Thursday, June 23, 2016

My Niece's 2016 Visit: Saying Goodbye

If you haven't heard from me lately, it's because I had a visitor. My beautiful niece, Jessika, from New York visited us and we've been keeping her company. Alyssa really missed her and stayed close by her side. We said goodbye to Jessika the other day. My sweet daughter cried and is hopeful that she'll visit again soon. We truly enjoyed seeing and spending time together.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

BookLook Blogger Team Review - Brave Girls: Beautiful You written by Jennifer Gerelds

I recently had the honor of reviewing another Brave Girls 90-Day Devotional written by Jennifer Gerelds titled, Brave Girls: Beautiful You. I received the paperback 136-page book as a member of the BookLook Blogger Review Team. Beautiful You is the third book in the Brave Girls series published by Tommy Nelson. This book was just as good as the other Brave Girls devotionals Better Than Perfect and Faithful Friends and the Brave Girls Bible Stories book. My daughter and I enjoy reading this exceptional series together!

I wanted to review this devotional, because I want my 8-year-old daughter to have a healthy self-esteem. I also wanted her to understand that beauty is on the inside. Beauty comes from within your heart and reveals Godly character traits. God made us the way we are and in His image so we are perfect to Him. This is a profound Christian message that any girl should hear in today's society. The devotional is written in an age-appropriate manner containing a few simple illustrations of the girls or decorative pages.

There is a daily referenced Bible verse, short relevant devotional, and a concluding prayer pointer to read aloud. Questions or interactive activities are weaved throughout the book. Scripture verses are taken from the International Children's Bible or New King James Version. The pages are labeled as Day 1, 2, 3, and so forth so you can start wherever you want. This devotional is unique because it contains interactive thought-provoking journal questions to reflect on, fill-in-the-blank crosswords, multiple-choice and true/false quizzes, and engaging word scrambles. Many more fun activities are included in this book. 

This 90-day devotional is based on Ecclesiastes 3:11 "He has made everything beautiful in its time." This devotional is told through the eyes and perspectives of three fictional Brave Girls: Gracie, Hope, and Glory which makes it more personalized and relatable for younger girls reading it. The term beautiful had different meanings for each girl. Different people reading the book will also have different thoughts about what the word, beautiful, means in their world. 

The well-written book is organized into six core sections:
  • Beauty Basics - We are flawed but beautiful because God made us.
  • Radiant Reflections - We're all sinners but God loves us and helps us fight temptation or sin.
  • Words of Beauty - We are showing Godly behavior when we love and serve others. 
  • Beautifully Clothed - God can change us by removing the old and transforming us into someone new.
  • Kingdom Fitness - Our bodies are a holy temple for God's Holy Spirit. 
  • Creative Beauty - We are unique and beautifully made. 
I gave this devotional to my daughter as a gift. We decided to use it together when we wake up in the morning. I believe the strong message is one that we both need to hear or for that matter any girl should hear. I appreciate that minimal black and white illustrations were utilized in this devotional. It kept my daughter's focus on the Word and the text rather than on distracting images.

The book begins with a few self-awareness questions and activities. Our favorite sections were the Works of Beauty, Radiant Reflections, and Beautifully Clothed. Works of Beauty contains real life challenges which teach her ways to show God's love by serving others. This section contains activities that put God's Word into action. For example, the Art of Encouragement activity reveals actions that offer encouraging words to strengthen and build up others by creating handmade appreciation cards for her parents, paint watercolor pictures with related Biblical verses for nursing home residents or church members, sticky note surprises can be left out for a loved one, or she could write a special letter to a teacher or her pastor explaining their helpfulness. My daughter left me sticky note messages all over the house. I LOVED the Deeds Day activity which encourages children to bless the church with a day of service. Mission Fields is another one of my favorite activities which provides ways that children can serve and connect with their neighbors. Beautiful You is chocked full of relevant information which emphasizes inner beauty compared to external beauty.

Radiant Reflections has your child dig deeper to learn more about who they are inside. This section encouraged my daughter to look at herself as Jesus does and to see herself as beautiful just like He does. The book provides reflective questions to ponder, drawing activities, scale ratings, and other interactive ways to celebrate the person God made them to be. The book discussed communication, forgiveness, beauty, importance of prayer, guilt, being humble, and so much more.

