birds that we had never seen before, explored shells in a small local river, and caught a garter snake, in addition to taking in all of the beauty right in our own back yard! Have you made time for lots of outdoor time this summer?  I hope so!

The weather is still fantastic where I live, but with the new school year starting soon I know that means the temperature will start to drop.  My children still enjoy going out in the winter and playing in the snow, but the reality is that they cannot be outside for nearly as long and there just isn't as much nature to explore.

I thought a great way to foster our love of nature during the winter months would be to bring it inside!

Perhaps you collected leaves, insects, or rocks this summer.  Why not display and study them this winter? If your kids were too active to sit and make a nature journal page during your walks, winter time is a great time to really look at the items that you collected or took pictures of and make some great journal pages!

Another idea is to go to the library and check out books on different aspects of nature for your children to peruse during the colder months.  The only problem that I have found with books like this is that even if they look great at the library, unfortunately they are often forgotten once they are home.

Then I came up with a great idea!

About a month ago, the good folks at Canvas Factory contacted me and wondered if I would like to offer you all another canvas.  I jumped at the offer because I am so pleased with the two canvases I have from them (they are still prominently displayed in my family room!) and want you to benefit from them as well!

A canvas holds so many possibilities.  I took the opportunity to create the 5 Solas and Gospel in a Minute prints to fit what is important to my family.  These canvases are obviously also fantastic for printing a family photo.  This time I went a different direction.

I wanted a way to bring our nature study indoors, that wouldn't get hidden away, and that would bring beauty to my home.  I wanted my children to continue to wonder at God's creation even when it is covered in snow =)

I did a little research online and discovered that many old nature prints are now available for free! I fell in love with these Natural History prints by Adolphe MillotI also noticed that the Audobon Birds of America prints are now available, which is amazing.  Maybe I'll chose one of those next time!

I also love the idea of deeply looking at one thing over and over.  We live in a culture of many, fast moving things.  Our attention is pulled from one thing to another, never giving one thing adequate attention.  

I chose a print filled with butterflies.  I think it is beautiful and I love looking at it every time I am near it...Noticing something different each time...Remembering something better each time...Each time more excited to get outside and find some of these butterflies on my own.  I will be thrilled if this print is working even just a bit of the same magic in my children's hearts.

Imagine your homeschool room, hallway, or kitchen lined with beautiful Natural History Canvases!  Your child will be growing in their attention to detail and appreciation for beauty without you having to plan it into a lesson!  Let their natural curiosity lead them and their wonder grow deeper. 

Let Canvas Factory Help You!

Practically speaking, these prints are simple to order on CanvasFactory.com, they ship to your home in no time, and are super easy to hang.  I love canvases because I do not need to fuss with the hassle or expense of getting a frame.  Frames can be beautiful additions to your home, but the reality is that for me, the simpler something is, the more likely it is to actually get done!  Once I saw the package on my porch, it was opened and hanging on my wall within just a few minutes.  That works for me!!!

Canvasfactory has so many great options. They even have a huge database of images that you can choose from if you are just looking for pretty art to fit your room.  Check out their website to see all of the options.  Here are a couple of ideas to inspire you:

Would you like to have a canvas for your home?

You will always get a great deal at Canvas Factory, but I've got the best deal for you this week!  Enter below to win your own 16x20" canvas!

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Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Phonics Museum – An Experienced Review

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This product was received for free for the purpose of review. All opinions are honest and were not required to be positive.

Don't miss the chance to win your own Phonics Museum curriculum at the bottom of the post!

review by: April Craymer

I’m an educator by training and mother of five. I LOVE learning and I want my kids to love it too. So like you I was shopping for a quality, classical, homeschool product to teach my child to read. Here’s a neat option: Veritas Press’ Phonics Museum - Combo Kit (Kindergarten & First Grade), 1st edition.

First, this curriculum is beautiful! Not only am I teaching my child how to read, but I’m also fostering familiarity with fine works of art. Phonics Museum material even looks good lying around my house! (Yay for lovely messes!)

