Bookshelf & Beyond
with Curriculum Consultants:

Deanne Crawford & Gina Burmeier

Mother watching her daughter play

Customizing Your Child’s Education


sn’t homeschooling a blessing? It’s sometimes easy to forget during the day-to-day grind of teaching, and life in general, that we have been given a great opportunity. With that opportunity, though, comes responsibility, as well as many perks we can tap into to give our children the best possible education.

At home, your children are in a secure environment where they can explore their interests and talents and acquire new skills. They can learn at their own pace, ask questions, make mistakes, move ahead or slow down—all without feeling insecure. They are encouraged, and as a result, build confidence and security.

Whether you are a new or seasoned homeschooler, you realize by now that not all kids fit in a perfect little package.

Instead of thinking in terms of a one-size-fits-all type of education, a homeschool mom has the freedom to think outside the box. There are times you simply need to rethink your curriculum. Other times, though, you might be able to modify it by bringing in additional reinforcement. Children can often benefit from games or puzzles rather than endless drill worksheets and flash cards. Here are a few add-ons that might just resolve your current struggles and bring new life to your child’s learning.

Language Arts

Need an extra boost in your phonics and reading instruction? Crazy A’s™ Reading Game by Galloping Games is similar to Crazy 8’s, but players match vowels and consonant sounds from their hand to the play pile. There are six levels covering different topics such as vowel-consonant-vowel, beginning and ending blends, digraphs, long vowel sounds, and using “y” as “i.” Use this game as an opportunity to practice reading skills. A Toy Insider 2020 winner, Slam Ships® by Learning Resources®, focuses on sight words. In this fast-paced game, call out one of the words on the alien cards in the playing field and be the first to grab it with your spaceship’s suction tractor beam. The player with the most cards wins the game. There are 110 double-sided alien cards featuring Dolch sight words in five levels of difficulty. Kids have fun without realizing they are learning.

Playing games can also help with story development or grammar concepts. Kids can use their imagination with Adventures in Storyland!™ Noggin Playground by Outset Media®. With twelve scenes and over 200 cards including characters, objects, and animals, this game allows you to think creatively and come up with outlandish stories. It works well for creative writing and speaking activities. Brush up on parts of speech with Possum Dice Game by Edupress®, a straightforward dice game that is educational and fun for all ages. Each player rolls the dice up to three times to make a word that will fill in the scorecard category of nouns, verbs, adjectives, or others. Get possum points when you invent a new word, name its part of speech, define it, and use it in a sentence.

Is spelling a struggle? Spellominoes® by Trend Enterprises is an easy-to-play game that isn’t about speedy competition. Instead, it has a less hectic, domino style format. Spellominoes consists of fifty-six generously sized cards, featuring a word beginning on one side and a word ending on the other. Players take turns laying their cards down to build words. The one who plays all his or her cards first to form legitimate words wins the game. Instructions include game variations.

Language Arts Games

If unfamiliar with Bananagrams®, be sure to check it out! This fast-paced game plays like Scrabble® but your tiles are always under your control. Start with your tiles, turn them over, connecting and intersecting words. All letters are the same point value, and you can rearrange your words at any time. When any player has played all his letters, he takes a new tile from the bunch. If he cannot play a letter, he can put the tile back and draw three other tiles. Play continues until there are fewer tiles in the bunch than there are players. The first player to play all his tiles is the winner of that round. Best of all, these letter tiles can be used for hands-on reading and spelling lessons, making them a great value! The basic Bananagrams® works for seven players or less. Also available is Double Bananagrams® for eight to sixteen players. For the younger crowd, My First Bananagrams® Game offers eighty letter tiles, thirteen combination letter tiles, and an instruction sheet. Letter tiles have raised lowercase letters, and a raised baseline so children know which is the bottom. Letters are white on a colored background, vowels are yellow, and letters that are similar (b/d, p/q, m/w) are in different colors to prevent confusion. Combination letter tiles are vowel teams (yellow), word families (vowel in yellow, consonant in blue or red), and digraphs (red). Game play is simplified; use the tiles to teach children how to spell their name, practice alphabetical order, or match letters. Options are endless.