Beautifully Clothed discusses how to change old, negative attitudes and behaviors into new positive ones. It compares old wardrobe actions to new wardrobe behaviors leaving it up to the child to decide which one shows God's glory best.

I HIGHLY recommend the Brave Girls Beautiful You 90-day devotional to any preteen daughter or granddaughter in your family between the ages of 6-12. This Christian children's tween devotional will help any girl appreciate themselves and grow up to be comfortable as the person God created them to be. It will help your child develop a stronger faith and relationship with God.

This paperback devotional can be purchased on Amazon for $6.25.

Note: All prices subject to change without notice.

I received a complimentary, free copy of this book from the publisher as part of the BookLook Blogger Review Gold Team Program in exchange for an honest review on my blog. I was not required to write a positive review. All opinions expressed are my own. I am disclosing this information in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255 "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

I review for BookLook Bloggers

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Alyssa's 2016 Piano Recital

We've been preparing for Alyssa's piano recital for the last couple months. My daughter played two classical songs at her piano recital last Saturday. The songs she performed were Theme from the Surprise Symphony by Joseph Haydn and Theme from the 1812 Overture by Tchaikovsky. She did an exceptional job! I am so proud of my baby girl's accomplishments. She'll be playing the pieces at church this Sunday. I just wanted to share a few photos with you all.
Alyssa and Mrs. Lu
(owner of Lusic Piano Studio)
Friends for Life
New Friend

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

TOS Review: MaxScholar Reading Intervention Programs

MaxScholar Reading Intervention Programs Review

MaxScholar offered us their MaxScholar Reading Intervention Programs to review to help improve my daughter's reading comprehension and vocabulary skills. We received a one-year online MaxGuru license for ONE student and ONE parent account. The program is suitable for children in Pre-K through 12th grade. The programs within this package are based on the Lindamood Bell Process and Orton-Gillingham approaches to reading instruction.

What Does the MaxGuru Package Include?
  • Max Phonics
  • MaxReading
  • MaxVocab
  • MaxWords
  • MaxBios
  • MaxPlaces
  • MaxMusic
The essential elements, identified by the National Reading Panel, known as the Five Pillars are addressed in the  MaxScholar programs. The Five Pillars which effectively teach reading are Phonemic Awareness, Phonics, Fluency, Reading Comprehension, and Vocabulary. 

How We Used MaxGuru
The MaxGuru program was used with Alyssa (Age 8) for approximately 30 minutes to an hour a day 3-5 times per week. She works at a 3rd-5th grade level. She is not a struggling reader and has mastered most advanced phonics. We preferred using Google Chrome on our Mac OS X 10.9.5 computer. 

We tried all of the programs included in the MaxGuru package except for MaxPhonics, because I wanted to explore the programs offered which were more suitable for my daughter's needs and abilities during the review period. MaxPhonics will serve as a great review to maintain previously learned phonics and phonetic awareness skills. However, our focus for this review will on MaxReading, MaxVocab, and MaxWords. 

The main reason I wanted to review this program was because I wanted to work on Alyssa's reading comprehension and vocabulary. I was particularly interested in and fascinated with the color-coded highlighting program. I believed it would help Alyssa focus on understanding the meaning of a text better. I am also a firm believer of learning word parts to enrich vocabulary. 

We landed on the MyMax dashboard after logging into MaxScholar with her username and password. At this point, Alyssa chose a program to further explore. Her excitement about this program was overwhelming. 

First, Alyssa took the reading assessment which began at Level 7 during her very first visit to MaxReading. Level 7 is comparable to Grade 7 content. I was concerned when I saw the level of the test, but my daughter surprised me with her results. MaxScholar recently updated the program with a "too hard" feature which means you can adjust the pre-assessment level if desired. Her pre-assessment indicated that she was at a Level 6. It didn't really explain why or how she was placed at that level except for the fact that she got 6 out of 10 questions right.

I asked Alyssa to choose a passage to independently complete at the suggested reading level so that we could assess her progress over time. I was shocked when she chose the Ice Hockey passage as her first Level 6 passage. Later she told me, she thought she clicked on Ice Skating. I immediately noticed that her comprehension score was passing, but her highlighting score was extremely low. I knew it would be low, because she hasn't had enough experience with this skill yet. I made the decision to start her at Levels 2 and 3 so that she could work with easier passages when learning the new color-coded highlighting strategy. I didn't want her to get frustrated while learning a new educational strategy. As she becomes more familiar with and has more experience using the strategy, then I'll move her up to the more difficult higher-grade leveled passages. 