Here’s what I was hunting for in a kindergarten and first grade reading program:
  1. A solid phonics introduction – English has a logic to it which kids should learn early to help them decode words. But learning to read shouldn’t be overwhelming. (There are a lot of rules and exceptions in English!) So I also want my kids to be able to read many words by sight, quickly and fluently.
  2. Music driven repetition - Kids learn best through song. I wanted the language sounds and rules conveyed in a way that we would enjoy practicing over and over again.
  3. Quality primers that spark curiosity and educate in a Christian Worldview way. – Let’s use our time winsomely. Why spend precious hours reading “twattle”?
  4. D’nealian or cursive handwriting practice – I did not want a program that taught block letter strokes which don’t transfer well to learning cursive penmanship later.
  5. Something pleasing to the eye, not all primary colors and cartoons – Hey, we’ve got to look at this every day. Let’s see something that stimulates wonder and joy!

To cut to the chase, Veritas Press’ Phonics Museum, 1st edition met all five of my wish-list points. This approach to reading is not overwhelming for kids and they are motivated to progress. Once you find your groove with Phonics Museum, I believe you’ll enjoy many delightful learning sessions as well.

In the remaining review I’ll tell you how I see the pro’s and con’s of this curriculum, how it compares to Phonics Museum - 2nd edition and to some other reading programs, and tips for using it in your homeschool.

What I Love About Phonics Museum

A welcome surprise, it turns out this curriculum is narrative driven! 

The first soft cover book (to be read aloud by the teacher), The Alphabet Quest, sets the stage for the students’ learning adventure by introducing a family visiting an art museum one Saturday. The young boy of the family, William, is sure he’ll die of boredom, but changes his mind upon meeting a talking suit of armor, Percival. Percival challenges William to a letter-sound hunt. He says…

“This game is a quest. We both look for things in the museum that begin with the letters of the alphabet. […] When we have found all the letters from A to Z, the game is over.” 
“How do you know if you’ve won the game?” asked William.  
“Simple!” said Percival. “Whoever finds the most letters wins. Are you ready?”  
“Of course! But we won’t find any in this wing” the boy said.  
“On the contrary, we’ve already passed one. The letter M. M-M-Mummy, just as you entered.” 

With that the two are off on their quest! Hunting along with Percival and William, my kids instantly joined the competition, eagerly engaging at the level of the imagination.

Pop in the accompanying song CD and the fun continues with “The Museum Song” describing The Alphabet Quest story while actually vocalizing each first letter sound of the alphabet with a “stutter”. “A A Apples, then M M Mummy, B B Bull, and P P Pig….” It’s a catchy tune the kids sing all the time. (Note: We’d never gone to an art museum as a family before, but now, thanks to the excitement Percival brought to our home, we visit regularly, singing this song on the way and playing the game when we arrive.)

But it gets better. Now you don’t even have to leave your home to go to an art museum. Veritas Press packed one in the box! Each time a new letter is introduced, students break out their art museum fa├žade, hang up the coordinating work of art and are welcome to engage in imaginary play again using the Percival, William and family paper cut outs. Not only that, students go on a quest around their own home with their own museum bag, hunting down objects that start with the new letter sound. These are just two of the many kinesthetic learning reinforcements built into this curriculum.

Now that I’ve got you humming, let’s take a closer look at the audio CD with all the concept reinforcement songs. 

The hilarious “Alphabet Chase” follows “The Museum Song” described above. This song describes a crazy game of tag that will have your kids rolling with laughter.

There was an A A A APPLE eaten by a M M MUMMY
Being chased from behind by a large B B B BULL
But then a big fat P P PIG jumped up on the T T TABLE
And began to do a jig because he was a D D DANCER 

Like most, my kids have a ginormous sense of humor and so this track was an instant hit. Bonus: The objects described are the very ones identified in The Alphabet Quest and pictured on your set of alphabet flashcards.

Next is the “Short vowels Song”, which covers the short/first sounds of the vowels A E I O U.

The song “Chickens and Sheep” introduces the primary sounds for the consonant digraphs, CH, SH, TH voiced, TH unvoiced and WH. The lyrics include example words: chicken, sheep, this, thank, and white.

“The Ing Ang Song” teaches the morphing word endings made of those very sounds. With a jazz-like swing the chorus states:

Sing can be Sang and Sang can be Sung
Ring can be Rang and Rang can be Rung

(Note: The songs available for download with the newly released kindergarten Phonics Museum 2nd edition are identical to those in the 1st edition.)

