In my house I have two kids that read. Bug, my oldest, is a fluent reader, and Mr. Man is just getting his feet wet with reading, and is getting better every day. Regardless of their skill level, I feel like the kids can ALWAYS use extra practice and support with their reading skills. Recently, we’ve been using Essential Skills Advantage to practice reading, comprehension and vocabulary skills.
Essential Skills Advantage has learning activities for grades Kindergarten-Sixth. Kindergarten through third offers a “complete reading program” covering phonics, sight words, grammar and reading comprehension. Older grades have lessons in spelling, grammar, reading comprehension and vocabulary.
When you sign into the student page, your child will be able to choose which activities he would like to complete. In the younger grades, each activity varies slightly in it’s presentation, but as an overall, they follow a multiple choice question format. For example, in the phonics section, a variety of words will be shown on the screen, and the program will read aloud a word, and the child will be told to click on the word they hear from the word bank. In some other lessons, they may be shown a picture, and be told to select which picture represents the word they hear. There are many, many different kinds of activities for the many skills covered by this program.
In older grades, students are expected to be able to use the keyboard more to answer questions. For example, in the reading comprehension section, kids are given a passage to read, and then they can select from activities to complete. Here, some questions are still multiple choice, but many require typing in answers.
I am impressed with the sheer amount of content in the program. The first grade reading program has four pages of activities listed, more than enough to keep your child busy for a long time. Bug has been working on the reading compression program for 4th grade, and there are 9 activity sets each for 12 different reading passages. If he completes the 4th grade level, our membership allows him to move on and also start working on the 5th grade level, since a membership gives access to all the activities.
Essential Skills Advantage isn’t a flashy program. It’s not really a game as much as a program that quizzes your child on what they should already know. Obviously, my kids prefer programs that feel more “game like.” Interactive elements, rewarding play time, or kid friendly graphics make lesson time more appealing, and they cooperate better.
Not every program can be a video game though. Bug is old enough to know that sometimes, educational programs are going to be more work than play, and he doesn’t mind working, especially if I set an expected amount of time he needs to work, and he knows what is expected of him. Mr. Man on the other hand becomes really resistant if something is “too hard” and “not fun” enough to hold his attention. He’s younger, and more wiggly than Bug, so he’s always harder to convince.
Bug didn’t mind using this program, and he is the one that ultimately benefited the most from it. I allowed him free reign of the site, and let him pick and choose which activities to do. In the end, he spent most of his time working on spelling and vocabulary at the 4th and 5th grade levels, and I did see improvement in these areas over the review period. When I required him to focus on a specific area, I pointed him to the reading comprehension sections, and he did a wonderful job with them. I loved that they required more than just answering questions about the passages, he also needed to do things like identify compound words, define word roots, prefixes and suffixes, answer questions about character development, and more.
Mr. Man really did not respond as well, despite there being more options for his grade level (Kinder-1st grade). Part of what he struggled with was that each activity really is filled with words- there aren’t pictures or graphics, and he’s the king of saying “this is too hard!” When he sees a screen with too many words to read he shuts down, so we found this easier to use with Bug, who is a solid reader, than Mr. Man who needs more support at this stage, bigger words on the screen, pictures, and so on. I think if you were working with a younger child, it would be ideal to work right next to them rather than “setting them free” with this program if they do need the extra reading support.
Personally, I liked that there aren’t many distractions from the content- I’d love for my kids to be clamoring to “play” a school game, but sometimes, you really do need kids to just get down to work, and this program required that. There was no area on the website where they could mess around and get out of working, with Essential Skills Advantage, I know if I sit them down to use the program for 10 minutes, they are going to be working for that full amount of time, no distractions. This program would be very good for kids who do best with minimal “flash.”
There is a sponsored version of Essential Skills Advantage that is completely free to use at www.ESAlearning.com. You will be able to access to every course they has to offer, but there will be sponsored advertising and some of the available features will be missing.
I personally used The Premium Plan is which is available for $9.99/month and offers additional features. To sign-up for ESA’s Premium Plan, the link is: http://buyesa.com/
There is currently a coupon code for the premium plan: TOS50, which will give you 50% off the monthly membership fee. The code will work for anyone who signs up for the Premium Plan until October 1st. The 50% discount will apply as long as they remain a member. The membership fee will be reduced to only $4.99/month/student.