Before working on the passages independently, I guided Alyssa through the steps for the first two passages she worked on at Level 2 and 3. I scaffolded the process by explaining and modeling a small portion of the highlighting activity. There were times when I did wonder why certain words were highlighted even though this skill is an effective reading comprehension method. I will now tell you how we used this program AFTER the pre-assessment.

Accompanying vocabulary words were taught using the MaxVocab program before reading the passages. The MaxVocab is a perfect complement to the MaxReading program and the two programs were utilized concurrently. Alyssa read the definition for each highlighted vocabulary word in gray, read it in a sentence, and learned the synonyms and antonyms for each new word if applicable. This definitely helped expand her contextual vocabulary knowledge. I realized this year that she was having a difficult time using new vocabulary words in the context of a sentence. She was able to see modeled examples using this program and this particular skill has in fact improved over time. I appreciated this program, because my daughter was learning new vocabulary within the context of a passage. There is also a MaxVocab Dictionary which contains ALL of the meaningful words for ALL of the MaxReading levels and books.

Next, Alyssa read aloud or silently read a Level 2 or 3 high-interest chapter she selected for the day. The font size of the text could be easily adjusted using the "A" button making the font size smaller or larger. She read the passage aloud and in her head several times before moving on to the highlighting activity. 

The highlighting portion followed the reading session. She focused on relevant content by identifying the topic (blue), main idea (green), and details (yellow) of a chapter book passage using a digital highlighter. In the past, when trying this method on paper, Alyssa would highlight most of the passage. MaxReading is teaching her how to effectively highlight passages. 

There's a counter after each highlighter which indicated the number of items that should be highlighted in each color. However, they recently removed the detail counter from the program. My daughter said that the counter was helpful, because she could determine if more or fewer important details needed to be highlighted. We noticed that if she tried to highlight too much a note would pop up so she could change her highlighting choices. After completing this exercise, she can compare her work to the correctly highlighted passage. The icons at the top of the page represent exercises or steps to be completed in the MaxReading program. 

The next activity was for Alyssa to create an outline for each passage read in the MaxReading program. Outlining was a new method she learned about using this program. This skill will help her when researching content for papers. She is gradually getting more familiar with this process. The only time she was really given any instruction on how to outline was when we first started as seen below. I believe that she could have benefited more from this exercise had there been more instruction on how and what to outline. 
Outlining Directions

MaxReading also taught other helpful writing skills by incorporating activities that teach summarization, drawing conclusions, and compare/contrast. She had a choice of three activities. Alyssa wrote basic paragraphed summaries which consisted of one main idea sentence, three details, and a conclusion. She could also responded to open-ended and general questions in written (typed) format. For example, one open-ended question asked my daughter "What are some similarities and differences between Abraham Lincoln's childhood and your own?" I enjoyed reading her comparisons and contrasts. I told her not to pick the same exercise every day, because I wanted her to practice all the skills. 
Ice Hockey Passage
General Question:
Drawing Conclusions
After creating an outline for the chapter, Alyssa independently answered five multiple-choice comprehension questions. Four answer choices were usually given. These questions were utilized to assess her understanding of the information she read. Questions asked about the main idea, specific details, important dates, word meanings, and more. In the question below, you can see that incorrect answers receive a red star and correct answers are yellow with a green checkmark. 

Finally, at the end of the lesson there were engaging vocabulary games or interactive activities to play such as Hangman, Word Searches, and Match-Ups. This feature was used to practice word recognition skills and reinforced learning. The games motivated her to enrich her vocabulary by learning new words. I usually required her to complete the games. The words hidden in the word searches could be found in ANY direction making the task a bit more challenging. During the Hangman game Alyssa read a definition and typed in missing letters to complete a vocabulary word. She could only make 5 mistakes. The Match-Up game simply matched definitions to vocabulary words. 
Word Search
MaxWords is the second program I was MOST excited about. It is based on the Orton-Gillingham approach. Alyssa expanded her vocabulary by learning about morphology. She learned that smaller parts of a word could help her read bigger words. Studying word parts can increase vocabulary knowledge. 