Overall, these are fun, helpful learning songs that flow with the concepts taught in curriculum. As with the primers, these won’t make much sense if you try to enjoy them apart from the coordinating Phonics Museum lesson content. The teacher’s manual includes lyrics and sheet music for all the songs. As with the art in the primers, I like that several musical styles are incorporated, broadening the students’ general art appreciation.

Speaking of art appreciation, there’s a coloring page included for each work of art. 

Coloring pages with the artist’s biographical highlights on the reverse of each page. But the art experience doesn’t stop there. The student workbook includes reinforcement practice in each letter’s visual identification, phonetic sound-to-picture matching and writing (D’Nealian penmanship stroke order)... plus instructions to craft an object that starts with the new letter sound. My kids have enjoyed these simple art projects which they can execute almost completely independently of me.

My favorite part of this first edition Phonics Museum curriculum are the early-reader booklets. 

Phonics Museum calls these “primers”. Each primer uses only the letter sounds introduced so far, making it quite feasible for the student to decode most every word. The remaining words (such as “the”, “with”, “one”, and “eye”) are what Phonics Museum designates as “special exhibits” – sight words that need to be memorized instead of decoded for fluent reading at this stage in the game. The curriculum cues you to make and practice flashcards for each new sight word prior to reading the next primer. Definitely do this.

The primers from the first edition are very different from those in the second edition. What I love about the first edition primers are that nearly all of them have a unique tie-in to something historical and each have a unique illustration style that fits the time-period of the story. This was a really delightful way to start a conversation about that event or genre. I have not seen anything else like this on the market at the beginning reader level. Reading this variety of “literature” for themselves, piqued my children’s interest in those people and places and reminded them of something they had heard of somewhere else. Since my students have also been introduced to a timeline song of history outside of the language arts time, the “ah-ha” moments were priceless as my students made connections across subject areas.

A note about the primer vocabulary: Some other reviewers have had negative comments on the turns of phrase used in these 1st edition primers. For example, while it is true I had never called a faun from Greek mythology a “tan-man-ram”, my student and I loved the phrase as it described the creature perfectly and he could sound it out. The curricula had introduced only twelve letters and a few sight words prior to reading this first primer, Pan and the Mad Man, which includes the faun character. My child was thrilled he could read a whole book with just that knowledge! (The “aw” sound of au as in faun isn’t introduced until 1st grade.) Since the teacher’s guide for each reading lesson includes a list of vocabulary and meanings the student will encounter in the upcoming primer, I simply talked through those with my student. My students’ understanding of context’s importance for the various meanings of words and phrases increased!

Things to Consider

This is a time-intensive curriculum.

I feel it is set up more for a classroom-style approach than a quick and concise homeschool method. For example, if your child knows the first sounds of the letters in the alphabet, perhaps from watching Leap Frog’s The Letter Factory show a few times like mine, there is no need to do every workbook page leading up to the first primer at lesson #49.

We did many, but not all, the workbook pages provided as those can quickly become tedious for little learners with developing fine motor skills. I want my child’s full, undivided attention for at least a precious 15 minutes of reading instruction and practice. So I choose the most meaningful parts of each lesson to reach that end. The other workbook pages, were optional for fun or reinforcement.

This does not take away from the worth of the curriculum, but just know you might need to make some tweaks.

The teacher's manual could use some improvements.

The formatting in the teacher’s manual makes spotting new concepts challenging for the instructor looking to quickly determine the main points of the lessons.

There are a handful of minor typos in the teacher’s manual.

Extras! Extras!

I would like stronger or separate penmanship training for the teacher and student; perhaps stroke order chants recorded on the CD, and use of sand practice and super wide-ruled wipe-boards.

Temptation to substitute the subscription-required IOS app promoted extensively with the second edition. Don’t do that! Kids don’t need that much screen time and will be learning to work around/beat the app rather than learning to enjoy learning to read and write properly in the real world without flashy edutainment.

(You can sign up for a free two week trial to judge for yourself. Just be careful as kids can quickly become dependent on screen time, including educational apps. Too much screen time can re-wire the brain for short-term attention and immediate gratification.)

Quick Curricula Comparisons

Sing, Spell, Read & Write by Pearson’s:

While SSRW does have helpful memorization music, Phonics Museum first edition is much more aesthetically pleasing because of its top quality art, primers and more up-to-date musical recordings.

