May 31, 2016

Essential Skills Advantage: Online Curriculum for grades K-6 (Product Review)

I am always looking for new educational websites that help reinforce the things we are learning in our studies. Back in 2014 we reviewed Essential Skills Advantage when it was just an online reading and language curriculum. This year we were given the chance to review the online subscription to the Complete Home Learning Suite by Essential Skills Advantage which adds in subjects like social studies and science to their already existing online curriculum. I was curious to see how the boys would like it and if it would useful to us.
Complete Home Learning Suite from ESA~ Product Review

Product Information

Complete Home Learning Suite is an online subscription by Essential Skills Advantage (aka. ESA). It offers the subjects reading, spelling, language and grammar, geography, math, and science. There are complete programs in reading and math for grades K-3. There is work for grades 4-6 in reading and math as well, but they are not complete programs. Spelling work is available for grades 1-6. Language and Grammar has work for grades 3-6. Geography is geared towards grades 3-5, and science for K-3. ESA boasts of thousands of activities that support visual, auditory and tactile learning styles, and their program allows each child the opportunity to work independently and at their own pace.

Included in the subscription is a marks manager that allows the parent to stay up to date on each student's progress. The program is not CC aligned and is a supplemental program.

Pricing is available by month, 6 months, and full year, and varies depending on how many students are participating. For a monthly subscription for 1 student, you would be looking at $7.99/month. If you chose a yearly plan for that student, the price is $69.99, a 27% saving. Pricing is available for up to 10 students.

ESA was designed for your laptop and tablets, and is not optimized for smart phones. Internet is required with a good connection of 3G or better.

We were given a one year subscription to be used with Baby Britches (age 5) and Little Britches (age 10).

How Did We Use It?

Because we have experience using ESA before, it was simple to get it set up. They added my new subscription information back into my account, and other than doing a bit of tweaking for each boy's profile, we were good to go. The navigation was similar, but allowed for more customized options. Now each boy can click on the grade level they are using and go from there.

I gave each boy full independence on what they wanted to do, as long as they checked out several of the subjects included. When I log in, I get a basic "classroom" screen that gives me each boy's account. From here, they can simply click their name and continue. I have the ability for them to log in separately with their account information, but since they typically work on this back to back, a standard log in to my parent account works fine as a starting point.

To give you an idea on how the program works, I will follow you through a log-in of Little Britches:
 This is the main menu for all subjects. Today, he decided to do reading, so he clicked it.
Here is the reading menu, clearly divided into all the grades that have reading work. He clicked on Grade 4.
 Grade 4 only has a two option menu. Today he decided to do reading comprehension.
In reading comprehension, he is giving a list of stories (15 of them). Each story has a certain set of activities relating to that story. As you can see, some stories have more activities than others. Today, Little Britches is going to work on Bomb Sniffing Dogs.

This set of activities opens up right on the activities themselves, NOT the story. So you have to click the little book icon in the bottom corner to read the story first.
While the story doesn't have an audio option, the vocabulary words or more tricky words are highlighted in blue, and they CAN be clicked on to hear pronunciation. When the story is finished, the student and exit the pop up window and then complete their activities relating to the story. Every completed activity earns a star.
By clicking in the top right corner on the star, they can see their collection of stars they earned for the unit. The height of the star depends on their scores. As you can see, Little Britches had some problems with sequencing.

When completed, the child can simply go to another unit in that category, or jump to another subject all together. There is a lot of freedom related to the order or activities to be completed.

Now that I have shown you the process of getting to an activity, I will just share a few screens from some of the other subjects we visited.

Baby Britches working on science with Little Britches to help with the reading
Baby Britches matching color words
practicing typing and spelling color words
1st grade math includes learning how to read an abacus
There are so many different activities in each subject and category. There is matching, spelling, multiple choice questions, writing, typing, fill in the blank, word searches, and so much more!

Now I want to talk about a few extras that ESA has included with the Complete Home Learning Suite! Back on the log in page, there is the option to view your students marks. This is just what it says--you get to see how they are doing in their progress! I am going to give you an example of what you can do in this section, using Little Britches' marks.

The first thing that pulls up is all of the programs that your child has worked on, and what level of completion is it at. You can see that it also shows you their average scores within those programs. But there is more! 
By clicking on any of the program names, I can open up a more detailed look at the work within the program. This shows me the units that have been completed, and more information about his scores. I can also print off a certificate for any units that have been completed.

Now, back to the previous photo--did you notice the report card icon? Yep! You can print a REPORT CARD for each program with detailed information about each unit. You can pick a grade, and write comments--personalizing it down to your teacher name and the school name.