MaxScholar recently added a pre-assessment to this program. I requested that they activate the MaxWords pretest for Alyssa. As far as I could tell, it did not erase her progress and she could still access all the content regardless of the results. The pretest offered placement or starting point suggestions. This pre-assessment covers syllabication, syllable recognition, spelling, word meanings, and sentence building. At the end of the assessment, a 91% score was indicated on the screen and the program recommended that she start the section teaching Greek Roots. A white arrow was pointing at the suggested exercise. Additionally, the program showed the wrong answers and offered the correct answers

This assessment makes sense because she's had exposure to syllabication, prefixes, suffixes, spelling rules, and some Latin words in the past. Yesterday, I asked her to work on two Greek Root sets. There was a pink read aloud symbol next certain words so that she could hear the correct pronunciation. Immediate feedback was given such as "Oops wrong answer" or "Well done! You got 4 answers correct." If the pre-assesment was too difficult, then she could click on the "too hard" button. They also provided a "skip this" button if she wanted to skip a particular part of the pretest. We did NOT adjust the level of difficulty or skip any test sections. 

Pre-Assessment Results

Six different types of syllables were addressed using the CLOVER feature, which is another component within the MaxWords program. As Alyssa's reading level increases each year, syllabication of multi-syllabic words have become problematic or more difficult. We focused on open syllables, r-controlled vowels, closed syllables, vowel-consonant-e and consonant -le first. You could read the rule by hoovering over or clicking on the letter. Then, she started working on her last set which consists of double vowels which make one sound. This set contained more exercises so she'll need more time to complete them. Each syllable type was explained and percentage scores were noted for each set. Learning the syllable division rules, seeing examples, and practicing syllabication using online games and activities helped strengthen this skill. Click on the second screenshot below to see an example exercise where Alyssa was asked to choose the correct syllable division for several words. 

In the past, I've read many articles about the benefits of teaching prefixes, suffixes, Greek roots, and Latin roots to enrich a child's vocabulary. Furthermore, syllabication and spelling rules can help increase the number of words known. I believe this program will have a huge impact on her overall reading level. She'll be able to easily break up and understand more difficult larger words she comes across when independently reading. 

The most important step is "Listen Up." Alyssa wasn't spending enough time learning the meanings of the words so she had a more difficult time doing the other exercises that followed. I suggest encouraging your children to study the meanings and examples associated with each word part. Each program has different types of exercises. The icons at the top show my daughter the activities needed to complete. It lights up the current activity so she can see what's she's working on and what's next. I will show you just a few of the many exercises Alyssa completed. She worked on activities related to syllabication, word meanings, one-minute timed fluency, and finding Latin prefixes to complete a word within a sentence. In addition to the activities below, Alyssa completed 5 out of 6 Latin sets and 2 out of 4 Greek modules. There were fill-in-the-blank, syllable division, drag and drop matching activities, and so much more to explore. I love the methods and variety of activities they utilize to teach morphology. 
Prefixes: Greek Numbers
Listen Up Exercise
Syllabication and Fluency Exercises
Move and Match and Question Exercises
MaxBios and MaxPlaces
MaxBios and MaxPlaces were used as supplements to our Geography, History, and Character curricula. She also explored these areas just for fun when she wanted to learn more about a particular place or person. Learning interesting facts about people and places has always been a fascination of my daughter.    

MaxBios strengthened her chronological sequencing skills with timelines about influential people and the important events from their life. Alyssa jumped back in history when visiting the Old School Musicians, Beethoven and Mozart. She is gaining knowledge about famous people in history and those present today. 

She still has many Fascinating Men (Ghandi, Albert Einstein, Nelson Mandela, and Martin Luther King Jr.), Amazing Women (Rosa Parks, Cleopatra, Pocahontas, and Helen Keller), and Entertainment figures to discover later this year. She couldn't wait to learn more about Selena Gomez and Taylor Swift. I love that reading comprehension is also integrated into this program! After choosing and reading about each influential person, she answered comprehension questions about that important person. She became more comfortable with the types of questions as she practiced answering more questions. 

MaxPlaces benefited our homeschool, because she became more familiar with the world around her and different cultures were introduced. She identified and located several chosen destination places or landmarks on a map containing 51 locations to explore around the world. The passages under this section cover a variety of levels so they may not necessarily be at your child's level. 

