Tuesday, May 31, 2016

CREW REVIEW---> Essential Skills Advantage: Complete Home Suite

Essential Skills Advantage ReviewOver the past couple months, we had the chance to review the Complete Home Learning Suite from Essential Skills Advantage. This is a supplemental, computer based curriculum program for all core subjects, for children in k-6th! 

Let's do a quick over view of what the Complete Home Learning Suite from Essential Skills Advantage is:
    Essential Skills Advantage Review
  • Over 14,000 online lessons for grades K-6
  • Reading, Language, and Spelling activities
  • Math
  • Science
  • Geography
  • Interactive
  • Grades
  • Charts
  • Record Keeping
     So, you sign up, you get an account and you make one for whichever children you will be having use it.  I had A10b and J9b using it.  Both of them have used all of the other online learning (and specifically reading) programs we have had the opportunity to review and then some, and both boys are able to give great feedback!   
Upon investigating this program prior to reviewing, I really liked that the program encompassed more than just reading.  Having the other subjects makes for more well rounded supplemental work in all areas and gives extra areas where both boys can work on reading skills but not as a reading program.  (for those of you wondering why I have a 9 and 10 year old still working on reading, it is because both have minor dyslexia tendencies and are extremely right brained- that's the short answer).
     We got their accounts set up and then.... well then we were all kind of at a loss. This was just not the program for us and I almost feel bad that I don't have a more glowing review.   So, I should probably state that we are very use to a certain easy approach to online or digital programs.  Here it is:
  1. log in
  2. programs puts you where you should be
  3. you do that lesson
  4. it saves your stuff
  5. re-peat
     Anything that doesn't really function like that, we are kind a like, "oh heck-no tech-no"!  We just really like things very streamlined.  This was not like that at all.  

     Everytime my boys logged in they had to chose a subject, grade and/or program.  After picking all of those, you have more menu's, and more choices, and more clicking.  My boy's had no clue "what was supposed to come next".  It was more of a "choose what you want" but that proved to be problematic.  Plus!  They might be at a 4th grade level in one part of LA but maybe a 2nd with another part.  This program had no type of systematic learning scale.  This made my boys feel very frustrated.
     I wish I could have plugged in their settings and where I wanted them so that it was simple but there was no way to do that so each and everytime you had to go through all the pointing, clicking, and choosing.

A10 working on spelling.  
      The material was presented in a very bland and "computer-ish way".  The voice used did not sound like a regular person but more like a guy "siri".  Very..... cold and computer-y even though it was a real human voice.  Also, the recording of the talking was very scratchy, or airy-like.  Like a home recording on a cassette tape!  Yup, that's what it reminds me of!

     There was no real teaching!  I am assuming this is because it is a "supplemental program" designed originally for public schools, regardless,  a brief over-view of the skill would have been nice.  
     I was very surprised that there was not more explanation for the lessons and that even down on the K-3rd level a lot of the material was presented as "read this and choose the answer".  
     Now, I realize that my 2 middle boys are not strong in reading skills (A10 reads fluently at a 6th grade level but content and length wear him out.  J9 reads fluently at about 2nd grade but also sturggles with content and length) BUT, even for a normally literate K-3rd grader, I could see some, if not most of them, being very frustrated; especially the younger ones. 
      For instance:  In the Kindy Program there is a "Books and More" section.  The very first thing they show you is a
cartoon-ish picture of a book with details like the author, illustrator, etc.  and "The Voice" tells you to read the question and choose an answer.  I have included a picture so you can see the page.  My kids would have had a VERY hard time with this.  Even my daughter who was reading at 3 1/2 would have had a hard time with the word "picture". 
     Maybe I have had too many dyslexic tendency kids in a row, but that still seems a bit much for kindergarten!  Maybe it's me though, maybe it's me...

     I was also a little muffed by the fact that the program boast the other subjects but in science and geography there was not much material and, again,  little-to-no teaching of the material.  It was just questions and answers.  If you did not cover that material yet, your kids would be at a loss.  But even at that, this program only had K-3rd for science and 4-6th for geo.  Not a lot of flexibility there.  

     What I wanted: 
      I wanted them to start the program, have the 
system figure out where they were and then peg them in.

