Review of Essential Skills Advantage

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Essential Skills Advantage Review

Over the past few weeks, A7 and B5 have had the pleasure of using the Complete Home Learning Suite from Essential Skills Advantage.  A supplementary curriculum for elementary children, Essential Skills Advantage offers over 14,000 online lessons.  Each lesson is carefully crafted to build the child’s skill in that area.

Essential Skills Advantage Review

The Complete Learning Suite offers lessons in five main areas:


Each area is then broken down into grades, with the freedom to pick whichever grade the child is best suited to.  This means a child strong in maths but weaker at reading can be placed in grade 3 for maths and grade 1 for reading:


Reading, Language and Grammar and Maths all have from Kindergarten to Grade 6 levels available.  Science has from Kindergarten to Grade 3 whilst Geography has Grade 4 through to Grade 6.

For the purpose of this review, I shall be focusing on the Kindergarten Maths and Grade 1 Language and Grammar (Spelling).

Kindergarten Maths

Once your student is logged on, and Kindergarten Maths has been selected, there will be a screen full of all the topics available.  In this case the student can choose to work on:

  • Numeration
  • Patterning
  • Measurement
  • Geometry
  • Data Management
  • Probability

B5 has already completed her Reception Year maths and I had been looking for a fun supplementary maths program which would consolidate all she had already learnt.  This fit the bill nicely.  She was able to log on herself as there are no tricky passwords to remember, and she was fairly independent the whole time she was doing her maths.  She worked concurrently on Numeration, in which there are seven units, each with a varying number of activities to choose from:


and Patterning, which contains six units, again each had a varying number of activities:


This changing around of topics kept the learning fresh and interest level high.  Once a unit is chosen the screen moves to the first activity (or if worked on previously, it will automatically return to the last activity):


A voice instructs the child what he or she needs to do.  In this case the child needs to pick which pattern is being described.  There is an ear button at the bottom right to click on if a repeat of the instructions or question is needed.  For each question which is answered correctly a gold star appears at the bottom of the screen.  The child is given two attempts to answer correctly.  If both attempts are incorrect a red exclamation mark fills the star:


The parent can, at any time, click the star at the top of the page.  This gives a visual report of how the student is performing on that particular unit (in this case Shapes):


B5 worked at her maths most days for about ten to fifteen minutes.  As this was mainly review for her she moved through the work at a fair pace and enjoyed herself immensely.  These are very much activities and not lessons.  In fact, within the maths section, there is no teaching at all.  Prior knowledge is assumed.  For B5 this was not a problem as she had already worked the whole way through this level in her normal maths program.  I did not feel she was ready for grade 1 maths yet, so using Essential Skills Advantage to build her Kindergarten maths fluency and speed was perfect.

Grade One Language and Grammar

I was very excited about A7 using this.  As she has been late to read, obtaining fluency only just recently, I had not yet attempted to teach her spelling.  This was love at first sight/use!  She didn’t even need for me to explain to her how to use it.  She took one look, grabbed the mouse and away she went!  After clicking through to the first grade Language and Grammar, she had the following choices:


She chose Fun with Spelling and began at the beginning:


The beginning spelling was very simple and she literally was doing ten activities each day.  Although A7 has not done any spelling before, the activities were very easy for her.  Towards the end of fun with spelling there are spelling challenges and learning to spell colours and numbers, so the activities do become progressively harder:


The activities themselves are brightly coloured, simple graphics and are well explained and easy for a child to complete independently:


Once your child has completed Fun with Spelling I they then have the option to move onto Spelling Stumpers 1-5.  This includes lots and lots of spelling lists, with many activities included for each list; there is also a chance to work on spelling rules:


The spelling rule is given, followed many activities:


Our Thoughts on Essential Skills Advantage

For the purpose of reviewing B5’s maths and for beginning spelling with A7, ESA has been an amazing resource to have access to.  As a computer program it runs well and is so simple for young children to operate completely independently.  It is brightly coloured and attractive which encourages the enjoyment of its users, and yet is not so busy that A7’s concentration was troubled.  In fact, for me this program is a winner based solely on the fact that my attention struggling seven-year old wanted to do activity after activity.  She never got bored and often had to be peeled away from her spelling so we could move on to a different activity.  I highly recommend this program.


The lovely people at ESA are offering a MASSIVE 75% off their normal price!  Although this is an American company, because it is an online program this offer is open for UK residents as well.  Enjoy!

