Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Essential Skills Advantage {Schoolhouse Review}

Every involved parent, homeschooling or not, understands the importance of literacy, and likely wants to assure their child is a skilled and competent reader.  When given the opportunity to review Essential Skills Advantage, I knew it would be worth looking into for the boys.  Essential Skills Advantage (ESA) is an online reading and language program for K-6 students, so I knew it would have differentiated material suitable for both of their needs.

Essential Skills Advantage Review

I was given a full year access to the complete online program.  It includes courses in Reading, Spelling, Comprehension, Vocabulary and Grammar, so you can target any or all areas of language arts!  Each student can log in to any unit with their own username and password.  This means that students can work up or down according to their individual needs and abilities, and we aren't relegated just to one grade level.  The units are designed to build gradually and sequentially, but it is also possible to skip around, so again, you're not locked into a specific way of doing things.  The flexibility of this program is a huge bonus for me!

Essential Skills Advantage review

Emory just turned five during the review period, so he hasn't really had a lot of formal reading lessons yet. He wanted to start Kindergarten this year though, so I've been looking for interesting and engaging activities that will meet both his desire to learn and his developmental needs.  I looked through the Activity Guide for Kindergarten and knew it would still have a lot of content to offer Pre-K and young Kindergarten students during the early stages of reading!  Here's a breakdown of the Kindergarten curriculum.

Essential Skills Advantage review

Readiness Skills - 4 Units (79 activities)
Phonics -3 Units (70 activities)
Sight Words - 2 Units (83 activities)
Stories - 1 unit (63 activities)

As you can see, that's 295 activities for my kiddo to explore!  According to the Guide, it is a complete and comprehensive Language Arts program for pre-reading and readiness skills to successfully take students through the end of Kindergarten.

Essential Skills Advantage review

We have started at the beginning in Readiness Skills.  It covers Picture Vocabulary, Visual Skills, Auditory Skills and Basic Concepts (biggest/smallest, opposites, etc).  I really feel like these units are a great place for beginners to build confidence and learn to use the program.

Essential Skills Advantage review

Second Grade
Elliott is my math whiz, but doesn't particularly care about reading.  He will do it, but not voluntarily or with enthusiasm, so I like using a variety of curricula for him, to keep him engaged.  The Complete Reading for Grade 2 program has a variety of language arts activities needed for mastery through the end of second grade.

Essential Skills Advantage review

Phonics - 9 Units (554 Activities)
Sight Words - 5 Units (579 Activities)
Language and Grammar - 1 Unit (61 Activities)
Language - 1 Unit (9 Activities)
Reading - 6 Units (396 Activities)

That is a LOT of activities to explore!  We've been skipping around the different units, working on different concepts.  It's been a good end-of-summer review to get us back into the swing of things.  This is where we started in Phonics - Short Vowels.  The stars represent how well he performed, and obviously the goal is to get three stars.  This is a great little reinforcement for kids who really like to see their progress.  You can also click that gold star in the blue circle on the right, and it will show you a graph of all the stars, which is an another awesome visual!

Essential Skills Advantage review

The activities vary greatly, and some things you might find are word searches, missing letters, scrambled  letters and concentration, just to name a few.  There are a lot of activities to build visual and auditory memory skills, as well as standard spelling and reading comprehension activities.  This curriculum goes broad to cover different skills, but it appears to go deep too!

Essential Skills Advantage review

Parent Portal
When I am in the parent portal, I can see all of the units for each grade level, or look at each of the boys' accounts.  Looking at their individual accounts shows which program (reading Grade 2, Spelling, etc) they have been working in and the percentage completed.  You can "view marks" to see which specific unit they have worked on, as well as their number of attempts, their scores, and even how long it took them to complete it.  I always sit and work directly with Emory, and I am at least in the same room as Elliott, so I am pretty aware of what they are doing, but if you allow your children to work independently, this would be a great way to check their progress and look for any weak areas.  I just wish you could directly print the reports, because they would be nice for our portfolios.  One thing you can print, however, are certificates!  When a unit is completed, you can print a certificate for them.  If your student is motivated by these types of awards, this is a great incentive to encourage them to complete their units!

Final Thoughts
I think this is a nice supplement to any language arts program.  I really like that you can access the different levels for creating a unique reading plan based on your own child's abilities!  The program is user friendly for both parents and kids.  The graphics are a little cheesy and a little outdated looking; if you look back at the Kindergarten animal matching screen shot, you'll see some silly looking cartoon animals.  I would have preferred more realistic pictures over the generic clip art.  There are also little sound effects for right and wrong answers, but they aren't overwhelming.  Now, there is an ongoing cricket sound in the background at ALL times, and perhaps it is supposed to be soothing, but it can get tiresome after the kids are on the program for awhile.

Both of the boys were willing to do a few activities in one session before asking to move on.  They never really asked for the program, but they never complained either, and that's saying something that two very different little personalities were willing to use it for me!  I think it's a fun and comprehensive program that can be used for practice and reinforcement, and hopefully build confidence for all types of learners.

Essential Skills Advantage currently has two versions.    There is a new sponsored version that is a completely free reading program, though the parent area is different than the premium version.  However, this is probably a good way to find out how your kids will respond to the the program before you subscribe.  I reviewed the Premium Plan, which offers the student tracking, printable certificates and other features, and is usually $9.99/month, but here is an awesome coupon code for you!  If yous sign up for the premium plan before October 1st and use the code TOS50 you will receive 50% off the monthly subscription, making it only $4.99 per month for each student for as long as you subscribe!

You can read more reviews from the crew or find Essential Skills Advantage online for more information!


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