The first place Alyssa visited was Austin, TX. She shared interesting facts with my sister who just moved to Texas. First, she read a fact-filled leveled passage about the location and answered multiple choice questions to assess her understanding of the content. She also discovered several other places such as Alaska, Maui, or the Pyramids of Giza. This is one of the extra programs that reinforce skills from MaxReading. Her score was revealed and a green dot was placed on the map.

MaxMusic was used more as a reward for completing work in a timely manner or during her free time. Alyssa practiced melodies using the on-screen keyboard which helped improve her memory and auditory skills. She had to remember and play particular notes. She was very interested in the modern musicians that are popular today including but not limited to Selena Gomez, Adele, and Taylor Swift. She immediately checked out Adele's music first. Reading comprehension and closed reading activities were integrated into this program. The excerpt song lyrics were provided so that Alyssa could study them and highlight verbs. This was by far her FAVORITE program! 

Identify Verbs

Fill in The Correct Word

Play Notes on Piano
MaxPhonics and MaxReading (K-1)
Alyssa explored the lower grade MaxReading content to review and maintain her reading skills in her free time. I let her choose the content. She opened several MaxReading Prep levels and worked on observation, detail-oriented, visualization, verbalizing, and retelling skills using pictures. This was a very helpful exercise which enabled me to notice a few minor gaps in her learning. However, MaxPhonics seemed too easy since she's mastered most advanced phonics. I may still require her to visit the program over the summer to review material previously learned. 

MaxReports offered me the ability to track and monitor Alyssa's student progress through the MaxGuru program. I monitored her progress by viewing the overall reports with percentage scores for each individual program. I was hoping for more detailed reports. However, I needed more specific data to assess her needs and identify her weaker areas in order to create an intervention plan for next year. 

Overall Thoughts and Results
MaxScholar is a multi-sensory program that explicitly teaches effective reading comprehension methods systematically. One unique feature that I adore about this program is that it ties reading comprehension into almost every component and it utilizes non-fiction or informational passages as well. I appreciate that the font size could be increased or decreased depending on what is best for each child's needs. Any program that allows my child to work at an individualized, flexible pace is a positive aspect for me. The engaging, interactive games and varied exercises provided Alyssa with a positive, fun working environment. 

I have definitely seen an improvement in Alyssa's comprehension skills. She is paying more attention to her reading and focusing on the content better. My daughter is learning how to outline passages, she's highlighting more relevant content, and her summaries have become more concise. The color-coded method for teaching students how to highlight content ended up being a huge hit with my daughter. Her vocabulary repertoire is expanding as she learns more about roots and word parts. The content can be challenging at times, but she handles it with grace. Her confidence using new strategies is soaring. 

We'll definitely continue to utilize the program over the summer and next year until the subscription expires. Unfortunately, due to our budget constraints, we will not be able to renew our subscription. MaxGuru is a complete online learning program that teaches reading comprehension, vocabulary, phonics, fluency, and phonemic awareness to children between the ages of 4-16 years old. It is a structured, organized, and research-based program which has greatly benefited our homeschool.

I HIGHLY recommend this program to homeschool families with students struggling with reading or for any parent wanting to improve their child's reading comprehension and vocabulary. There is something for all types of learners at different levels. This would be a great program for Title Reading teachers at public, private, or charter schools to utilize. Home educators utilizing the Orton-Gillingham and Lindamood Bell approaches may also appreciate this program.

Possible Vendor Suggestions
1.)  I would like easier access to the parent password protected dashboard from the student's dashboard.

2.)  I wish the detail counter could be a feature under the parent dashboard that we could add or remove under settings. 

3.) Could you add more learning activities to the MaxBios, MaxPlaces, and MaxMusic program?

4.) More informative reports showing problem area details such as incorrect question would be helpful. Dates didn't always match what we did. 

5.) Offer differentiated or leveled word searches based on difficulty level. 

6.) I wouldn't have selected several of the musicians seen in this program. I haven't seen any profane lyrics yet. I am concerned with the lyric messages or use of certain words. 

7.) Offer a pick-your-programs package allowing us to choose a certain number of programs for a particular price.

The retail price for the MaxGuru program is $330. However, for a limited time you can purchase it for 20% off dropping the price to $279 for an annual subscription with unlimited access for one user. Keep in mind this program contains ALL of the components listed in the introduction of this review. Please visit the website store for other package options.

