Monday, August 25, 2014

Schoolhouse Review: Essentials Skills Advantage

As most of my readers know, my daughter Gess has Down syndrome. While she is a great reader there are some reading skills she still needs to practice, comprehension being one of them. Like most kids, Gess loves computer games and activities but because of her special needs not all of them work well for her. Thankfully, my latest review turned out to be perfect for her.

Essential Skills Advantage is a complete online reading and language program for grades K-6. They have over 20,000 activities to keep your child engaged while they learn. Starting with reading readiness skills and phonics for kindergarten they work up to some great activities such as reading comprehension and spelling for the upper grades. That is where Gess spent most of her time.

For the purpose of my review I received a one year subscription to Essential Skills Advantage. Here is how it works. When you log in you come to a menu with all the activities that are offered.

Once they select their activity they are given a list of topics that are covered. They can work completely through them and go in order, or skip around. Most of the time I just let Gess choose but sometimes I would assign her work. Once they are in a particular topic they have the list of specific activities. As they complete them they earn stars. On this list you can see the ones Gess has completed. They are the ones with the stars under them.

Once they successfully complete the activity they pause for a brief reward celebration where this dog comes and does a dance as you are rewarded with your stars. Gess enjoyed this part because she loves having her successes recognized.

You can also check on your star activity along the way or at the end. Here is what it looked like after Gess completed a section on Homophones.

You can also print off certificates so you can reward their successes offline too.

The activities themselves were great. These are actual learning activities rather than just games you play so you know that your child is really learning when they  log on. I was very impressed with how well they were done. The game had a peaceful feel to it. There were no loud or flashy presentations yet it was still very cute and fun.

I am trying to give Gess more independence so I was thrilled that this program offers interactive upper elementary level content. Gess enjoyed each activity. They were bright, engaging, and easy to use. The fact that she didn't need my help very often was great.

The only things I did not like about the program was that you every time you changed activities you had to log back in again. That was particularly frustrating if you were just viewing them to see if they were even what you wanted to begin with. Also, while you can change the child's password you apparently can't change your own. It would have been helpful to do be able to do that. I felt the fonts could be larger in some of the activities as well.

I also didn't understand the grading aspect of the program. As the parent you can go in and look at your child's marks. When I do, they are mostly 100% and that seems to be due to the fact that you can't continue in an activity until you get the problem right. If you type in a wrong answer you get a beep and don't move forward to the next problem until you get it right. So basically, you are forced to get 100% on most activities anyway, so why keep score? It also trips up a student who doesn't know the correct answer. On multiple choice they can keep trying but if its typed in, they are just stuck. I had to help Gess on a couple of those answers so she could move on in the activity.

Otherwise we absolutely loved the program. Gess enjoyed it very much. It was challenging and fun all at the same time. She never minded doing her lessons. In fact, she usually did more than I required of her. She just kept going and I was certainly OK with that!

Their customer service also seems to be really super. I didn't have any problems that I needed to contact them about but Gess accidentally contacted them when she found the report a bug feature, probably because it's icon is an adorable little lady bug. When I emailed them back to explain what happened they were very gracious and helpful! I love that the people behind the program are that engaged and personable! They really do seem to care about their product and want to please the user.

I do have some exciting news for those of you who would like to try it. While membership to Essential Skills Advantage is $9.99 a month they do offer a FREE version of the product at This will not give you access to the parent portal and ads will be in the newsletter and in the sponsor landing page. Otherwise its the same great product! If you decide you want more and sign up before October 1st and you they will give you 50% Off! All you have to do is use code TOS50. That discount will remain in effect for as long as you are a member too.

To learn more about Essential Skills Advantage visit their website or see what other members of the Schoolhouse Review Crew thought about it by clicking on the banner below.

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