Math concepts can be challenging and exasperating for some kids. Oftentimes, we are quick to change a curriculum instead of slowing down a bit or bringing in other supplements to help master concepts. Such a plethora of curricula is available, that when one isn’t “working,” it is easy to jump ship. Because each curriculum has its own methodology and pace, jumping around can sometimes create gaps in the student’s math education. This can be necessary at times, but first, why not try adding a game, manipulatives, or an extra workbook?

Manipulative Clings by Hand2Mind® are appealing and tactile friendly. These include a variety of different manipulatives which cling to a flat surface without leaving a sticky residue: pattern blocks, Cuisenaire® rods, base ten blocks, algebra tiles, ten frames with counters, and more. They can be used repeatedly; just rinse with water to clean. Use with all ages to teach all sorts of math operations.

Help children develop number sense with another manipulative by Hand2Mind® called a Rekenrek, a Dutch word for “calculation rack.” The one-hundred bead Rekenrek allows children to visualize number relationships, making it easier to perform math operations. Expand its use by using Working With the 100-Bead Rekenrek by Didax. Complete activities such as practicing counting skills, adding and subtracting up to one hundred, multiplying using repeated addition, dividing using repeated subtraction, finding unknown values, working story problems, and more.

Math Games
Mobi® and Mobi® Kids from Mobi® Games, Inc. are straightforward, intuitive, fun to play games. You and your children will pick it up quickly. Following game play similiar to Bananagrams®, you use numbers and basic operations instead. To start, each Mobi® player takes seven blue number tiles and turns them upside down. With blue number tiles and white operations tiles, create crossword style grids of math problems. When you are down to one tile, all players take three tiles, and continue adding to their math grid until all tiles are gone. The first player to connect all their number tiles wins. Mobi® helps kids practice all four basic operations. For preschoolers, Mobi® Kids focuses on addition and subtraction only. If your children are not quite ready for addition and subtraction, the included pamphlet has options for teaching counting and number concepts. This is a great resource that will challenge your little ones from preschool skills through early elementary math skills!

If math flash cards aren’t sharpening math facts, try a fun alternative called Math Fact Oh!™ by Learning Advantage®. Use for addition and subtraction, multiplication and division, or fractions—for solitary or group play. Each player takes a 3 ½” triangular “solution” card. The other cards are laid face down in a larger triangle. Players take turns turning over a card with the goal of finding a problem with an answer that matches their solution card. For example, if they have the solution card “4,” they could keep the “4 + _ = 8” card. After collecting three cards to form a triangle around the original solution card, call out, “Math-Fact-Oh”!

Struggling Learners Games
Struggling Learners

While games and supplements are plentiful, if you have students who struggle for some reason, they may just need more time to master a skill. Do you struggle with not following the lesson plans as written to allow your child extra time? It is ok! If it helps, I give you permission to not move to the next lesson! It may also be helpful to take time and refresh your vision.

Set aside time weekly to refresh yourself and your vision for homeschooling. Homeschooling Today offers amazing articles from real moms who have been there. Or read one of Deanne’s favorite books such as For the Children’s Sake published by Crossway, Teaching from Rest published by Classical Academic Press, and Homeschooling Bravely published by Moody Publishers.

Online resources also abound. But use discretion! If your mom guilt intensifies, close your browser! For most of us, that mom guilt is alive and well. No help is necessary! You may want to take a teacher development day —the schools do! Sometimes we all need a day to regroup or set aside time to learn fresh ideas. Depending on your child’s specific need, DVDs from Child Diagnostics, Inc may be helpful for learning new teaching approaches. For example, Diane Craft’s Teaching Your Struggling Learner DVD Set (10+ hours) helps parents understand brain research on many learning glitches, provides tools to identify these, and then suggests strategies and lesson plans. This DVD series includes nine sessions:

Session 1: Identifying Your Child’s Processing Problems introduces the four learning gates and signs of blocked learning gates. Right and left brain learning traits are also clarified.

Session 2: Dysgraphia: When Writing is Painful discusses the signs of writing stress and compares it to a child who may appear lazy or uncooperative. She explains visual-spatial problems and then expands on activities to correct dysgraphia.