There is no way that I can cover all aspects of this system thoroughly in one review. Be sure you sign-up for the FREE trial to explore the features of this innovative online program. Click on link and scroll up or down.

Social Media
Twitter @MaxScholarLLC
Google +
You Tube

Check out the Schoolhouse Review Crew blog to read additional reviews about MaxScholar's Reading Intervention Programs.
MaxScholar Reading Intervention Programs Review

Crew Disclaimer

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Spanish Indefinite Article Memory Game

Alyssa is absorbing so much as she learns Spanish using the effective and simple teaching methods utilized within the Spanish for You! Mi Vida curriculum. This curriculum is meant for children in 3rd-8th grade. Visit my blog in July to read more about our experiences. We are currently working through the 3rd - 4th grade lessons.

We recently played a Memory (Concentration) game using Alyssa's vocabulary words and the indefinite articles: un, una, unos, and unas. I wanted to share this activity with you today so that you can see how easy it can be to make learning fun. She's been learning how to say "a, an, and some" when used with singular and plural nouns.

I printed out the vocabulary game cards on bright pink card stock. Alyssa cut out the materials in order to prep the game. This particular game can be played alone or with a friend. I had her play once by herself and then we played it together. Players matched English to Spanish translations. Alyssa read each card aloud to practice her Spanish. The player with the most matches wins the game.

Vocabulary Words Covered
I will link this post up at Hearts for Home Blog Hop

TOS Review: Complete Home Learning Suite from Essential Skills Advantage

Essential Skills Advantage Review

Essential Skills Advantage (ESA) provided us with a supplementary option for Online Education to review called the Complete Home Learning Suite. We received unlimited access to the entire K-6th grade elementary program with our one-year online subscription allowing usage for one student

ESA contains over 14,000 practice activities that actively engage your child's attention with eye-catching colorful graphics and interactive games. Five core areas are covered within the program including Reading, Math, Science, Language & Grammar, and Geography. Each subject is further broken down by grade levels and into conceptual topics except for Science which covers content across K-3 grades. It was easy for me to differentiate Alyssa's learning, because she could work on concepts at several different grade levels. You can select the grade level, subject, or program that you want to use with each child. I was hoping to find a program that I could use this summer to avoid summer learning loss and this one may help.

The Complete Home Learning Suite includes access to the following programs:
  • Math K-6th
  • Reading K-6th
  • Langauge & Grammar K-6th
  • Science K-3rd
  • Geography 4th-6th
  • Marks Manager Reporting
How We Used Essential Skills Advantage
Essential Skills Advantage was used with Alyssa, my 8-year-old daughter, who works at a 3rd-5th grade level with basic technological skills. We used the online learning program 3-5 times throughout the Monday-Friday regular school week. It was utilized as a supplement to her school subjects for approximately 15-45 minutes per session. Alyssa would continue using it for longer periods of time if I allowed it. The preferred browser was Chrome and the program was usually utilized on a Mac OS X 10.9.5 computer. 
Reading About Wolves

would often asked my daughter to complete certain topics during each session. A session was based on the time spent working on a topic or a certain number of activities each day. We covered 1-3 subjects a day. The number of activities completed depended on the number of subjects reviewed and the time spent using the program. 

We utilized the program activities for a variety of subjects and we jumped around within each grade level addressing concepts related to school work or reviewing previously learned skills when appropriate. Most of the lessons she worked through were from the 3rd grade Math, Language & Grammar, and Reading content in addition to the K-3 Science material. She also explored the 4th Geography content. I didn't really have a set plan or schedule. We took a more relaxed approach when using this program. The supplemental activities were occasionally based on daily assignments. 

A student login and password was provided to access the content areas from the classroom page. However, the program settings did not require a password. It automatically logged her in without a password after a 3 second countdown. 