When this report card is printed out, it gives all the information for each unit within that program including how much has been completed, the average score, and how well I think he did on it. It looks like a basic progress report card. 

As of today, we have explored Grades K, 1, 3, and 4 in the areas of reading, phonics, spelling, math, geography, and science. The boys have each completed over 50 activities within these areas.

What Are Our Thoughts?


Little Britches finds ESA boring. It's mostly all reading and he's not a visual learner. He would prefer the option of more audio for him--especially in the sections where there is reading to be done--like...reading. LOL. He doesn't mind doing the activities as long as they are things like matching...but he gets quickly bored with all the multiple choice questions. I have to struggle to get him to spend any time on this, even when he gets to pick whatever he wants to work on. It's just not a good match for him.

Baby Britches loves it. He's a visual learner and he loves anything that allows him time on the computer. He appreciates that at the Kindergarten level, he's able to work nearly completely independently. The only areas this isn't the case is in a few subjects where there isn't any audio for the questions. For example, in science, the student is supposed to read the question and read the answers and pick the right answer. But this is for KINDERGARTEN! They aren't going to be able to read this! Here is an example:

There needs to be an audio option for these because the average, or even the majority of the children in K-1 will not be able to do this by themselves without it. Little Britches had to sit with him for all of these in order for him to be able to complete them.

Secondly--if you look at this particular activity, it assumes the child has already learned about the states of matter. There is no LESSON. While I understand that this is a supplemental program, there should at least be a "crash course" review. This style continues throughout the science.

What about me? I love the principle of ESA and I think they have 
really done well to expand what they offer. But some of the material in the early grades for science especially, there needs to be less reading and more audio--and the font needs to be bigger. If you are going to have the 5-7 year olds read, make it big enough for them to be able to sound out all the letters.

My main issue with ESA--there is just too much reading! I would like there to be less reading, and more audio. Or a better mix of the two. Just because my 10 year old CAN read, doesn't mean he enjoys it, or can read easily on a computer screen. I would like to see the audio carried throughout the grades AND subjects. 

Secondly, the science and geography, both infer that there is previous knowledge coming into the subject activities, however, unless the parent has checked out the unit descriptions in advance, they aren't going to know this. I get that the program is supplemental, but I think there needs to be a bit more of a disclaimer regarding what is covered in the units.

I would also love (as would my hubby) to see more animation. The boys miss the "dancing dog" of the our previous review. I also find that the younger grades seem to have more photos and "fun" activities with colored images. That would be nice to see carried forward. Endless font is not enjoyable for any age. Thinking back to my previous comment--it would be nice to have a video for the child to watch before they answer the questions on science. That would be a great "review" for them before tackling the unit activities.

As for content--it's chock full of content! I really like what is covered in this website. It's HOW it's presented that I think needs to be re-evaluated. The site is supposed to be for all types of learners, so that needs to be evident throughout the grades and subjects. Visual is covered...but auditory definitely needs to be represented more.

Will we continue to use this product?
Maybe. I will leave it up to the boys. I have a feeling that Baby Britches will, but Little Britches will not. 

Would I Recommend This Product?


If you are looking for a "busy time" website where your child and go to reinforce concepts they already have learned, without needing much of your help, then do consider this site. If you are looking for something to TEACH your child concepts, this is not the site for you. I do not think that it "teaches" anything, but then I do not believe it was designed to. This is ideal for a visual learner, but if your child doesn't like to read very much, I would suggest something different. Price wise, if you plan on using it for a child who is very visual and loves this type of busy work, then it probably is worth it. If you are thinking that this would be something to use now and then--I don't know that it would be a good choice for the cost, unless you have SEVERAL students who would be using it. The price points are much lower the more students you add on.

Want to Know More?

We reviewed the Complete Home Learning Suite from Essential Skills Advantage. We have mixed opinions on it, so make sure you go check out how other families used it for a better idea on what is offered!
Essential Skills Advantage Review
You can stay in touch with ESA on these social media outlets:
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https://www.facebook.com/skillsadvantage/

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@SkillsAdvantage

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LinkedIn: 
https://www.linkedin.com/company/skillsadvantage

Blog: 
http://buyesa.com/blog/

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In summary, the new ESA program has expanded to include some very awesome stuff! It is a very good program, but only for those who learn or can complete work in the style it's presented. While my oldest is bored with the program and probably won't use it, I will definitely be keeping it around through the rest of my subscription to use with Baby Britches. This will allow me to work with his big brother on other things, while he works independently. So it's still a win-win!
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