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:





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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Tenzi~ A Game For all Ages with Guaranteed Fun and Laughter! {Product Review}

I love it when we have game night at our house. We pop our popcorn and the boys squabble a bit before picking a game to play. With one of them 10 and the other 5, it can sometimes be hard for them to agree on a game EVERYONE will enjoy and be able to play by themselves. One of our most favorite games is a very popular dice game, however, Baby Britches always has to partner with someone because part of the game is adding up the dice which he isn't strong enough to do quickly on his own. Enter TENZI. We were given the game TENZI and the TENZI CARD DECK by Timberdoodle to review. A game with origins in the style of other rolling dice counting games, but with a much simpler method that even the youngest Kindergartner will be able to enjoy!
TENZI: A dice game that is fast and fun for the whole family (Product Review)

About the Game

TENZI is one of the most simple games to explain. Grab 10 dice of the same color. Have enough sets of 10 for 2+ players. Now at the word GO! roll your dice trying to get all 10 to be the same number--separating out the dice with the number you want each time. Keep rolling the remaining dice. When all 10 of your dice are the same number--shout TENZI! First person to get all 10 of their dice at the same number--wins!

May 30, 2016

Fresh from the Bookshelf: A Daring Sacrifice by Jody Hedlund {Book Review}

I love the story of Robin Hood. I also love stories that play with traditional tales to give them new life. A Daring Sacrifice by Jody Hedlund does just that--putting the role of Robin Hood, on a young maiden named Juliana, but known throughout the forest as the Cloaked Bandit!

The links on this blog and in the posts may be affiliate links
Please see my disclosure policy for full details and thank you for your support!


About the Book

A Daring Sacrifice by Jody Hedlund is actually book two in a series called An Uncertain Choice. The series is set in the medieval times of knights and ladies, castles and kings! In this book, we are introduced to The Cloaked Bandit--a sly light-fingered daring chap who goes out of his way to rob the rich in order to take care of the poor. Living in the forest with a group of compatriots, the Cloaked Bandit has been able to keep his true identity a secret. Until he robs Collin Goodrich...who beats him at his own game, and Collin discovers that the Cloaked Bandit is a...she! And not just any she...she's Juliana Wessex--a neighbor (And titled!) girl from his childhood, who is supposed to be dead!

What follows next is an investigation by Collin into what has happened in Juliana's life that has lead her to this extreme method of saving her friends. Will she trust him with her secrets? Will she ever be able to reveal to the world that she's alive and claim her land and home that was stolen from her? Is there a future for this unlikely pair?

My Thoughts

It's a fun story, but very idealistic. The lead character Juliana is supposed to be 17, but she speaks much to grown up. Even if she is an educated "lady". And the dialogue isn't very 1390ish medieval times. But it's fun going back and forth between Collin and Juliana's narratives. And the plot does get heavier as the book continues as it deals with things like torture, burning on a stake and such. This is a young adult lit book--and it does fall in the Christian genre as well. There are discussion questions included in the back of the book to talk about the Christian undertones.

I did like the bold, courageous, self-sacrificing role they gave Juliana. She was a bold female character who was a help mate to Collin, supporting him. I like that in a literary character.

Although the book is #2 in a series, I never felt that there was a need to have read book #1, as the characters or references to that book are very few and far between. This book appears to stand on it's own well.

Oh, and I love the cover art!

I give A Daring Sacrifice a solid average rating. It was good--but I've read many many other young adult lit books in this genre which are more meaty and hold my attention better. That being said, I am still going to be seeking out book #1 in this series An Uncertain Choice so that I can spend some more time learning about Collin's history. I would recommend it to any who enjoy a good young adult lit adventure story where the characters are moral and still exciting!
A Daring Sacrifice
by Jody Hedlund
ISBN# 9780310749370
Available for Kindle and Paperback
Professional Reader

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Fresh from the Bookshelf: Flirtation Walk by Siri Mitchell {Book Review}

By now, if you are a regular reader of my blog, you know I have a thing for historical romance. You might also know that I have a thing for any novels surrounding one of the wars, or about military history. Flirtation Walk is the latest book by best selling inspirational fiction author Siri Mitchell, and it looked to be just the kind of novel I enjoyed.

The links on this blog and in the posts may be affiliate links
Please see my disclosure policy for full details and thank you for your support!

About the Book

Flirtation Walk by Siri Mitchell is an inspirational historical romance set during the era of the early West Point military academy. It follows the story of Lucinda and Seth. Lucinda is the daughter of a swindler. A con-mans daughter. And to make it even worse, she's HELPED him swindle people out of money. And she's tired of it. She wants a new life. She wants a husband and respectability. So she shows up alone and desperate on the door step of her aunt's house in West Point, NY ready to begin a new chapter in her life. She quickly sets her sight on one of her uncle's star pupils at West Point Military academy. 

Seth is a rising star at the military academy with one goal...graduate last! After a letter from his younger sister confessing that she lost everything in a swindle, he's determined to get transferred to the western outpost where she lives--something that only happens to the cadets who flunk!

Then Seth meets Lucinda and everything changes. Will she be willing to love someone determined to fail? Will he still love her after he finds out her past--and her possible connection to his sister's trouble?

