Tuesday, April 14, 2015

REVIEW: Orphs of the Woodlands by Star Toaster

After asking me and asking me about it for weeks, my 5th grade daughter was beyond excited to get to play Orphs of the Woodlands by Star Toaster!



Orphs of the Woodlands is an online educational adventure program that combines a reading adventure with academic treasure and a rewarding game.  The series is about a squirrel who is a spy and helps defend the orphs against Night Creatures. 

Throughout the story, there are lessons in math, science, grammar, vocabulary, thinking skills, character, life skills, the arts, and much more.  At the end of each chapter, the spy works at “jobs” in order to earn pay in the form of “goldstars” that are used to build a settlement for the orphs and care for them.  The jobs they perform are designed to build essential skills.

Parents can access a Skills Page that shows what your child is learning and how they are performing.

Watch a video about the program, and consider giving the program a try with a free trial.  You can purchase a 60-day subscription for up to 3 children for just $19.99, and you can extend your subscription by an additional 30 days for just $6.99 if your children need more time to complete the story.  The program is recommended for children in 4th-7th grades.



The current “book” available for Orphs of the Woodlands is called The Treasure of HighTower, which has a total of 15 chapters.  Other books in the series will be available in the near future. 

The premise is that you are a squirrel spy who tries to help the orphs survive attacks by the Night Creatures, and then subsequently help them build a settlement that you then have to sustain. 

Haylee logged in and got right to work.  It started out by having her complete a job application.  That was pretty clever.  Then she began reading the story.  Throughout the story, certain vocabulary words were shown in gold, allowing her to point the mouse at those words in order to open up a pop-up box that would define the words for her without leaving the story.  The first chapter was about 30 pages long, so it involved a fair amount of reading before she could get to any of the jobs at “Ivythwaite.”  She persevered, though, so she could get to fun stuff and managed to do it in one sitting. 

While we were reviewing the program, they added a convenient page counter that tells you how many pages remain in your current chapter.  That was really helpful and motivating for her to know how much more reading she needed to do before she’d get to the jobs.  That first chapter explained about becoming a spy and set up the rest of the story.

Then the jobs section appeared.  This section gradually expanded with the completion of each chapter.  She could select jobs in math, science, language, vocabulary, thinking skills, character, life skills, and the arts.  For each job she completed well, she earned goldstars.  With these, she could buy homes and villages for the orphs, bring more orphs to the woodlands, and buy supplies for their care.  She could also click on the map in order to build projects.  If she didn’t do well on a given job, then she would not earn goldstars.  She could repeat the jobs she had not successfully completed, but she could not earn goldstars for them, even if she did them correctly the second time through.  I think an area for improvement would be to allow a child to earn goldstars once they’ve completed the job correctly, even if it’s not the first attempt. 

Whenever she had earned plenty of goldstars and was ready to move on, she would continue to the next chapter.  Then this cycle was repeated with each chapter.  At any point, she could click on the timeline in order to see the numbers and titles of all of the chapters, as well as an indicator showing where she was currently working on that timeline.  That way, she could keep track of how many of the 15 chapters she had read and how many remained.

The jobs were really cute.  She chose a lot of jobs in the life skills section, which taught her a lot about cooking.  She got lots of recipes, which she could copy and paste elsewhere so she could print them out.  The one thing I wish they would change is opening up so many jobs and allowing her to randomly choose from them herself.  It made it too easy for her to avoid doing any jobs for subjects she dislikes, like math, for instance.  I would rather see it open up jobs in succession, following a suggested order or progression before unlocking additional jobs in order to ensure that she is doing a variety of types of lessons. 

There was so much subject matter covered in the jobs section.  In the math category, there were lessons on things like place value, reading large numbers, decimals, algebra, mean/median/mode, lines and angles, perimeter/area/volume, circles, etc.  In the science category, there were topics like acidity and ph, lever and fulcrum, general animal facts, and lessons on specific types of animals.  In the language category, there were lessons on Latin, capitalization, homonyms, sentences/fragments/run-on sentences, and commas.  In the vocabulary category, there were lessons on synonyms and word families.  The thinking skills category covered memory work and fact vs. opinion.  The character section included lessons on inspirational quotes.  The life skills category covered things like cooking, baking, and nutrition.  This was Haylee’s favorite category.  The arts category covered things like tessellation, color, design, octaves, coil pottery, and circular loom.  As you can see, the jobs cover a lot of ground!  And Haylee can review any of the material for “training” before answering the questions on a particular topic.

Haylee was so very excited to try out this program.  She spent so much time on it the very first day and was plowing her way through.  After that, though, her enthusiasm seemed to wane, and I had to prod her to keep going.  She’s not a typical homeschooled kid, though, as she is not enthusiastic about learning in general.  I have to provide a lot of variety to motivate her, and I never know what will work and what won’t.  Don’t let her reaction deter you from giving this program a try, though, because I think it could be a great fit for a lot of kids, with learning embodied within a fun adventure.  Personally, I know I would have enjoyed a game of this nature when I was a kid, and I think my younger child would enjoy it when he is old enough.

Take a look at what other Crew members had to say about Orphs of the Woodlands by clicking the banner below.