Essential Skills Advantage

Connect with Essential Skills Advantage:
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/skillsadvantage/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/SkillsAdvantage @SkillsAdvantage
Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/SkillsAdvantage
Google +: https://plus.google.com/u/0/
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/skillsadvantage
Blog: http://buyesa.com/blog/

Essential Skills Advantage Review

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Interview with C13



How have you felt about this year?

I have loved this year.  I was particularly enlightening because I found out last summer during our Shakespeare summer that I love to perform and this is becoming one of my passions.  

What have you learnt about yourself this year?

I have discovered that I can do anything if I put my mind to it.

Hard work pays off.

A compromise can be reached in almost all situations

Family relationships are incredibly important, and preserving them is more important than having my own way.

Having a boyfriend isn’t everything, even when your twin has one and you don’t:)

What are you most proud of this year?

Finishing Les Miserables, and starting War and Peace

Composing and writing the lyrics to my own original song, with the help of my wonderful singing teacher, Leah, and going to a recording studio to record it professionally

Getting a solo, singing my original song, in the local cabaret

Rewriting a whole act of Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream into a musical 

Taking my Grade 2 singing exam and receiving a merit, and working towards my grade 3

Knocking twenty books off my To-Read-This-Year book list!

Starting to learn the piano

What are you least proud of this year?


What have you enjoyed the most?

(She takes a huge breath) Singing, writing and acting; my relationship with my siblings and parents; all the hugs I get off Thomas; confusing people with mine and L’s twinship (!); reading; having my bedroom decorated; earning money; the media Bible courses for teens I did; getting to choose an entire new wardrobe for myself:); music in general; learning to be vulnerable and open about how I feel with my family.

(Takes another deep breath) Life in general; youth choir; helping with the little ones at children’s choir; my piano lessons…….oh and learning about the hemi-demi-semi quaver!!!

What have you enjoyed the least?


What would you like to change?

More exercise

My method of persuading Mummy to buy me more books so it becomes more effective:)  because, y’know, I want more books…

Do you feel like you have complete autonomy over your learning?

Generally, although I hate maths and wish I didn’t have to do it at all but I do understand it will be good for me in the long run.

Would you like more autonomy? Not sure, I will have to get back to you on that one:)

What are you looking forward to next year?

Everything  (oh, and more books…)

Interview with L13



How have you felt about this year?

It has been fun, relaxing, stress free, easy but exhausting; I would say, for me, pretty much one of the best years of school so far

What have you learnt about yourself this year?

If I can put my mind to drawing I can produce some pretty good results

That I want to be homeschooled forever:)

I really enjoy creating over book learning

The choices I’ve made this year have opened doors to my future, which is hugely exciting

I really enjoy spending time with you, Mummy:)

What are you most proud of this year?

My mixed media painting results

My paper beads

Having worked on my patience I feel I am slowly becoming more so😉

I love the fact B5 also wants to become an artist, and I am looking forward to teaching her and working along side her in the future

I’m proud that I am now not only caught up in maths but am working a year above my age level.  I am excited to begin my maths GCSE work in September

Receiving a gold trophy in my trampolining

What are you least proud of this year?

My ‘Drawing with Realism’ work because I could have applied myself better and so my work wasn’t at the standard it could have been

Because I am creating most of the time, I am spending less time exercising and moving my body, which I have always enjoyed.

What have you enjoyed the most?

Jewellery making; enjoying a really close relationship with Mummy; finding out how similar I am to Mummy; my relationship with B14 blossoming; all my art, especially the mixed media; all the DIY’s I’ve done.  I am really enjoying all the hugs I get off Thomas.  And of course my relationship with my twin.

What have you enjoyed the least?

Drawing with Realism lessons

What would you like to change?

I would like to have more exercise

Do you feel like you have complete autonomy over your learning?

No, but I enjoy the collaboration between you and me.  I love that we figure out a schedule together, but I get thoroughly annoyed if it’s changed for any reason!

Would you like more autonomy?  No

What are you looking forward to next year?

Maths; learning Byzantine links for my jewellery making; paper clay jewellery – which means we need to get a kiln (hint, hint, huge grin on face….); reading more jewellery books; discovering more ways to make beads; watching Anne of Green Gables and exploring mixed media in greater depth.

Interview with Thomas, aged 14



How have you felt about this year?

It has been fast, busy, tiring at times, productive, eye-opening and rewarding.  And I guess exciting because I have found a love of music I didn’t know I had.

What have you learnt about yourself this year?