Spelling, Grammar, Creative Writing, and Writing Fundamentals were frequently utilized throughout the review period. She was using her core Grammar book twice a week. If we needed a Grammar lesson for the remaining days that week, then a quick ESA Language and Grammar activity was added to the day. After clicking on the 3rd grade tab, the orange Grammar tab was clicked revealing a variety of topics. Each topic consisted of 2-30 activities to complete. Alyssa reviewed common, proper, and abstract nouns. She also reviewed the first three rules for plural nouns. She reviewed the plural spellings for singular nouns that add s to most nouns, the rule for nouns ending in -s, -sh, -ch, -s, -z, -x, -o in addition to spellings with nouns ending in -f, -lf, or -fe. She also explored subject pronouns, contractions, action verbs, adverbs, and completed linking verb activities to reinforced her learning. First, she would click on the "white gavel" in the purple circle on the bottom right-side of the screen to independently read a mini lesson about the topic. The "gavel" lessons were NOT required or read aloud at this grade level. 

Two of her favorite Grammar activities were the Gumball and Word Search activities. For the Gumball activity, Alyssa could click on and use any colored circle to mark the common nouns on the screen. For the Word Search activity, she had to click on each letter within a word for it to be highlighted. The words were grayed out once found. The lowercase "i" stands for instructions. You can click on it to hear the directions again. Each correct answer is marked with a gold star at the bottom of the screen. If she responds incorrectly, then a red exclamation point is given. 

She enjoyed the Fun with Spelling 3 activities. Alyssa focused on and completed three main areas: R-controlled vowels, long vowel patterns, and digraphs and diphthongs. She recently started Consonant Combos and Consonant Blends. She reviewed r-controlled words including ar, er, ir, ur, and or. She also worked through the long vowel patters a-e, ay, ee, ea, o-e, ai, and y as long /e/. Digraphs and diphthongs with oo, ea, ou, and ow were addressed. The Fun with Spelling section consisted of 7-15 activities for each topic. Many of the activities were repeated using different word list. She enjoyed uncovering hidden pictures as she matched words during a Concentration game.  The word list was always at the top of the screen as a visual aid and reminder of words learned during the unit. 

Another favorite spelling game was Word Wizard. The game reminded her of Hangman. A blank line was given for each letter in an a-e Spelling word and her job was to figure out the word. Colorful dots appeared on the screen. Each time an incorrect letter was chosen, one dot disappeared. 

Writing and Poetry
Alyssa's current writing curriculum recently discussed rhyme in poetry, topic sentences, writing good openings and ending with exceptional concluding sentences. The Creative Writing and The Writing Fundamentals programs were my two personal favorites! Writing Fundamentals consisted of 2-10 activities per topic while Creative Writing offered 1-6 activities to complete on each topic. One activity from the Writing Fundamentals asked her to identify the type of opening sentences for a given text. I definitely noticed that Alyssa was writing better opening sentences in her writing samples after she viewed this content. She started writing more opening sentences using dialogue, exclamations, and question. 

My daughter and I found an awesome gem within this program. She completed the Poetry Rhyming and Verse activities under the Creative Writing section. She identified rhyming words within a given set of words and matched rhyming words. Furthermore, she learned about and recognized rhyme in quatrains and couplets. I love the activity below, because she was taught rhyming schemes or patterns such as "abab" and "aabb." Her sequencing skills improved as she placed the patterned poems in order. 

Geography was her all time favorite subject as she spent time identifying, spelling, and locating states, capitals, and regions. She zipped through the Scrambled Letters activity. This activity reinforced the correct spelling of the state names and identification of their location on a map. The state was highlighted in yellow as a clue to the scrambled word. 

Alyssa also explored the 3rd Grade Reading Comprehension area. She read several non-fiction passages about animals. For example, she read a passage about Sea Lions and then answered literal multiple-choice questions found within the text. She was allowed to view the passage again if desired. The book icon let her go back to the passage. More difficult words were highlighted in blue and could be read aloud by the computer when clicked on. Several other fun activities followed such as word scrambles,vocabulary work (antonyms and synonyms), and placing words in alphabetical order. We will be revisiting this section in the summer! It was a great way to practice simple text-based comprehension questions. She also LOVES learning about animals! 

One Math unit that corresponded well with Alyssa's mastery-based curricula was the Fraction unit. She practiced identifying equivalent fraction, converted fractions into decimals, and compared decimals. We utilized this unit as both a review of previously learned concepts and a mini introduction to decimals which we'll focus on next year. 

Ignore the bracket . . .
Every time we took a screenshot it showed up. 

Reports and Performance
My daughter could check her unit performance scores at any time by clicking the star at the top of the screen. She was able to view the topics and percentages earned on her star chart. She liked seeing and telling me about her progress.

