Saturday, August 30, 2014


I may be MIA for a little while.  This week all the kids and I have come down with some nasty bug.  So we are all feeling pretty miserable right now. :(  Just gota love the crazy weather that I isn't helping.  Everyone keeps getting sick when one day is in the 40's and the next the low 20's.  ARG!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Review ~ Essential Skills Advantage

Earlier this summer I was trying to decide what we would use for phonics and language arts this coming year.  Around that time I had the wonderful opportunity to review Essential Skills Advantage (ESA) and received a 1 year premium account for each of our children.


What Is Essential Skills Advantage?

ESA is an online interactive learning program designed for children in grades K to 6.  The learning program is made to work with children of all learning styles from visual, auditory and kinaesthetic.  For the past 10 years Essential Skills Advantage has been used in schools across North America and is now available to home users!


Using ESA

First you register and set up your parents account.  This program has two different logins, one for the parent and one for each of the children.  After your student accounts have been set up they can easily log in on their own.  The computer can save the parent login information, but the student logins are not saved.  I saved the student login URL so each of the kids could go directly to their login area and bypass the parent area.
Their home screen shows all of the available grade levels and once they click on the one they want to work on their login screen pops up.


Programs offered are:

  • Complete Reading for Kindergarten
  • Complete Reading for Grade 1
  • Complete Reading for Grade 2
  • Complete Reading for Grade 3
  • Fun With Spelling 1
  • Fun With Spelling 2
  • Fun With Spelling 3
  • Reading Comprehension 4
  • Reading Comprehension 5
  • Reading Comprehension 6
  • Vocabulary Builder 4
  • Vocabulary Builder 5
  • Vocabulary Builder 6
  • Spell Master Grade 4
  • Spell Master Grade 5
  • Spell Master Grade 6
  • Grammar Grades 3-5
  • Spelling Stumpers 1-5
  • Spelling Stumpers 5-9

I'm using ESA with our children age 5, 7 (just turned 7!), 8, 10 and 12.  I decided to start them off below grade level to allow them some "fun" practice and to get used to how the program works.  My 5 and 7 year olds were the first to get started and both started with the Kindergarten level.  Dd7 absolutely LOVES this ESA program!  From the moment I turned it on for her she was all giggles and often I heard "Look Mommy I got this right!"  and "This is so much fun!"

It starts off with easier games like click on the item of clothing.  Picking out different shapes and colours.  As you progress it moves into ordering the alphabet and clicking on pictures that match a beginning and ending sounds.
When a unit is finished they get a screen that shows a star with their score and a little cartoon dog dancing to some music.  This  always makes dd7 laugh.

Ds5 also enjoyed working in the K level and being younger it's a little more challenging for him.  Some of the activities he can easily do on his own, especially the earlier ones.  As the program progresses they were more challenging for him and either a big sister or myself would sit and help him when needed.

Screen shots from the Kindergarten program.

ESAKind1ESAKind2ESAKind3ESAKind4k-5 k-1 k-2 k-3 k-4

Dd's 8 and 10 I started in the Complete Reading for Grade 3.

  • Vocabulary Builder
  • Compound Words
  • Easily Confused Words
  • Figurative Language
  • Prefixes
  • Suffixes
  • Language and Grammar
  • Reading Comprehension
  • Spelling


They've worked through 40% of the grade 3 program in the past few weeks, and have had so much fun doing so.  Each of these sections open up into sub menus with the lessons.
We decided to start at the beginning and work straight through.


The stars under each blue tile represent the score.  When they have 3 stars they have finished the lesson unit.  A score over 80% earns a gold star anything under that is a silver star. At the bottom of the screen are numbers in little buttons to show how many pages of activities there are.  There are two sliders in the bottom right of the screen.  These show how much of the entire program they have completed and how much of their current unit has been completed.


When they are working in an activity there are small vertical bars under it.  The blue ones show questions that haven't been done yet.  If they get a question wrong it turns orange, if they get it correct it turns green.