My Thoughts

I really enjoyed the peek at what the early stages of West Point were like. I think the history of the military academy is interesting especially since so many of our great generals got their start there. This book actually mentions a few--especially General Lee in this book.

I enjoyed watching Lucinda mature and change throughout the book and get to the point where she was willing to sacrifice everything she called her own in order to be honest and true. Her father was a piece of work for sure! Seth was quite hilarious in his hi-jinks to get demerits--especially since it went so against his nature.

I thought the book was well done, though not quite the style of some of Siri Mitchell's other books. It was actually surprised for I didn't enjoy this one as much as most of her other novels. I guess that maybe the characters weren't as...filled out? I can't quite put my finger on it.

Out of the books I have read recently, this one isn't as high. I just didn't have as much as a "wow! That was a great book!" feeling. It was just an average good book. Would I still recommend it? Of course. It wasn't bad and I know that I'm more picky than some.

Flirtation Walk
by Siri Mitchell
ISBN # 978-0764210389
Available as Kindle and Paperback
Professional Reader

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May 28, 2016

Adventures at The Great Serpent Mound

One of my favorite things about homeschooling is the ability to plan field trips at the last minute based on whatever we are studying. I didn't have any field trips really scheduled for the rest of the year, but when Little Britches began studying a certain period of American History, I just had to throw in a spur the moment field trip to The Great Serpent Mound to take our learning further!

The links on this blog and in the posts may be affiliate links
Please see my disclosure policy for full details and thank you for your support!

We are currently reviewing America the Beautiful by Notgrass Company, which is an American History curriculum for 5th-8th grade.  The first 5 lessons of the curriculum are geared towards talking about the tribal nations of the Americas in the early 1000's AD. This week, Little Britches read all about the tribes of the Northeast, which included all the tribes that lived in the areas around the Ohio River Valley--where we live. One such group of nations were the mound builders. At the conclusion of his lesson, Little Britches showed me the photos of several of the more famous effigy sites--and mentioned that several appeared to be in Ohio. I smiled at him, and instantly knew it was time for a field trip. He was very surprised and excited to learn that one of the most famous--The Great Serpent Mound--was merely a little over an hour away in Peebles, OH. 

On Wednesday, I arranged for us to go visit this site. I was eager to go, because it was somewhere that I haven't been to yet either. Being only about an hour away, it was easy to throw it into our plans for Wednesday afternoon. 

Here are some photos of our field trip for your viewing pleasure--

We began in the museum. They loved all the artifacts--especially the war clubs!
 There is a very nice, small museum that has an 11 minute video about the effigy, and a collection of artifacts from the region. It is a great background on the history of the site and a great starting place. We were able to talk about how it was found and some ideas on its purpose before we viewed it ourselves.
We climbed the observation tower to see the whole serpent
 Right at the beginning of the serpent, you are able to climb up an observation tower. At the top, you are able to have a great view of nearly the entire mound--but especially the tail and body. 
Looking towards the body and head

One thing we learned in the museum is that almost every main point on the mound is in synch with something astrological. Every bend of the body lines up with either a moonrise or a solstice sunrise/sunset. They have these all marked with directional areas along the effigy. 

 The view from the tail portion is quite gorgeous, as it looks out over a valley. The Great Serpent Mound was built high up on the rim of a crater. Once you are up on it, you realize it's one of the highest spots in the area...something very common with ancient monuments.

If you stand at the very center and tip of the tail, you will face due north!

At the head of the serpent, you find the summer solstice sunset marker. It makes sense that this would be a special spot with it being the longest day of the year. When they first discovered the mound, there was the remnants of what appears to have been an altar in the middle of the "eye" of the serpent. In perfect allignment with the summer solstice sunset marking. This really backs up the belief that the serpent mound was of a religious nature and use.

Part of the head of the serpent

My beloved boys and I
Throughout the site, there are also several burial mounds predating the 1000's. The whole area was definitely somehow related to a worship/religion use as many burial grounds are found near worship sites.
After we viewed the Serpent Mound, we decided to go back into the museum and gift shop to grab some postcards. The boys enjoyed looking at all the toys and trinkets--I loved looking at the jewelry and books. As we were getting ready to check out, the curator of the site, asked me if the boys would like to try out an atlatl. Because I remembered what this was from our trip to Natural Bridge last year, I said I was sure they would and the boys came over to hear the man.
Talking about their purpose and showing them an authentic atlatl
 It was so cool! The man taught them all about it, including how it was used, the names of all the parts, the age they probably started training, the tribes that most likely used it, and more. Then he grabbed another version of the atlatl and we headed out front. The man demonstrated step by step how to use it...then he simply handed it to Little Britches and the three spears to Baby Britches, smiled and said "Have fun! Bring it back in whenever you are done!"

Oh my. And have fun they did!

Demonstrating the positioning of the weapon

Baby Britches loading his atlatl

Great form!

Let it fly!
When we were done throwing the atlatl, we decided to go on one of the nature paths and explore around the base of the cliff, near the river.

We had such a great time on our field trip and I loved being able to use Serpent Mound themed worksheets that I found over in Notebooking Pages (something I am reviewing and will be sharing more about later) to capture what we experienced when we got home. It was a great way to help take our lessons even further and yet another reason I'm so thankful I can homeschool and make these impromptu field trips possible!

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