Session 3: Right Brain Paragraph and Composition Writing addresses the “loose thought patterns” experienced by children and teens who suffer with dysgraphia, ADD or auditory processing problems. The video suggests easy-to-implement small steps of right brain webbing and modeling at beginner, intermediate, or advanced levels.

Session 4: Right Brain Math provides helpful, detailed information on right brain strategies for effectively learning math concepts. Parents can develop a Plan B to teach struggling math students regardless of the math curriculum being used!

Session 5: Training Your Child’s Photographic Memory (for Spelling) provides right brain teaching strategies that work for struggling spellers—regardless of brain dominance.

Session 6: Dyslexia and Other Reading Problems explores why reading is hard for some kids. Focusing on children at least two years behind in reading, Mrs. Craft explains the levels of processing problems and differentiates dyslexia from visual and auditory processing disorders and general reading dysfunctions. She then elaborates on the keys to correcting reading problems.

Session 7: Kids and Teenagers with Focus/Attention Issues takes a fascinating look at how our diet and antibiotic use may appear as symptoms of sensory dysfunction and focus/attention issues. She also explores the big question—”Is it character or chemistry?” and provides simple checklists of behavioral and physical characteristics. Dietary changes and nutritional supplementation recommendations are included.

Session 8: Auditory Process Problems reviews common myths before teaching the characteristics that impact reading, spelling and math. Covering common physical causes (allergies, nutritional deficiencies), Mrs. Craft shares ways to bypass and correct auditory channels issues at home.

Session 9: Autism, Asperger’s and Sensory Processing Problems looks at the increasing prevalence of autism in the US, traditional treatment, and causation theories. She provides the foundational knowledge needed to identify, treat, and restore the underlying biochemical disorder that may cause or exacerbate autistic symptoms. Along with the helpful DVDs, a flash drive with numerous helpful resources in printable PDF files is included. Several of these DVDs are available individually.

Mrs. Craft also offers valuable resources on her website that may be helpful to determine if her strategies would benefit your struggling learner. She also offers a very helpful, Teaching the Right Brain Child DVD and Study Guide. This easily could have been called, “Effective Teaching Strategies for Children Who Just Don’t Get It,” as it focuses specifically on teaching strategies for right brain learners, although the ideas and concepts presented may be beneficial to most children. Beginning with the premise that most curricula are written for left brain learners who thrive on a sequential, repetitive, and mostly plain (non-distracting) presentation, she explains the differences found in the right brain learner and provides a wide range of teaching suggestions in multiple subject areas. Deanne was introduced to Mrs. Craft when her struggling learner son was in high school. They instituted many of her strategies with success and he was able to take several study tricks with him to college. Deanne’s only wish is that she’d discovered Diane Craft earlier in the journey!

Some children struggle to keep their eyes moving left to right in a straight line when reading. If this describes your child, sometimes “the fix” is something as simple as a reading guide strip. These handy, colorful strips include a highlighted, see-through strip that helps with focus and concentration. Strips are available from different suppliers, and each has slightly different characteristics, making it easy to find one to fit your child’s needs. If you’re unsure of the best option, the Eye Level Reading Rulers Duo Window from Crossbow Education Corporation may be helpful to narrow the choices. Available in multi-color packages, they offer two viewing windows (an overlay window and text filter) which allow your child to experiment to find the best option for the task at hand.

Gifted Students

Cultivating a learning atmosphere for your advanced or gifted learner may feel easier, but it may be difficult to keep them challenged. Sure, they can move quickly through the curriculum, but that may not always be beneficial. Some families have allowed children to move quickly through their science curriculum only to realize the child has reached into the level that covers a topic a child may not be mature enough to handle. For example, a 4th grader moving into an 8th grade science program may not be emotionally ready to understand biology and human sexuality. Families with gifted learners may benefit from delight-directed learning (a philosophy also successful with children who learn differently). Delight-directed simply means children are given freedom to follow their natural curiosity and passions in the educational journey. It may take two paths. The first, unschooling, means that mom and dad are hands-off. A child sets the tone, the schedule, and the plan for learning. The other path involves a parent supporting and guiding a child into learning. As a parent, you are hands-on as you help them find appropriate books and videos. This path provides a directed, somewhat structured study into an area of interest. As a parent teacher, you recognize there are still things that must be learned in a systematic way—like math and reading. This idea may be scary because we feel like we need the security of a teacher guide or step-by-step lesson plans. There are some “tools” that may be helpful to get started in this journey.