3-2 3-1 3-rewards

When a unit is finished they get a screen that shows a star with their score. 


Our oldest dd12 is working in the Reading Comprehension Grade 6. I wasn't sure if she would enjoy this program or not since we've largely used a Charlotte Mason style program that focuses more on narration then reading comprehension questions. However dd has really been enjoying the program and has found it just the right challenge.  She often uses this program more then the 30 minutes a day that I asked of her.  Anytime I find a program that the kids want to use all the time I’m thrilled!


The 6th grade program focuses on reading comprehension.  The student has a story to read, words highlighted in blue can be clicked and it will read the word to them.  This  really helps children to understand harder words they might not have read before.  After this there is a number of activities that focus on the lessons taught in that story.

spell-master-6-2I love how they use shape boxes to help children match and spell words!  This has been a help for my daughters visual right brain  learning style.comp-6-3 comp-6-4 comp-6-5

What Do The Kid’s Think?

Dd8 I like everything! (LOL Well that’s easy isn’t it?!)

Dd10  It’s really good.  I like that it gives me 3 chances to get a question right.  It moves at a slower pace then other programs I’ve used so I don’t feel rushed and I learn more.

Dd12 I love the spelling because it has a lot of fun activities.  I really like the reading comprehension because I like to read and it teaches me about animals and science.  My favourite activity is unscrambling the spelling words.

What Do I Think?

I have to say I truly LOVE the Essential Skills Advantage program!  It’s an easy to use independent program.  I like this because having 6 little ones I can get pretty busy.  With this program the kids can easily work on their own and only occasionally need help to understand a question.  Most of the instructions are read out loud by the program and can be repeated by clicking on the ear symbol.  Our children have been really enjoying this program and I have seen an improvement in their spelling and reading already.  They’ve logged a lot of hours using this.  I originally only asked them to use it for 20 to 30 minutes 4 days a week, however they are often asking to  use it through out the day.  It’s funny because it’s not set up as a game style I expected they wouldn’t be as interested in the program but the opposite is the case.  I think because it’s less stimulating they are enjoying it more.  

I really like that children can work in different grade levels at the same time.  Maybe your child can read at a higher level then they can spell.  No problem just work at an earlier grade level in spelling or move a head if you find the work is to easy.

I also really like the parent portal area.  This area makes it easy to change your children's passwords and see what lessons they are working on also what has been completed.  It shows you how many attempts they took at the unit and how many attempts it took to obtain mastery.  It then shows their finished grade and the date the unit was last accessed.  They also offer downloadable certificates you can print and use as your child completes each unit.

ESA makes a great supplement to any K-6th language arts program!

How To Get ESA

ESA is a online subscription based program.  You can subscribe to the premium Essential Skills Advantage for $9.99 per month.  They offer a 14 day free trail to!  ESA is currently offering a discount code to reduce your monthly membership by 50% and this is good as long as you keep your subscription!  The discount code is TOS50 and it is good until October 1st, 2014.

ESA is also now running a FREE version of their program, called the basic plan.  It has a lot of the great content their premium plan has but is lacking some games and the record keeping.  You can find out more about the basic plan here.

To read more reviews of Essential Skills Advantage please click the banner below!



Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Review ~ UberSmart Math Facts

Math facts ah, this can be a topic of struggle in classrooms and homeschool families alike. I'm always on the look out for ways to help our children practice and master their math facts.  So I was excited to have the opportunity to review UberSmart Math Facts from UberSmart Software

ubersmartmathfacts_zps1d9ef10d (1)

What Is UberSmart Math Facts?

UberSmart Math Facts was created by David Kocur, a homeschool dad and computer programmer.  He created this program when he wasn't able to find a suitable math facts drill program for his children.  Amazingly after just a few months of uses his older children had mastered their addition, subtraction, multiplication and division facts!

UberSmart Math Facts is a downloadable Windows program to help children learn their math facts.  David Kocur has designed his program to help children succeed in learning math facts.  It is intended to teach facts one group at a time starting with adding 0's, then 1s etc.  This helps children to build confidence as they master one group at a time and gives them a good foundation to build on for the next fact group.   This math drill program is intended for grades K to 6.  However anyone needing extra math practice can use it.