Foundations by Logic of English

LoE introduces more if not all letter sounds early on. Some students find this overwhelming when learning to decode words. For example there are four options of sounds the letter “i” might make in any given word. Phonics Museum on the other hand gradually introduces alternate letter sounds after the student gains confidence in reading primers with words that use only the first letter sounds.

Also, LoE has no art or music reinforcement, there are no Christian worldview reading primers, but there are excellent penmanship instruction available in their Rythym of Handwriting component.  This includes helpful stroke-order phrases and practice, textured flashcards, and super wide-ruled wipe board, available in cursive or manuscript.

Horizon’s Kindergarten by Alpha Omega: 

Horizon's Kindergarten is written and formatted with the classroom style (not the efficient home school) in mind. There is also no music or fine art component. They also use block letter stroke instruction, which may be fine for your family, it isn't what I was looking for.

Tips and Tricks for Using Phonics Museum

  • Definitely read the introductory letter and overview at the beginning of the Teacher’s Manual. It spells out how to use this curriculum. 

  • If your child knows the first letter sounds already, fast track to the primers. Besides reinforcing letter recognition, letter writing, single sound recognition for all 26 letters of the alphabet, the only other concepts taught at the kindergarten level are alphabetizing and adding s/es to the end of a word to make something plural or possessive.  FYI, the 1st edition, first grade level (which you get, while supplies last, in the combo kit or can get on its own) includes instruction on “silent e”, the sounds of many paired letters such as ai/ay, oi/oy, and includes spelling lists made of ten words using those new letter combinations. The first grade primers are also excellent.

  • Do a maximum of thirty minutes of Phonics Museum work per day. If your student like mine needs a little extra motivation, allow him to earn something like a few raisins and nuts for each ten minute segment he completes with a happy heart. If he completes his lesson before the 30 minute timer, play a Phonics Museum bonus game such as Percival’s Pairs (like Go-fish) or The Archives game (a bit like Candyland) as a special treat. 

  • Definitely make the suggested flashcards to practice the “special exhibits” (sight words). 

  • It is not necessary to make or drill vocabulary words and definitions. We read and discuss definitions prior to reading each primer. Reading the words in context helps them stick. 

  • Keep the primer books special. Our students don’t look at a page until reading it. :)

  • Read “round robin” with your student. This is suggested in the teacher’s guide for the classroom setting. In a home setting this looks like you take a page, he takes page, repeat.

Take a closer look at Phonics Museum in action!


I now have two confident, happy readers. Wow! My kids and I were not overwhelmed, but excited to see what we’d discover next. Thanks, Veritas Press, for a delightful kindergarten and 1st grade language arts experience, accentuated by quality literature, art and music!  

Catch a glimpse of the vision of the authors in this poem set off by the letter “Aa” fine art flashcard. 

… Additional Notes about the 2nd edition: 

The most obvious difference in the newly released 2nd edition of the kindergarten Phonics Museum is the addition of color in the teacher’s manual and student workbook, plus a distinct change to cartoon-like graphics. My kids think it looks fun. However, the biggest drawback is that all but one of the 2nd edition primers are completely new, sanitized stories written with very straight-forward, simple vocabulary. The primers are devoid of historical tie-ins and varied illustration styles. These will not stimulate conversations about the life and times of other people nor build vocabulary skills the way the 1st edition primers so naturally lend themselves.

The 2nd edition primers are more like full-color Bob Books in their language and graphics. While there is a small representation of a work of fine art featured on each cover, the pages inside each of these 2nd edition primers feature the same style of computer-generated cartoon-like characters in each and every book.

But no matter which edition you decide upon, Percival and Miss Biddle (the museum curator featured in the 2nd edition) will happily send you fun emails for each major holiday. There is a neat craft and historical-cultural information presented in a way kids and teachers anticipate. :)

Would you like to give Phonics Museum a try this school year with your children?  Enter to win a set below!

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April is a wife, mother and energetic explorer and explainer. When not cooking, cleaning or cuddling (a.k.a. on rare occasion), you can find her rollerblading in the sunshine to stirring soundtracks. April learned the joys and rigors of home school life as a student K-12, then studied at Jackson Hole Bible college and Northern Kentucky University. She worked as a classical educator before turning stay-at-home-mom.
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