I am capable of a lot if I put my mind to it

Never wish to grow up, because one day it might happen:)

I love music so much and it has opened so many doors such as playing in bands and leading worship

I have so much I want to do but don’t seem to have enough time to do it all:)

Every choice I have is now made with a view to my future, which is very exciting

What are you most proud of this year?

My IGCSE physics

Teaching myself guitar

Building my bass guitar from scratch

What are you least proud of this year?

When I first began playing the guitar I think it was more for my glory instead of God’s.  After I changed this perspective and focused on God, my guitar playing became much more enjoyable and I became much more proficient at it.

What have you enjoyed the most?

Playing the guitar; mountain biking; spending time with my friends; most of my school and I have also enjoyed my relationship with my twin sisters.

What have you enjoyed the least?

Algebra and writing

What would you like to change?


Do you feel like you have complete autonomy over your learning?

Yes, but I would prefer not to do the ten week writing you have in store for me!  But I understand why I need to do it.  (The college requires him to be studying for his English and Maths GCSE in order to secure funding)

Would you like more autonomy? No, I enjoy your input, and I like the fact we are able to change things around when they don’t work.  I feel like we are partners.

What are you looking forward to next year?

I am looking forward to the Engineering course (if I am accepted), learning even more guitar, taking a few more GCSEs/IGCSEs and possibly starting to play another instrument.

Thomas is a very chatty young man and he and I spend hours each day in conversation, so none of this came as a surprise to me.  I am aware that I have pretty much handed the reins of his education over to him and he is now an almost entirely self-directed learner.  In fact, he is a man pretty much in full charge over his life.  Gary and I offer our opinion any time he asks, but really the decisions are now his to make.

Thomas is happy, content and fully engaged with his life; I couldn’t be more delighted:)

Precious Moments


Last week began with a pink piggy party!  Nik’s son is mad about pigs and as it was his 12th birthday coming up we decided to celebrate in pink piggy style!  I wasn’t entirely sure how a 12-year-old boy would react to such an onslaught of pink, but I needn’t have worried, he loved it:)


I may have gone a bit piggy mad….





We had bought him a huge pink pig cookie jar and filled it with Percy Pigs from M’n’S.  Percy now has a girlfriend, Penny (she’s yellow) and they come together, happily packaged with some sweetie hearts  ❤

We crammed as many sweeties as possible inside and wrapped it in….yes, you guessed it, pink!


He was pretty chuffed and was very generous with Percy and Penny:)  Nik provided all the food, which was yummy pulled pork, rolls, chipped potatoes and her famous home-made coleslaw:


Oh, and the cake:


We had a really special time in prayer for C’s year ahead and the older ones watched a video, whilst Gary and Andy watched some football at my mum’s house and Nik and I chatted and tidied:)

On the Sunday we visited mum’s flat in Folkestone:


She bought the flat a few years ago and has slowly been doing it up for her (and us!) to use as a holiday home.  It was so lovely to see the result of all her hard work.  We popped down to the nearby beach for a quick wander and skimming of stones, before we made our way to her local shopping center for lunch and a bit of shopping:


and one with me:


The shopping center was like no other shopping center we had ever been to before, and so inexpensive.  Gary and I bought ourselves a sign each to go on our different sides of the shed.  Here’s mine, I couldn’t find his to take a photo:


I chose this one to remind us all to choose to do that which we love, always.  As a rare treat we gave the children £5 each to spend.  T didn’t spend his, L bought some jewellery making wire and a crochet hook; C bought a throw pillow with musical notation all over it; A7 bought a science set whilst B5 bought some colouring pens and a colouring in book:


I had to laugh when A decided she wanted to do some activities from the science kit and the first one she chose was to make a realistic poo.  Yes, I was so proud:)


That’s the poo sitting in its mold, hardening in front of her.  She also made some eye balls and some zits:


Monday morning we decided to have an impromptu picnic to finish up the left over chocolate cake and ice cream from the party (I know, hard, but someone has to do it):


Tuesday came and brought with it T’s open day and interview for a day release Engineering program at the local college.  He got to make a tool and a name tag and he came away so excited about his future.  The program will run every Tuesday for two years and he will end up with a BTEC level 2.  It is practical based rather than writing and exam based, which I am sure will suit T down to the ground.  We will hear whether or not he has been accepted in a few weeks time.

The older ones held a video night with their friends on Tuesday night, but spent a lot of their time together plotting how they can have a sleepover in our new teen nook.  There are many ideas floating about…..

