Online Skills Practice With Essential Skills Advantage (A Schoolhouse Crew Review)

We do not do much in the way of standardized testing in our homeschool, and because of this, I don’t specifically teach those “tested” skills. But sometimes I think it’s a good idea for the kids to practice those skills that may be falling through the cracks with our regular curriculum. I like to look for programs or workbooks that might give them practice in some of the expected skills for their grade level.

Online skills practice

We recently had the opportunity to review the Complete Home Learning Suite from Essential Skills Advantage. Essential Skills Advantage is an online program that offers the opportunity for students in grades 1-6 to practice some of these basic, standardized skills. We received a one year membership for two students.

Essential Skills Advantage

Essential Skills Advantage– or ESA- is an online program that is designed to help students practice basic skills. The activities have been developed by educators and are presented to the kids with minimal distractions so that kids can focus on the skill being reviewed. The programs that ESA offers can be used with homeschooled kids or as a supplement with kids from any traditional school setting.

Online education

Complete Home Learning Suite

The Complete Home Learning Suite offers online curriculum for grades K-6. There are activities in these subjects:

  • Reading activities for grades K-6
  • Language and Grammar Activities for grades K-6
  • Math activities for grades K-6
  • Science activities for grades K-3
  • Geography activities for grades 4-6
Within each grade level, the program offers a variety of grade appropriate activities. Within some of the categories, you can find complete curriculum for the younger grades and categories of skills practice for the older grades. For example reading and math have complete curricula for grades K-3 and various activities practice for grades 4-6.

Essential Skills Advantage

The Learning Suite also provides parents with a record of progress. Parents can see what activities have been completed as well as the students score on those activities. You can also print a report card for the activities that have been completed.

Record of progress

The online program can be used with multiple children. Each child has a separate login and parents can see a record of each child’s progress. Pricing for the program varies. You can choose to pay monthly, for six months, or for an entire year. Pricing can include an account for a single student or an account that allows up to ten students.

Using ESA

When I received access to the program, I logged in and created an account for Ashlyne- grade 6- and Rachel- grade 5. Although we browsed all the program had to offer, I wanted them to specifically use the geography activities. We’ve covered geography from a cultural perspective, but we haven’t done much with map skills and other basic geography skills. I thought this would be a good way to have them practice those skills.
When you set up student accounts, you can choose to give them a password or not. I did not assign passwords. It was pretty simple for the girls to then login to their separate accounts on either my computer or on Ashlyne’s laptop.

Online education

Using Essential Skills Advantage

When students login, they see a menu with all of the categories listed. Once the girls chose geography, they then chose their grade level. I had Rachel choose 5th grade and Ashlyne choose 6th grade. But, as far as we could tell, they had the same questions.

Practicing geography skills

The program doesn’t have a schedule that has to be followed. It’s pretty flexible. Because we were using it for skills practice, I had the girls login several times a week to use the program. They would do a few activities at a time, depending on how long each activity took. Most only took a few minutes.
The activities each have a series of questions. Stars at the bottom of the page show students exactly how many questions are going to be in that activity. The questions are read aloud, and the student chooses answers on the screen. There is a way that they can have the question repeated if necessary. 

Online geography practice

They get two tries to answer the question correctly. If they answer correctly, the star for that question is lit up. If their answer is wrong, a red circle is put into the star for that question. When Ashlyne and Rachel were working, I noticed that they weren’t given the correct answer if their answer was wrong. However, when I was looking through the program at some of the younger grade activities, I noticed that the correct answer was given when they were wrong.
After all of the questions had been answered, the girls could click the arrow at the bottom of the screen to go to the next activity. I had them redo any activities where they missed quite a few. Most of the questions were very easy to both girls, but there were a few areas they struggled with.

Online skills practice

It is important to note that even in the sections that are labeled “Complete Curriculum”- such as the reading and math for younger grades- the program doesn’t teach the concept. This is just a skills practice. When my girls came to geography concepts they didn’t know, they completed the activity with a guessing process because they weren’t taught the material, and they weren’t given correct answers for what they missed.

Pros and Cons

What I like…
  • I like an online program. It makes it easy for me to allow the girls to work independently.
  • I like that the program doesn’t have lots of bells and whistles. The activities are pretty straightforward without lots of animation or graphics to distract.
  • I like having some standardized skills practice that lets me know the girls aren’t missing out on basic concepts that might be falling through the cracks of our regular curriculum.
What I don’t like…
  • Many of the questions in the geography section and the other sections I scanned seemed really basic and easy. We would come across a few harder sections where the girls had to stop and think and figure out, but many of the activities were ones they could breeze through. In the geography that we used and in many of the other areas I looked at, the 5th and 6th grade activities were virtually the same. This makes me wonder if this is really an effective practice up through 6th grade or if it is just better used with younger kids.
  • Not having the correct answer come up was very frustrating for the girls. I noticed when I scanned other areas that the correct answer was given. But for their geography exercises it wasn’t. The problem with this is that, because the program isn’t teaching anything and it is just skills practice, the activity became a matter of guessing. And sometimes even I couldn’t figure out exactly what they were looking for in the answer. With no answer key and no correct answers being given, this meant that not much was learned.
  • Figuring out what the program was looking for and how to enter an answer was sometimes very confusing. Even after listening to the instructions multiple times, it was difficult sometimes to figure out how they wanted the answer given because it wasn’t very intuitive. For example, in the geography, there is a section on coordinates. There is a grid with various school items on it. The spoken directions say that the students are to enter the coordinates that are covered by each item. None of us could ever figure out how to do this to get the answers correct. I tried. They each tried. I tried some more. Some we managed to get right, but it was a matter of guessing, and we never could get them all correct.
Geography practice
Essential Skills Advantage wasn’t the best fit for us. I think parents of younger children may appreciate it more- unless they have the same issues with figuring out how to enter answers. I love the concept of practicing standardized skills. But the program itself wasn’t a great fit for my girls.
Other Review Crew members checked out the programs in ESA with different ages and grades, focusing on different areas. You can read what others thought by clicking below.

Essential Skills Advantage Review

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