Taking in the desert animals around her, Tucsonan Julie Rustad created a unique and educational tool for her son, which has now turned into a growing business.

When Julie’s son Syver was about 1, she decided she wanted him to begin learning the ABCs. Seeing the learning tools that had a typical alphabet with A for Apple through Z for Zebra, Julie felt she could create something a little more interesting and educational for the area he was growing up in.

Combining her two talents of graphic design and painting, along with her love of animals, Julie soon was on her way to creating Desert Dwellers flash cards. The cards are comprised of southwest animals, A to Z, along with facts about each animal on the back of the 4x6 cards.

“It was taking everything that I love and creating a tool to help my son, who I love,” Julie said.

After a short while, she made her list of the animals. Then, while her son was napping, she took that time to paint 8x10 paintings.

“I came up with this collection of paintings, which are acrylic on canvas and then from there I had the opportunity to show the originals at Madera Gallery in April of last year.”

Julie then began to gather the information for the fun facts and information on the back of each card and creating the package design.

In December of last year, Julie ordered her first batch of 500 packs of cards, which quickly sold out.

This season, the entrepreneur has 4,000 packs which are currently being sold on her website, at Tohono Chul Park, the Western National Parks Association store, as well as the Mildred and Dildred toy store at La Encantada.

The cards are filled with the desert creatures like Anna’s hummingbird for A, Roadrunner for R, and Quail for Q. The package also includes a 27th card with learning activities.

“I like to educate people that with flash cards, you can read them of course and learn the letters. But then there are a lot of fun games that classrooms can play, or parents and their kids.”

There are also game ideas that can be played with multiple siblings.

Going back to basics, Julie is happy of the fact that these games can be played anywhere or at anytime. She sometimes uses them to occupy her son while out to dinner waiting for food. She also likes that it is an activity for kids that doesn’t need batteries.

On her site, julieoriginals.com, Julie sells larger prints of the cards along with greeting cards. She also is in the process of developing a mobile application for those who would like to use tablets and phones as their educational tool.

“I hope that kids have a fun way to not only learn the ABC and literacy, but appreciate all of the animals. I think that the southwest has so many unique animals.”

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