S15 joined us the next day, and the ‘Choir Squad’ as they call themselves have all decided to start a band.  They have renamed themselves ‘Harmonic Conversion’.  There will be five members, all girls bar T.  S will play piano or drums or flute…basically any instrument necessary – she is very talented; T will play the guitar; L will sing and C will sing or play the bongos.  They spent the entire afternoon trying to decide what their first song would be, and I think when they emerged from T’s room (where the piano is kept) they still hadn’t actually agreed on anything!  It was so much fun listening to them try out a variety of songs though:


I had to snap the following photo because it was a sight I thought I would never see:


A7 voluntarily reading her book!  Over the past few days, B5 has seemed to need lots and lots of cuddles, so at night-time instead of me reading a bed time story, A7 has been reading her book on the top bunk out loud whilst I have been snuggling on the bottom bunk with my cutiepie five-year old.  The story has grabbed her attention, she is up to chapter 21 (!) and she is now reading whenever she has the chance:)

After weeks and weeks of telling me she wants to be an artist, B5’s wish has come true.  We are reviewing an art curriculum and she has been drawing a cat.  I think she has done a great job:


Next, she will be learning all sorts of techniques for shading and colouring in.  I have promised I will buy a frame and frame it and hang it on the wall.  She is just a little bit excited:)

Last but not least, I wanted to share a photo of the collage our youth group has been working on lately.  We have been spending a few weeks looking at who we are in God.  I intend to write a full post about it, but suffice it to say they have blown Gary and I away with their creativity, song writing skills and team work:


I have a free printable to go with it, and when I have figured out this whole YouTube thing I will, with their permission, play the song they wrote (it is written in the sleeves of Jesus’ garments).  So blessed to be working beside these incredible teens:)

Well, that’s it for this week.  I hope you all have a wonderful weekend full of love and laughter❤

Weekly Wrap-Up

From a Tiny Acorn Mighty Oaks Grow


A week or so ago I was in the kitchen creating some sedimentary rock with bones buried or half buried inside (like you do).  In order to create one of the layers I needed to mix some earth with the plaster.  I popped outside to find some and came across a pot with some lovely compost, on top of which sat what I thought was a weed.

Happily I began mixing until T14 yelled through the window, ‘Hey, who’s stolen my compost?!’  ‘And where’s my special plant?’

Uh oh!  Ooops.  Looking suitable chastened, I admitted it was me.  I explained that I hadn’t known it was a plant (actually I had known it was a plant (of course) but thought it was a weedy one and therefore of no use).  Telling him I had dumped it out in the flower bed, he indignantly fetched it:


It turns out that whilst he was doing one of his gardening jobs, he had come across a little acorn beginning its growth to a mighty oak.  He thought it would be perfect to show his little sisters how oaks grow from an acorn as it included a tiny root system as well as a stem and leaf:


I turned to hug him as I wondered how many other 14 year old boys would, not only be considering their little sisters’ education, but also care enough to transport the little plant home on their bike.  The man he works for lives a 60 minute bike ride away.  It warmed my heart as I thought about how much care he would have taken to ensure the tiny plant’s safety.  And I had nearly ruined it all by tossing it aside😦

But A7’s response warmed my heart even more.  She was so excited!  She examined the plant, fetching her science kit and magnifying glass to get a really good look, and then began packing a bag:


In her bag she placed a trowel, the plant and a bottle of water, telling Gary and I that she would be replanting it during our evening walk in the woods.  That night she lifted her bag and her camera and off we went:


She tried to find earth that was soft, but also out-of-the-way so her little plant would not get trodden on.  She tried a few different places:


until Gary came across the perfect position:


He helped her dig a hole large enough, she then popped her little oak in the hole:


and filled in the earth around it:


And even though it had been raining just a few hours before, she watered it with her bottle of water:)


I feel so utterly blessed by my family.  A thoughtful gift for a much loved sister, which brought her so much joy, is a true blessing in deed.  ❤

Review of Science Shepherd


Science Shepherd ReviewAs you all know, my seven-year old daughter wants to be a scientist when she grows up.  She really does love all things science, so when we were given the opportunity to review the Introductory Science program from Science Shepherd, I jumped at the chance!  A7 and I have been enjoying their daily lessons ever since.

What is Introductory Science?