The learning section in UberSmart Math Facts starts younger children with dot cards similar to dominos.  The intermediate section uses traditional style flashcards.  In this section the student is suppose to say the answer out loud then click the show button to see if they picked the correct answer.




In the practice section the student can also choice between flashcard or dot cards.  Now they are to enter the correct answer using the keyboard.




The test section gives the older students a chance to do a assessment test to see what math facts they are struggling with.  This can be a great time savings as if your already proficient in some areas, your time is best spent practicing facts you struggle with.

After the test is finished your student can pick what area they want to drill.  You can work on one set of facts as a time or on all facts.  In addition to the learning and practicing your student can compete.  They can race to complete a section of drill problems in a set amount of time.

In the settings you can change the amount of time aloud to answer problems.  Another option is to increase the facts from 12 x 12 to 20 x 20.

UberSmart Math Facts is intended to be an independent program used by the student so a helpful reporting section is included.  In this area you can view what facts your child has been practicing.  It also shows you what your student has mastered and what they need to keep working on.  The chart can also be used by the child to see how they are doing.  UberSmart Math Facts uses different coloured smiley faces to mark the facts that need more work and ones have have been mastered.


How To Get UberSmart Math Facts

UberSmart Math Facts offers a 30 day free trial.  This is great to test out the program to see if it is a good fit for your children.
UberSmart Math Facts cost $24.95 for a family licence.  A family licence lets you run the program on all the computers in your home.  Each install allows for up to 8 student profiles.


System Requirements

UberSmart Math Facts is a Windows program.  It will run on Windows 8, 7, Vista and XP.


How We Used UberSmart Math Facts

I've been using this program with our 4 oldest children ages 12, 10, 8 and 7.  In this group there is a wide range of abilities from just learning math facts to children struggling to remember them after practicing for some time.  We used the program 4 days a week.  I started by having the older children take the assessment test then started them on the facts that they needed to practice the most.  The younger children I started at the beginning to let them practice and master the foundation facts.  They used this program for about 15 minutes a day to drill their facts.

Some of my children really enjoyed using this program.  Because it's not a bells and whistles game style it was not distracting or over stimulating for them.  While some of our other children really found the lack of visuals a hold back for their learning style.  Over all I've enjoyed using this program! It lets me easily keep up with math facts drilling for our family.  I love the reporting charting lets me see what areas have been mastered and what our children might need more help with.
One program option that I really loved was the ability to increase the time allowed for each question.  This helped to relive the pressure of having to rush to answer a problem that some children struggle with.

UberSmart Math Facts will continue to be a math drill program for our children that we use weekly.  I would recommend this software for anyone looking for a simple and easy to use math drill program.

To read more reviews of UberSmart Math Facts by the Schoolhouse Crew click the banner below!



Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Review ~ Happy Kids Songs

Our family loves music and our children are always singing or humming a tune as they go about their work and play.  So I'm always on the look out for great music programs for them.  I was excited to have the opportunity to review song sets from Happy Kids Songs.  I received three sets to use Friends & Sharing, Happiness & Attitude and Manners & Character.   Along with these I received Happy Kids Songs Workbook: Hands-on Activities to Build Character, Social & Emotional Skills.

Happy Kids Songs Review

Who Is Happy Kids Songs?

Happy Kids Songs is run by Don MacMannis and Brian Mann.

Dr. Mac aka Don MacMannis is a singer, songwriter and producer of children's music.  You might be familiar with his work as he was the music director and songwriter for the hit PBS series Jay Jay the Jet Plane.  He has won many awards for his song writing talents.  He is also a family and child psychologist.
Brian Mann is a songwriter and partner with Dr. Mac.  Brian has been writing and performing music since the age of 4!

Happy Kids Songs has produced 8 albums.

