I have two children who are hideous spellers. One child is a strong reader but poor speller and the other one is still a beginning reader. So, when I got the opportunity do a review for Essential Skills Advantage, I knew exactly which skills I wanted to target and had high hopes that it would help with some of our spelling and reading woes.
We received received a full year subscription to their entire premium online program to play with and learn from. These subscriptions retail for $9.99 per month per child, and are meant for students in grades K-6th (or as remedial work for older students). I used this program with my three older children who are 9, 7, and 4.
When you go to the Essential Skills Advantage log-in page, you can choose from the following options for your children:
- Complete Reading (offered for grades K-3)
- Fun with spelling (1-3)
- Vocabulary Builder (4-6)
- Spell Master (grades 4-6)
- Grammar (grades 3-5)
- Spelling Stumpers (two levels offered)
I decided to go ahead and choose a complete reading level for each of my children. Underneath the log-ins to the complete reading levels, parents are given an activity guide so that you’ll know which skills are targeted in which levels and have a better idea of where to place your child.
For my four year old, Monkey, I started him with the Kindergarten level complete reading. During our review period, we worked completely under the “Readiness Skills” portion of the Kindergarten level and completed the “Picture Vocabulary” section and the many of the “Visual Skills” activities.
Many of the activities in these sections were very easy for Monkey. In the picture vocabulary section, he would have to match the pictures with their sounds, identify whether or not a picture was the same as a word that was said, and play concentration by matching the pictures with their words. In the visual skills section, we would have to look at different shapes and click on the ones that were the same color, the same shape or the same size.
He loved and looked forward to the the picture vocabulary section, but as we progressed deeper into the visual skills section, many of the activities were so similar that he quickly grew bored with the work (even though he was comprehending it), and I ended up letting him quit using this program. After all, the activities were written for a Kindergartener, and he won’t even turn five until February.
My seven year old is still learning to read, so after looking through the lists of skills targeted in the first grade complete reading for Essential Skills Advantage. She started with the phonics and went completely through the “short vowel” portion of the phonics and through portions of the “long vowel” phonics sections. The activities in these sections are repetitive but different enough to maintain her interest. The student is guided through word families, seeing the word and matching it on the screen, hearing the word and matching it, finding rhymes, filling in the blanks in simple sentences, typing what you see and typing the words you here as the student approaches mastery with the words that they are working through.
Rose went about this with great enthusiasm and even loved it as she worked through the short vowel pages. When she reached the long vowel portions, even though she was able to do it, she had much greater difficulty and some of her enthusiasm fled. She still has enjoyed working through the phonics sections, however, and usually just as she’s starting to get frustrated with the activities, one the more fun activities is next on the page and she returns enthusiastically to her work. Rose loves the see and type, word search, gumball and concentration activities, and usually those are enough to pull her through any difficulties she might have with other sections.
Firecracker was much more difficult to pin down to a single level, so I let him pick and choose activities between grades 2 and 3. For example, Firecracker is a poor speller, so I allowed him to do the phonics from grade 2 so that he could bolster his hearing and spelling, but he’s also ready to focus on higher level reading skills, so we worked on some compound words and reading sections from grade 3. While he did the amount I required him to do, there were very few activities that truly interested him so he ended up spending the least amount of time on the program of the three that I had trying the program out. He got a little over halfway through both the second grade “short vowel” section and the third grade “compound words” section.
As a mom, I really liked using this program. I felt that it was systematic in a way that was much more fun than it would be to use these skills to complete paper worksheets. The children, while they weren’t begging to do English each day, did their work without complaining, and often asked to start their time with this program. While Firecracker usually only did the 3-4 activities per day that I required, Rose often completed twice as many or more in a single setting. This was a way for her to do English that she really enjoyed.
However, the problem areas that were problem areas before we started using this program remained problem areas and even made Rose cry while using the program. For this, I must say that I wouldn’t use this as a complete reading program, even though the levels we used were billed that way. While great for systematic practice and a fun supplement, this is no substitute for direct teaching and lovingly re-teaching concepts. In fact, as the children progressed to more and more difficult work, I found myself spending more time at the computer with them giving them direct instruction and reminders as they worked through the activities.
I wanted to make mention, if you’re interested in trying this out before you purchase, that there are two versions of ESA. I tried out the premium version which is $9.99 per month and gave my children each their own log-ins, kept track of their progress and was ad-free. Essential Skills Advantage also has launched a sponsored version of their program that is completely free to users. There are ads and you lose some of the nice features of individual log-ins and progress tracking that paid subscribers have. You also won’t have access to quite as many activities as paid users have, but it would be a great way to try the program out before you decide if it would work for your family.
If you’re ready to plunge into signing up for a premium plan, you can use the code TOS50 to receive fifty percent off your monthly membership fee.