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Monday, July 29, 2013

Essential Skills Advantage. A Review...

Essential Skills Advantage is a home-based, online learning program that comes from a company that has been providing quality educational programs to schools for over ten years.  It is a program that is especially helpful to families that have struggling readers, kiddos with learning problems, or children who just might need a little extra help.  It is based on principles of learning that have been proven effective, and offers an extra “boost” to children who might need help with:  reading fluency, decoding and / or sounding out words, understanding what he or she has read, spelling, basic math facts, paying attention, or working to his or her potential.  It is targeted at kiddos grade K-6.

We used this program with my rising 1st grade son and my rising 5th grade daughter.  Both children were assigned their own login and password information, and both were given slightly different areas to work in.  We did initially have some trouble with the program due to things like my iMac and Java applets, but that simply gave me an opportunity to work with Essential Skills Advantage’s tech support department, who were simply wonderful!  They kept in touch, were patient with non-technical persons like myself, and got us up and running well very quickly.

My Bug was set up in Reading and Language, Math, and Science, which included Earth & Space Science, Physical Science, and Life Science.  Reading and Language included sections on:  Complete Reading, Readiness Skills, Phonemic Awareness, and Fun With Spelling. Once the child has initially logged in and chosen a subject to work on, they are sent into an assessment, which very thoroughly scans what they already know and which areas they may be weak in.  (This assessment feature is only available in the All-Access Plan that we were given.)  The assessment, in our experiences, takes from 20-30 minutes usually.  Once the assessment is complete, the program then determines what the child needs to work on, and sets goals to match those areas.

For example, in the Readiness section for first grade Reading and Language, there were a set of eight readiness skills that were assessed:  Picture Vocabulary, Color Recognition, Letter Recognition, Number Recognition, Visual Skills, Auditory Skills, Basic Concepts, and Phonemic Awareness. In each of these skill sets were additional skills.  Basic Concepts included:  Hear and Match, Order the Shapes, Memory, Picture Match, Opposite Memory, Match the Opposites, Hear and Match the Opposites, and Word Search.  Inside each of these skills were two different activities to teach and practice the skills.  Based on the initial assessment, some of these areas are “locked”, which means that the child does not need to work on that area, and should choose another.

My Firefly had slightly different areas to choose from.  She was set up in Reading and Language, Math, and Geography, which included Map & Globe Skills, American Geography, and World Geography.  She seemed to really enjoy the spelling activities in particular, and was able to veer away from the math as much as possible.

The activities that are chosen are very fun for the children.  They are quick and not too overwhelming, and can be completed independently--even for young learners.  The best part, though, is that when an activity is complete, the child is assigned “stars”--which measure the percentage of the skill the child has mastered.  The object, of course, is to gain 100% mastery across the board.  The “star chart” also measures how much time the child has spent working on each skill, which was helpful to me, as there were times when my children would work on this program independently, while I was working one-on-one with another child.

Both of my children enjoyed working with Essential Skills Advantage.  My first-grader particularly liked the assessment tests because “it was challenging”.  He’s a bit weird that way, I guess!  My fifth-grader enjoyed it because she figured out a way to mostly work on her spelling the whole time, unless I pushed the issue.  I appreciated that it was something I could have them work on independently, and still feel like they were gaining skills in important areas.  I think it is important to understand that this program is set up as a supplement to learning, and not as a full curriculum, which is how we used it.

In order to use Essential Skills advantage, you need to have Microsoft Internet Explorer (version 7 or newer) and / or Apple Safari (version 4 or newer).  An All-Access Program for one year for one child will cost you $129.99, or you can have an All-Access Family Plan for up to three children for $299.99 / year.

**Essential Skills Advantage is offering my readers a special discount.  From now until August 12th, if you enter the code SUN50 when checking out, you will save 50% on any of their programs!!**

Disclaimer:  I received a free copy of this product in exchange for my honest review.  I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated in any other way.  All opinions I have expressed are my own or those of my family.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the FTC Regulations.

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