  • Friends & Sharing
  • Social Skills & Bullying
  • Feelings & Fears
  • Practice & Success
  • Talking & Listening
  • Manners & Character
  • Happiness & Attitude
  • Respect & Responsibility

I received 3 sets to use and review, they are Friends & Sharing, Happiness & Attitude and Manners & Character.  Each of these contain 5 songs.

Happy Kids Songs Friends-Sharing-CD

Friends & Sharing

Sailing on the Seven Cs ~ This song is about the ingredients of friendship.  It mentions caring, consideration, commitment, communication, concern, curiosity and cooperation.  It doesn't teach about each of these things, it only mentions them as being important to friendship.

Everybody Wants to Find a Friend ~ This song teaches that everyone wants a friend and that to  make friends you just need to reach out to others.

Sharing Friends ~ This song teaches that it is ok when your friends want to play with other friends.  It tries to help with the feelings of being the "odd one out".

Happy as Happy Can Be ~ This song is about how friendship makes you happy and it feels good to be with a friend.

Together ~ This is similar to Happy as Happy Can Be in that it deals with friendship.  Except that this song tries to teach children that even when your not with your friend your still best friends.

This is a music video of the song Together.   Audio samples of Friends & Sharing can be previewed on their site.


Happy Kids Songs Happiness-Attitude-CD

Happiness & Attitude

Shake It Out and Dance ~ This song is about trying to give things a chance before you decide you can't do something.

Who Knows What's a Kudo? ~  This song is about how to give a complement and noticing good things in other people.

I Don't Understand ~ Is a song about how to handle limitations and that it's okay to ask questions to learn new things.

Be Good to Yourself ~ This song is about being kind to yourself and saying good things to yourself and others.

Better Together ~ This is another song about how it's nicer to be with a friend.

Samples of Happiness & Attitude.

Happy Kids Songs Manners-Character-CD

Manners & Character

H-o-n-e-s-t-y ~  As it's title says this song is about how it's important to tell the truth and shares the reasons why.

The Magic Word ~ This song is about saying please when asking for things.

Quirks ~  This song is about learning to appreciate the differences in other people.

The Golden Rule ~  This song is about teaching consideration for other people.  It tries to teach that we shouldn't name call and tease people.

Six Little Kids ~ This song uses a story of little children feeling different parts of an elephant and having to guess what they are feeling.  It is about how people have different perspectives.

Samples of Manners & Character.

happy kids songs workbook We also received the Happy Kids Songs Workbook: Hands-on Activities to Build Character, Social & Emotional Skills.  It is 128 pages long, the first part of the book contains the song lyrics as well as coloring and activity pages for the 40 songs. The activity pages include drawing activities and mazes the type of activity you would expect from a children's workbook. The back section of the book is for parents and teachers and contains a collection of activities to do with children to help reinforce the message of the songs. 
The workbook pages are reproducible!


How Did We Use Happy Kids Songs?

I wasn't sure how our children would react to these songs.  While we do listen to some children's music, we largely listen to a wide variety of adult music.  I started off by playing the songs while the kids were doing chores and later added some to our circle time.  Our older children (ages 8, 10 and 12) felt the songs were a little to "young" for them, but our 7 year old loved them!  Our youngest age 5 was fairly neutral on the songs.  Just not his style I guess.


What Do I Think Of Happy Kids Songs?

Happy Kids Songs are well written and preformed professional songs.  We enjoyed some of the songs, but I think it’s important to mention they are not Christian based songs.  While they teach good manners and try to instil good character I believe that you need to take it further and teach WHY God teaches these things.  I do think that many of these songs would be a good introduction to a character study.  I didn't find anything offensive in the songs that I listened to and it is nice to have "clean" songs for little ones to play!  I think these would be a good fit for anyone looking for early childhood songs in daycare and kindergarten groups.  They will continue to be part of our younger children's music mix, since dd7 enjoys them so much.

You can buy each album containing 5 songs for $4.95 or download the songs individually for .99.  Each song has free downloadable activity pages.  The Happy Kids Songs Workbook: Hands-on Activities to Build Character, Social & Emotional Skills is $12.56.   Happy Kids Songs are intended for children ages 4 to 8.