After Alyssa completes her daily work, I can also track and monitor her progress from the classroom page. I have the ability to print out personalized certificates and report cards if needed. This is a wonderful feature, however, I noticed that the dates didn't always match up and it didn't always record her activity. On many occasions, she had to redo the last completed activity in order to move on to the next one. 

Certificate of Achievement
Features We Liked
  • Unlimited Access to All Subjects and Grade Levels
  • Individualized Pace
  • Immediate Feedback
  • Auditory, Visual, and Tactile Learning Styles Addressed
  • Unit Marks Manager
  • Personalized Certificates and Printable Report Cards
  • Variety of Activities

Essential Skills Advantage Review

Overall Thoughts
The website was user-friendly and easy to navigate. My daughter said that ESA would be one of her favorite programs to use if there weren't as many errors. She likes how it teaches many different subjects and how she can choose which topics she wants to learn about. She also mentioned that it breaks up the topics into activities that can be done quickly. I would have to agree with Alyssa. The program is well-organized and the meaningful and relevant activities seem to capture her attention. 

I recommend this program to parents with children between the ages of 4-12 in K through 6th grade who enjoy online learning. This is NOT a complete or comprehensive program. However, it will reinforce concepts and skills taught in other content subjects such as Math, Science, Reading, Geography, and Language/Grammar. 

This program would be best for students who are struggling, having learning difficulties, or just needing additional practice. My daughter enjoyed using this program most of the time. She'll continue using it over the summer as a way to prevent summer learning loss. We'll probably explore the 3rd and 4th grade Math and Reading sections further. I can't wait to see what other goodies I'll find as activities. It'll also be used as a supplement to our homeschool curricula next year.  

Possible Vendor Suggestions
1.) Improve Glitches Throughout the Program - The glitches present caused my daughter a great deal of frustration almost to the point where she didn't want to use the program and she's usually pretty patient with minor issues. She had a love/hate relationship with it. When these issues have an impact on her scores it definitely upsets her more. 

I've used ESA in the past. I've noticed that their layout has definitely improved and you can easily navigate the program, but the glitches are still evident. I was hoping my now the issues would have been resolved. I did send in a detailed support ticket, however, they were unable to duplicate the problem so nothing was fixed and the issue still occurred. One problem I noticed was that Alyssa was supposed to click on the correct state announced. She knows where most if not all of the states are on a map. The program wouldn't allow her to choose the correct state and it marked her wrong no matter what state was clicked. 

Another error occured during the Animal Sorting Science activity. She would click and drag any animal to the correct column, but it wouldn't let her. The directions weren't clear enough. She was supposed to drag all the animals into one column before moving on to another column. The Human Body activity also had issues. It wouldn't allow her to click the correct body part and she's known her body parts since she was a toddler. You can see the two red exclamation marks indicating an error was made below. 

2.) Saving Work and Noting Progress - I also realized that my daughter would use the program, but it would not always save her work. She had to repeat activities (especially the last one) that were already 100% completed. On the same note, the parental reports did not always show her usage correctly. I know, because I stood over her during the review period. I was hoping this program could be used more independently, but she wanted me to see correct answers marked wrong and view the glitches as they occurred.

3.) Assumed Background Knowledge - Some activities cover material not taught under the "gavel" lesson. Alyssa would try to remember that she needed to click on the gavel to read the concept lesson prior to completing activities. However, we came across a couple instances when questions were asked about topics that were was NOT taught or introduced. It was assumed that she KNEW the information without any exposure to it. For example, the program expected her to know how to convert Celsius to Fahrenheit when reading thermometers in the Weather unit. She needed to know what type of activity could be done during particular temperatures for both Celsius and Fahrenheit, but Celsius is a fairly new topic.

4.) Requirement - I wish the gavel lessons were required to be read before attempting any activities. 

Essential Skills Advantage seems comparable in price to most online educational supplements. You'll have to decide whether or not the price fits your budget and if you want to spend it on a supplemental resource. 

$7.99 per month for 1 student
$69.99 per year for 1 student
$129.99 per year for up to 10 students

1.) Prices are subject to change without notice.
2.) They offer discounted pricing plans for multiple students. Visit the website pricing for more information.

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Visit the Schoolhouse Review Crew blog to read many other reviews about the Complete Home Learning Suite from Essential Skills Advantage.

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