A10 is not impressed. 
     This can at least be done with LA and Math.  I think Sci and Geo probably has more of a "start and finish" kind of a thing, maybe different content per grade or something.  I will say though that once you complete something, it does show that you have done that lesson and there is good record keeping for you to look it.  My problem was that they didn't build off each other, it was all so... random.
J9 looking VERY overwhelmed.  He was asked to read all
of that and decide which things were "living".  This was in the
3rd grade level.  J9 has minor dyslexia and gets overwhelmed
when there is a lot of reading to do.

     I gotta give it to my two boys, though, they plugged away despite the fact that they really did not like the program at all.  They did it because it was required for this review but they did not have fun doing it.  I actually felt really bad that I needed them to continue to use the program despite the fact that none of us were liking it.  It was a good lesson for them in character, if not anything else.

     What can I say that is nice?  
     Well..... I think if you are a public schooler that this would most likely work better.  It's all supplemental and would most likely align with the schools wants/expectations.

J9 doing math.  He liked the math alright but then again he
is far above grade level in math.
     I did poke around at the levels below my boys in order to see if they were more systematic.  I thought the reading program was ok.  The graphics were nice enough.  But, I wouldn't choose it over another program that we use and love.

Displaying WP_20160531_08_50_54_Pro.jpgOkay, I DID LIKE the record keeping.  I am primarily an audio learner and secondarily a visual learner.  I loved being able to click into the parental control and see the progress report.  In one easy sweep of the eye I knew what they had done, succeeded or failed at, and what day/time they worked in the program.  Very nice!

Overall:  Well, I think you all know that this was just not our cup of tea.  If you are curious about the program still, I would look at other reviews as different people definitely have different opinions.  There are many of us on the Review Crew and so you will have no problem getting other perspectives.  This is just my honest review of our experience- others (yours) could be very different =)

To check out more from Essential Skills Advantage, find them on social media and/or click on the Schoolhouse Review Crew link to read more reviews!
Social Media Links:
Twitter @SkillsAdvantage
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Essential Skills Advantage Review
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Thursday, May 26, 2016

Co-Op Party

     Last week we had our end of the year co-op party (HYPE: Homeschooling Youth Partnering in Education).  Our "co-op" is actually an enrichment group because I dislike "co-op's".  I co-run our enrichment group so it is designed to run and function in a way that I actually like.
     Our classes are educational but non-academic.  We do not require anyone to teach/serve but, of course, we do not run without it.  We run for 12 weeks in the fall and 12 in the spring, which is perfect!  It's a three hour program so no one gets burned out.  It is lovely =)
     Anyway, I just wanted to share the posters my kids made to depict their school year at HYPE.  Each child in our group makes a poster and then it is on display during our end of the year party.  We are always sad when HYPE is over for the year and look forward to it starting again in the fall.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Spring Chicks

  Spring Chicks

They chirp and they flap
Little white wings moving in the sun.

They stomp their little legs
and peck with their little orange beaks


They're getting bigger everyday
They'll soon be fully grown

They will be too big for their little crate
and will claim the hen-house for their home

Hannah Corey

Thursday, May 12, 2016

{Crew Review} ARTistic Pursuits Inc. HIGH SCHOOL 9-12 BOOK ONE

ARTistic Pursuits Inc. Review
  My oldest daughter is a VERY TALENTED artist and I love being able to find things to help her hone in on her skills!  I have been very interested in ARTistic Pursuits Inc for quite sometime but wasn't sure if it would be something she'd liked.  I was very excited when I found out that we would get to review the HIGH SCHOOL 9-12 BOOK ONE from ARTistic Pursuits Inc.
     One of the things that always drew me to ARTistic Pursuits Inc. was the fact that they combined art history with art lessons.  This makes the curriculum so much more than just art instruction!  I decided that all three of my older kids would participate in this review.  That way you would get the perspective of an advanced artist and two beginners =)

First Things First:

     You are responsible to supply these- they do not come with the program.  However most of them are very basic things that one would have anyway.  Everything else can be purchased reasonably from a local store or AMAZON.

     It is suggested that you do 2 classes per week x 1 hour for each classes.  THIS IS DO-ABLE!
     The book will last 36 weeks, which is one school year.
     You can change this schedule, of course, to fit your family's needs.  The one thing I would suggest though, is that you have your student finish their project that day.  It can be hard to set it down and then come back to it and still have all the instruction fresh in their mind for application.