Fun-Schooling Journals from the Thinking Tree, LLC. are filled with black and white templates that guide students in learning. You can use them as a companion to your core textbooks or as a guide for self-directed study using the library and internet resources. With the black and white open-ended templates, children can create and document their learning journey in a personal way. Templates have built-in repetition, allowing children the opportunity to study similarities and differences in various people or places, depending on the topic. Fun-Schooling Journals are available in numerous topics and subjects. For example, The Do-It-Yourself Time Travel Journal American History Timeline focuses on research of the United States from Native Americans & the Vikings before 1500, through the Information Age 2000–2018. Children are directed to choose four books and one documentary on each era to complete the research. Use of the internet is also recommended. Depending on your learner’s age, this may be supervised, or feel free to add physical resources instead. Activities include drawing and illustrating the books chosen for research, copying an interesting or important paragraph from one of the books they read, and researching ten Native American tribes still in existence today.

The Fun-Schooling Science: All About Space Journal allows children to create their own learning experience through library books and educational videos. There is some repetition built into the activity pages, but this journal provides students space to create their own spacecraft, copy a paragraph from the book they are reading, create a space timeline, write a story, color, doodle, do research, and more. Included project pages guide students through hands-on activities like constructing constellations and building a refracting telescope. Topics include space, the solar system, black holes, planets, space explorations and discoveries, and various research projects including space missions and discoveries, astronaut training, animals in space, string theory and the big bang theory/biblical creation. Since the template pages are designed to be filled in by the learner, no religious or evolutionary content is included. Families could easily skip these pages or use them to analyze the creation vs. evolution debate biblically and prepare a defense of the faith. These open-ended resources help children learn how to research and document, becoming self-learners.

Teach the Child, Not the Curriculum

What if you live in a state with mandatory testing requirements? We encourage you to prioritize your children and any specific needs, regardless of required standards or testing. There are numerous ways for children to meet standards and prepare for tests without aligning your curriculum and lessons to them. Test prep materials, daily skills-based, standards aligned workbooks, or even popular YouTube channels are dedicated to helping children master required subjects. Adding in one of these resources will help you prioritize teaching your children so they learn, rather than focusing on “teaching to the test” at the expense of true education.
Creative Pursuits Games

Creative Pursuits

Each child has different ways they learn, talents, and skills. Homeschooling also gives you the flexibility to venture out and explore their unique areas of interest. Allowing them to do this boosts confidence and gives children positive outlets. Have you been desiring to learn a new skill together that doesn’t take a ton of time? There are many crafts that are easy to learn and fun to incorporate. At home, children can pursue new skills they might not have thought about trying. This may lead into other interests down the road.

Have you visited an art shop and looked at beautiful handmade pottery? You and your family can create your own pottery. Pottery Wheel for Beginners by Mindware® is an excellent introduction to pottery. It comes with a dual-speed, motorized pottery wheel with a foot pedal, two pounds of air-dry clay, sculpting tools, paints, brush, a spatter shield & an AC adapter. Do Pottery Art Studio by Faber-Castell® is another option introducing you and your children to the art and history of hand-sculpted pottery: contains three pounds of air-dry clay, six piece tool set, one craft apron, one table cover, twelve pots of acrylic paint, glaze, one sponge, two paint brushes, and illustrated instructions.

Gina’s children were continually drawing and writing their own comics during their free time. One child would make pages and pages of comic style illustrations with a storyline. Occupying his time for hours, it was a way he asserted his creativity. Illustory®: Create Your Own Book and My Comic Book®: Create Your Own Comic Books by Lulu Junior give kids the opportunity to publish their very own book. Kits contain everything children need to create their own story or comic book. After writing and illustrating their story, they’ll mail the pages in at no additional charge. The publisher binds the book and returns to you a nice, finished copy in the student’s own handwriting. For the older, more serious comic writer, Making Comics by Harper Collins is a good option. Written in comic book format, the author begins by breaking down what comics are by discussing pictures and stories individually, then focuses on the more advanced aspects of comic making.