Capture Capture 2

Introductory Science is a Bible and creation-based, complete 35 week science curriculum aimed at elementary students (ages 6-11).  This is a video course which includes:

  • On demand short (2-5 minutes long) teaching videos
  • A student book, which comes in two levels A and B depending on the age of your student.  We used student book A for A7.
  • An answer book
  • Many hands-on activities are included in the student work book and demonstrated in the videos

The Video Component of Introductory Science

I have to be honest, when I watched the first video I thought A7 would probably find it a bit dry.  Dr Hardin presents the topics from behind what looks like a news desk, using graphics to add to the information he is reading from an auto-cue:


The first set of videos talked about creation, and having covered that multiple times I wasn’t sure it would hold A7’s rather renowned tenuous attention.  I could not have been more wrong.  A adored this curriculum from the word go, and very enthusiastically completed the work book assignments each day.

Introductory Science covers an enormous amount over 35 weeks:

  • The Truth of God’s word (week 1 and 2)
  • Science Skills and tools (week 3)
  • Earth Science: Meteorology (week 4, 5 and 6)
  • Earth Science: Geology (week 7, 8 and 9)
  • Earth Science: Oceanography (week 10)
  • Life Science: Plants (week 11, 12 and 13)
  • Earth Science: Astronomy (week 14 and 15)
  • Life Science: Underwater Creatures (week 16 and 17)
  • Life Science: Flying Creatures (week 18, 19 and 20)
  • Life Science: Land Creatures (week 21, 22 and 23)
  • Life Science: Human Beings (week 24 and 25)
  • Life Science: Be Healthy (week 27)
  • Life Science: Ecology and Natural Resources (week 28 and 29)
  • Physical Science: Matter (week 30 and 31)
  • Physical Science: Energy (week 32 and 33)
  • Physical Science: Motion (week 34)
  • Physical Science: Magnets (week 35)

I always sat and watched the videos with her, and as time went on, I could definitely see the appeal.  They were straightforward, authoritative, always backed up by scripture, and importantly they were really thorough.  During the second week A7 learnt about the experimental method:


I knew she was taking it on board because later on in the week she began setting up her own experiments, but it wasn’t until we hit the Meteorology lessons that I really appreciated what a gem this course actually is.  Dr Hardin does not water down this topic at all, and even though I have a Bachelor of Science degree there was lots I didn’t know.  Again, he presents it in such a way that it was easy for my seven-year old to understand, yet in-depth enough to hold my attention.

During weeks 4, 5 and 6 the focus is on meteorology and Dr Hardin effortlessly covers atmosphere, weather, precipitation, water cycle, temperature, seasons, storms, thunder, lightening, wind, tornadoes, hurricanes and the Great Flood.  We are only half way through these but have learnt so much!

The Activity Component of Introductory Science

In addition to the teaching videos, there are extra activity videos.  These activities are carried out by his twin daughters, and are very easy to replicate at home:


In fact, these videos ensure we always do the activities which go with the theory each week, because once A has seen an activity she nags me until she has done it, and if I am really struggling for time she simply copies the girls in the video and carries out the activity herself!

She has observed how condensation forms using iced water in a metal can and compared it to a can filled only with warm water.


The water vapour in the air turns to water vapour as it touches the cold tin can.  This showed A that air contains water:



We also observed how cold naturally does not like to mix with warm.  We needed some blue dyed ice and some red food dye along with a see through container containing warm water:


A7 added the ice cubes to one end and the red food dye to the other:


Immediately the ice began to melt and the blue coloured water moved towards the bottom of the container.  The red food dye began to spread out also:


As the cold blue met with the warm red they avoided mixing as the cold blue stayed at the bottom of the container whilst the warm red moved above the blue:


A7 was then able to understand that the winds cause the cold air and the warm air to mix (which they do not like to do) and that this is how storms are formed in the skies.

The practicals were probably A7’s favourite part and they were pitched at the perfect level for her.

The Work-book Component of Introductory Science

The final part of the course is the student work book.  We received Work-book A for younger students.  A7 finds this very easy to do by herself, and given the quality of the teaching I was a little disappointed by the simplicity of the workbook questions.  They are often true or false, and do not require too much out of A7 in terms of thinking.  For A, though, this has been wonderful because she assumes she is finding it easy because she is so good at science!  I haven’t had the heart to tell her any different😉

Our thoughts on Introductory Science

This is a deceptively good science program.  It is incredibly thorough for an introductory curriculum; it holds my seven-year old’s attention; she finds it interesting and is eager to do it each day.  What I particularly like, though, is just how well Dr Hardin explains sometimes tricky phenomena.  I know she understands completely because, when Daddy gets home each night, she explains clearly and concisely all she has learnt, whether it be how storms are created, or why we have seasons.  She loves it all and I am left wishing the older children had used it as well.

Twitter –  https://twitter.com/scienceshepherd


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