     This program is just a book.  There are no DVD's or online video's to look at (which was fine).
     At the beginning of the book there is a note  for parents and then another note for students. Just a little "before you start" that gives a little over view.
    The book is written FOR STUDENTS (which I love!)  and so the wording throughout the book is for them.  There is a pleasant rhythm to the wording and it reads clearly and enjoyably.
     This is a SELF-GUIDED program and I was not needed to provide any formal instruction!  (Loved this too!)
     Once the student has read the note to them and collected all their art supplies, they are ready to begin!


  •  Each lesson starts out with an overview of what the student will learning in that lesson, complete with a "try this" art exercise. 
  • You compare, discuss, appreciate, and consider art that shows these skills and elements. 
  • Then there is an art history lesson where they talk about famous artist's and their works.  
  • Lastly,  there is a follow up lesson with a little more technique instruction added in.



      Like I said earlier, my three oldest kids worked on this book together over the past couple months.  They have done a dozen projects and have enjoyed either all or parts of the program.  They have had some frustrations too.  It's been a true mixed review from them!

    We set aside 2x a week for them to be able to "art it up".   They would do the art history lesson together and then work on their projects seperately, but at the same time.   Here are their thoughts and some of their projects!

JO14b:  Beginner Artist:

"I thought that the art program was pretty fun.   There was some art lessons that were a little hard but other than that it was fine. I would recommend the art book to a person who is just starting to learn art or who has done art for a while, it works for both. 
    The reason why I liked it in some parts is because I got to use some creativity with some of the pictures and I liked shading, it was fun.
      I thought that the teaching was very helpful to me and after I read the directions I knew what to do and how to do it.  The art history lessons were pretty interesting too.  There wasn't too much information and I liked that things were in blocks and sections.  It made it not seem overwhelming.
     My art projects turned out good and I did feel like I got better as I did more projects.  We would read the lesson as a group, taking turns with the reading.  Then we would work on the art on our owns.  My favorite project was probably the dragon from Lesson #4 " 

H15G: Beginning Artist:
     "Well.... Okay, I liked the art history parts a lot.  I enjoyed learning about the different artist and looking at how the lesson applied to the art that was being featured. 
      I didn't really like the art instruction though.  Some parts of it were fun, but I didn't really find myself learning any technique. Basically they just told you what to do, and not how to do it. Some of the assignments were enjoyable, but a lot of them were annoying because I didn't know how to do anything.  I found myself getting frustrated and having to ask my older sister how to do things. 
      I would only recommend this program for more experienced artist who already know technique and just want to do it for art inspiration and a quick history lesson.   For a beginning artist though, especially one that does not have a natural knack for art, I would not recommend it at all."


     "I have a mixed opinion about this curriculum.  In regards to the historical teaching portion, I liked it very much!  I thought it was interesting, informative, and I appreciated the fact that it taught about the origin of the techniques, since many curriculum's don't.  I enjoyed learning about the different artist and I think they did a great job tying in the featured artist's artwork into the overall lesson. 
      However, when it came to the instruction part, I felt like it was lacking quite a bit of detail.  Minimum instruction is given in the actual art lesson.  Being it that I have art experience,  I really wanted a little more instruction than what was laid out.  At first, I thought maybe I was just being too critical because I know the basics but I saw my brother and sister struggle with the lack of clear and detailed art instruction too, so I know it wasn't just me. 
      The lack of detailed art technique did have one benefit, this aspect gave freedom to the artist themselves,to just kind of do it the way they wanted/interpreted the instructions.   Each of our pictures came our great and were unique to us. Still, overall though, the art lesson had me at a bit of a loss when it came to knowing exactly what I was supposed to be doing.   I didn't learn any new techniques and relied on the knowledge and skills I already had in order to best complete each lesson.
     In addition to this, what instruction was given wasn't always adequate, nor was it very sound.  For instance in Unit One: Lesson Two, on page 8, the student was given instruction to darken portions of their drawing by pressing harder onto the paper. I was actually quite shocked by the fact that this was instructed because it is common knowledge that pressing harder on paper flattens out the texture of it and if a mistake is made while using this technique, it will be quite impossible to fully erase it. So the lack of technical instruction and some bad techniques being taught left me very disappointing.
      Positives though were present!   I was actually very impressed by the variety of art history technique mentioned, art variety,  style, and mediums that were used.  I have never quite seen an art book that focuses on such an array of aspects in the art world, and thought that this particular feature was very satisfying (and I have read A LOT of art books!).  
     I thought their overall concept of trying to tie in so many different elements of art (history/vocabulary/skill) into one curriculum is a fantastic idea.  The concept was clear and the art instruction they did have was not wordy but simple to follow.
     If I were to recommend this to anyone, I would recommend it to kids/teens that tend to get overwhelmed with tons of instruction and just want more of an art experience.  Or anyone wanting to do art history with some do-it-yourself applications involved.
    In conclusion, I think the idea and aim that the curriculum has is phenomenal; I just don't think it was executed very well.  So for the serious art student, this would not be the best choice but for a beginner that just wants to learn some things, it's great!"  