To read reviews from other Crew members for Happy Kids Songs, please click the banner below.



Monday, August 18, 2014

Review ~ Wizzy Gizmo's Audio Drama One: Who Created Everything?

As a Christian mom I'm always on the look out for great resources to help teach our children about God and his creation.  So I was excited to have the opportunity to review Wizzy Gizmo's Audio Drama One: Who Created Everything?

Wizzy Gizmo review @  

Who Is Wizzy Gizmo?

Wizzy Gizmo is a company that produces amazing products for children. There is a series of books, Bible audio dramas and flashcards.  All are Bible based!

But who really is Wizzy Gizmo?  He's a cool inventor who creates a variety of interesting gadgets and uses them to help children explore the Bible.


What is Wizzy Gizmo's Audio Drama One: Who Created Everything?

In this audio drama Wizzy Gizmo has created an amazing invention "Gizmovision".  It is an invention that takes any book and recreates a life like world inside of a bubble.  This brings the story to live in that you can touch, taste, feel and see the story as if you were right there when it happened.

When the story starts you are introduced to Eli, a new child in town.  He meets some friendly neighbourhood children who take him to see an inventor Wizzy Gizmo.  Wizzy Gizmo loves to create all kinds of cool things like dancing toasters! 

But the children can't wait to try out Wizzy Gizmo's new invention Gizmovision!  Their first trip takes them back to the beginning of time.  The children, Wizzy Gizmo and some silly animals watch through each day of creation in the first chapter of Genesis.  Each day you hear the words of the Bible and the children use all their senses to observe what they are surrounded by.  From the darkness to light to the creation of birds, fish, animals the children can watch and explore and ask all the questions little ones often do!
At the end of the story there is a "Giz Quiz" that a few questions are asked to the children to answer.  Then there are a number of songs to play.

Wizzy Gizmo's Audio Drama One: Who Created Everything?  Is suggested for ages 4 to 12, but I'm sure that younger children would love it to!  You can listen to a sample here on their website.  The story is about 35 minutes long but with the songs and bonus tracks the CD runs close to an hour long.
The CD is available for $14.99. 


What Did We Think?


Our children absolutely LOVED Wizzy Gizmo!  We listened to it with our children ages 5, 7, 8, 10 and 12.  From the moment it started they were completely captivated by it.  Through out the story there are also a number of songs that they enjoyed.  I've lost count at how many times these have been these have been replayed.  Our son just loved that they included the dinosaurs in the creation story!  This is left out in so many books and videos, but as a real dino kid he loved to hear the big "boom" sound as the dinosaurs walked around.  He jumped right up and started stomping around with them.
They've been asking for the other audio dramas (not yet made) and books, so I'm thinking these might make some great gifts this coming year.


To connect with Wizzy Gizmo on social media:


To read more reviews of Wizzy Gizmo's audio drama and other products please click the banner below!



Friday, August 15, 2014

A Late Summer Nature Walk & Blood Moon

Last Sunday it was a very hot day I was so glad there was a strong breeze to help cool us down.  We decided to hold off on our hike until after supper as it would be much cooler.  We had a wonderful time and I thought I would share some photos.


Virginia creeper starting to turn purple.

Virginia creeper starting to turn purple.

caterpillar cocoon

Caterpillar cocoon, I don't know what this one is.

Evening hike in the woods

The edge of the woods near sunset.

Evening hike in the woods

Evening trees and medow

river and logs

kid's hiking

kid's hiking 2




blue flowers

feeding a silver phesant             

Feeding a silver pheasant.

baby girl

Baby girl almost a sleep.


hydrangia flowers

Hydrangea flowers

park slide 

Play time!


Blood Moon   Blood Moon

 Blood Moon

Just as we were leaving the park the blood moon started to become visible!  The kid’s thought  it was amazing to see.  We missed the other ones this year because it was cloudy.




Blood Moon, love this one behind our trees.

Blood Moon, love this one behind our trees.

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