Do your kids need a physical outlet? Try juggling. Both of Gina’s sons learned to juggle with Juggling for the Complete Klutz® by Klutz® Press. It took some diligent practice, but when they honed their new skills, they visited nursing homes where residents loved to watch. The set comes with a 52-page instruction book and three juggling bags. It takes the process one step at a time, beginning with tossing and catching one beanbag in a nice arc. By the end of the book, your child could be a juggling whiz!

If your children want to become better vocalists, Alfred’s Progressive Beginner Singing Book with online audio and video is a helpful resource. Targeting older learners, this book is still designed for the absolute beginner. It covers breathing, posture, and tone production along with an introduction to the basics of reading music and copying melodies by ear. Free online access to video and audio for all book examples is included. Singing Method by eMedia is another resource to improve your singing voice. This DVD-ROM contains over 200 lessons covering topics such as introduction to singing, your body as the instrument, breathing, supporting the voice, resonance, vowels, articulation, vocal onset and offset, legato singing, registers, expression, and sight reading. System requirements: Windows® XP/Vista/Windows® 7/Windows® 8; Mac OS X 10.4 or later. DVD-ROM required for both systems. Internet connection recommended for activation.

Have you desired to incorporate art instruction into your school day but just haven’t found the time? The Fundamentals of Beginning Drawing with Barry Stebbing DVDs by How Great Thou Art offers gentle drawing instruction for the whole family. This DVD instruction comes with six enjoyable lessons. The author guides the viewers, drawing right along with them. Lessons vary between forty-five minutes to over an hour in length. Lessons are Fundamental I, Fundamentals II, Perspective, Portraits & Anatomy, Animals, and Treasures Around the Home. The first lesson starts out with the very basics. Viewers draw basic shapes, learn simple shading techniques, and draw objects such as a fruit bowl. The first four lessons are perfect for very beginning artists since the drawing projects all consist of simple objects, scenes, and cartoons (like Wally the Worm). Interspersed in each example and lesson are basic drawing concepts, including shading, portraying three-dimensional objects, perspective, layering colors, and more. The last two lessons include more lifelike and still life drawing, including realistic “portraits” of farm animals and a grouped still life with an apple, decanter, vase, and flower. Materials needed for the course include a sketch pad and a 120-color colored pencil set. DVD instruction is approximately 223 minutes.

“Because your children are at home in a non-critical atmosphere, their needs are met as they pursue their true interests and learn at their own pace—without feeling judged or coping with peer pressure.”

Whether you are tweaking your curriculum by adding supplements, starting from scratch, reevaluating and finding support for struggling or gifted learners, or trying something new with your children, homeschooling gives you the flexibility to create the best environment for the specific needs of your children. Because your children are at home in a non-critical atmosphere, their needs are met as they pursue their true interests and learn at their own pace—without feeling judged or coping with peer pressure.

Some days are hectic. You might feel like you are never getting ahead or are not living up to the standards you set for yourself. Keep in mind you have your children’s best interest in mind and are creating an excellent framework for each of them. As parents, you are so blessed to have this opportunity as you allow your children to flourish the way God intended.

Enjoy these years as you continue down this incredible journey!
Gina Burmeier and Deanne Crawford  headshots

ainbow Resource Center education consultants Gina Burmeier and Deanne Crawford provide a wide range of services to homeschool families. “Retired” homeschool moms with unique experiences, they each have a passion to equip homeschool families. With experiences ranging from educating their own children, serving in local homeschool coops and communities, and more, Gina and Deanne provide a breadth of experience to meet a variety of homeschool needs. Gina has taught three children with diverse interests and talents; Deanne has taught two children with very different learning styles and abilities. Combined, they have nearly forty years experience in education and spend their work days doing product comparisons, recording instructional videos, and talking with homeschool parents. They frequently can be found online and at homeschool conventions, presenting encouraging and informational workshops, as well as answering curriculum questions.