     Well, I was a little sad that they didn't like it more.  I have been eyeing this program for soooo long that I had really high expectations. I love the concept of this art curriculum and really wanted it to be a "one-hit wonder".
      We have used other at-home art curriculum's so, not only am I well acquainted with this area, but I know my kids know what they are talking about when it comes to this review as well.  In the end, we all had positives and negatives to say about it but would still recommend the program over-all.
      I hope to maybe have the opportunity to try one of the younger programs in the future as I think this would probably work great for a younger age group that doesn't need so much art technique worked in but would still benefit from the history lesson parts.  For my older kids, something with better art instruction is definitely needed.
   There are things I did really like with this program though.  I liked that they could do it without me and that they had something to do together.   I also really liked the art history that was incorporated (we all loved that!).  I also appreciated the way the book was put together.  It was clear and easy to read/intake information.
     My kids did some amazing art while reviewing this program!  It was a great experience for them and they learned a lot along the way as well.  Over-all, it was a win!

Check out ARTistic Pursuits Inc.:

ARTistic Pursuits Inc. Review
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Monday, May 9, 2016

My FAVORITE cucumber salad

mmmmm- love this stuff!

      It's spring time and quickly leaving are the days of soups and stew.  My favorite (and the kids all like and eat it too) is a super yummy cucumber salad!
     I make a vat of this a week (or so it seems) and we et it throughout the week.  I have even mix pasta with it (for the kids) to spread it out as a cold pasta salad.  You can add chicken too for extra protein!  You really can't go wrong- it's sooooo good!
     I will say though that the initial recipe makes A LOT!  Also, you really can do just about any amounts of any of this and/or not include some of these ingredients and it will still turn our awesome. Be as creative as you want!  I have added quinoa to it before also!
       I don' even bother with the recipe anymore, I just chop stuff, throw it in a bowl, and eat!

Spring Time Cucumber Salad

  • 1 can (15 oz) chickpeas/garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1/4 red onion, slivered
  • 3 bell peppers of any color seeded and chopped
  • 2 cups of grape tomatoes, sliced
  • 1-3 cucumbers chopped
  • 4 stalks of celery chopped
  • a hand full of chopped Kale (I use prepped dino)
  • 1/4-1/2 cup feta cheese- really it's as much as you want
  • some shakes from the ole'salt and pepper shaker

  • 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil
  • juice of 2 lemons
  • 2 cloves of minced garlic
  • 2 tbs of fresh, chopped, parsley leaves

  1. Chop it all up and throw it in a bowl
  2. Prepare dressing by throwing it all in a bowl and mixing it.  (I use a stick mixer)
  3. pour dressing over everything and mix in
  4. EAT!

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Kwik Stix 12 pk -> REVIEW and GIVEAWAY!!! (no mess, no water painting stick)

      Well, howdy-ho!  My kids LOVE, like L.O.V.E. art.  I, on the other hand, cringe at the mess involved.  I was intrigued though, when I heard of a non-messy, no water needed, dries in 90 seconds, roll on paint!  Do I want to review it?  YES!!!!  Our family got to review the Kwik Stix 12 pk from The Pencil Grip, Inc. and let me just say, we ARE ALL LOVING these paints!
  (We also got a pencil grip for free to use!  I liked it so much I ordered a pack!)

     We love these painting sticks so much that we have a GIVEAWAY and a CRAFT for you at the end of this post!  But first, you need to know why we are so excited about these things over here!

Kwik Stix The Pencil Grip, Inc. Review
     Kwik Stix are a solid tempera paint that come in a tube much like a glue stick.  They are washable, non-staining, easy to use, and mess-less.  They leave a clean, no smear finish that is dry in 90 seconds or less.  To use them, you literally take the cap off, twist up if you need too, and start creating your masterpiece!

Heres more =)

     My kids started calling these "paint crayons" which I think is a pretty accurate description of them.  The paint tube is like a glue stick.  So if you need more "paint" you twist up. Then use them just like you would an over sized crayon. They feel kind of like a crayon and a chapstick had a baby. They roll on smooth and easily.  I guess, like a dry paint (is there such a thing?), dry in several blinks of the eye, don't run, smear, or seep.  In short.  They are amazing!
       The  Kwik Stix 12 pk come with a great variety of colors. The colors are bright and bold.  We love the way they look!  The creators, The Pencil Grip, Inc., say it leaves a "paint like finish", it's not quite paint like, in my opinion.  I am not really sure what it is.  It leaves a nice finish but it has almost a soft, textured look.

Using it:

     My kids have been using these on just about everything!  The "paint" goes on easily no matter the surface!  I was TOTALLY IMPRESSED that they could be used in coloring books with no "bleeding" onto the underside and no "wet-ness" either.

     It is easy for the younger kids to do on their own.  There is no frustration in using these and they are enjoyable to handle and create with.

     BIG KIDS LIKE IT TOO!  My older kids loved using them.  My 13 year old daughter said that they are one of her favorites now for art because the colors are beautiful and they are great for large "zentangle" designs.
      All of my kids have enjoyed using them in their homeschool journals and large painting papers as well.  They have a plethora of painted rocks, sticks, and paper plate masks around here too ;)
     I LOVE THESE THINGS SO MUCH that I bought the mega huge pack off amazon for the homeschool co-op I run.  We have used them on several occasions in art class with multiple ages  and stages of kids.  They are so fun for the kids to use and so easy!!!  I love that the whole clean up process is "put the lid on and put it away".  The fantastic masterpieces the kids create are my favorite but the easy clean-up is a close second ;)  No water, no paint brushes, no pallets to clean.  Super quick and clean!

PRO's and CON's:

Pro's are abundant!

  • easy to use
  • no mess
  • bright colors
  • lasts for a really long time
  • dry's in 90 seconds
  • doesn't bleed
  • doesn't run
  • doesn't smear
  • can be used on practically every surface
  • all kids like them
  • fun!
Con's (if there really is any)
  • The only one I could think of is that if you wanted it to have a true "paint" look, this is close but not exact.  If the child has painted pretty thickly then is does look super close to regular tempera paint, if its a lighter coat then you see more of the "texture".


     The Pencil Grip, Inc. is being very generous and have a a Kwik Stix 12 pk for me to give TO YOU!!!  Wanna win?  Of course you do!  Share this post on social media, #kwikstix, and comment here on the blog.  In one week, on 5/10, I will draw a name and we will have a winner!  Your Kwik Stix 12 pk will be shipped directly to you from The Pencil Grip, Inc. =)


Click on the links below to find out additional information about Kwik Stix.


  The Pencil Grip, Inc. also sent over a MOTHERS DAY CRAFT idea for you and me!  ENJOY!

Personalized Mother’s Day
Balloons & Cards

How To: 
Personalizing Balloons
*      Using an inflated balloon and Kwik Stix no-mess tempera paints. They dry in 90 seconds. Write your personalized message. Use phrases, names and draw pictures. 
*      Wait 90 seconds for the balloon to dry.
*      After it has dried, decorate the back of the balloon with the same design or something different.
Add A Card
*      Pair your balloons with a hand painted card.
*      The easiest way to make a card is to fold a piece of 8 ½” x 11” paper and decorate it. You can match the card to the balloons for an original gift for mom.

Kwik Stix are available on in a variety of colors. These balloons were made using a combination of assorted, neon and metalix colors.

Here’s what you’ll need:
ü    Kwik Stix
ü    White Mylar inflated balloons


Time: 15 – 30 minutes
The total time to do this complete craft will depend on how many balloons you make and the intricacy of the design.

Tips for a Successful Project:

Ø  Press lightly on the Kwik Stix when painting. It will give you more paint and richer color in one application. Depending on the material of the balloon, you may need to apply multiple coats. But remember, the trick is not to press hard.

Ø  Allow each side of the balloon to dry before continuing to paint.

Ø  Don’t write too far over to the edge. Keep your words centered so they are easily read after the balloon is inflated.

Ø  You can also paint on  uninflated balloons and inflate them later. This is great for party prep or a special group occasion. The paint will not spot or look any less colorful when the balloons are inflated.

And that’s all there is to it!
Happy Mother’s Day

Kwik Stix The Pencil Grip, Inc. Review
Crew Disclaimer