Thursday, April 16, 2015

Star Toaster Orphs of the Woodlands Review

My children and I had the privilege of testing out Orphs of the Woodlands for Star Toaster free for this review to use in conjunction with my own homeschool curriculum. This is a Schoolhouse Review Crew Review. All opinions expressed are my own or those of my family.

The Orphs of the Woodlands is a fun online adventure game for 4th through 7th graders with over 300 lessons. Within this game is an interactive online book called The Treasure of HighTower. This game teaches lessons in math, science, reading, language, grammar, vocabulary, character values, thinking skills, life skills, the arts, etc. There are fun links, popups, recipes, rollovers, memory games, videos, flash cards, and more throughout the online education to further the learning in an interactive way. After each chapter there is a review to help remember skills learned. Then jobs can be completed as fun tasks to get "paid" rewards of gold stars to help orphaned woodland creatures (Orphs of the Woodlands).

I really wanted my boys to enjoy this game because it sounded fun to me and I thought they might learn a lot of new things from it. I should have known that it would be too easy for them though because both my boys are advanced for their grade and age. Because of that they didn't feel challenged enough to keep playing after a few lessons. I tried it out first with my 8th grader, but since he was older than the age group for this he got bored with the game fairly easily. My 7th grader, Jaedan, was next to try the game out. Jaedan is a very fast reader and loves reading. He seemed like he was enjoying the game once he got started, but burnt out fast like his older brother further into the game. I think it had something to do with the fact that Jaedan doesn't read a lot of books online. We do not own a tablet yet, so he really hasn't had much chance to do so. He has told me though, that he likes reading physical books better.

It became very clear to me early out that I was going to have to test this with another child. My daughter Teela had been pleading with me to play the game ever since she saw her brothers play. So because I had no other willing testers, I helped her along with the game.

The Treasure of HighTower has a total of 15 chapters. This is the first book in the series and later on there are going to be other books available. Each chapter has roughly 20-30ish pages to read. While reading there is a convenient page counter to count down the number of pages there are left in the chapter you are in until you get to Ivythwaite. At Ivythwaite your student can pick and accomplish tasks in the Help Wanted section that solidify what they have learned in the chapter so they can earn gold stars from the Star Toaster that creates them. After earning these they can help the Orphs build a place to live out of harms way from the evil villains, the Night Creatures.

Orph Settlement your student can help build and maintain to eventually save as many Orphs as possible.

Teela is in 1st grade so this game was of course above her level. I sat down with her and helped her through it each chance we got. I am glad I got the chance to sit through it with her because I came to understand the game better myself. When she first logged on the game asked her to fill out a Spy Application which she got to pick out her spy alias or character name. She told me that she wanted to be female pony in the story, but they only had one choice for the character, male (gender) and gray squirrel (critter) so she picked a boy name for the alias. She was able to pick a favorite color which she picked purple (pink was not an option) from a list of colors and was told to check off qualifications that the character had. She checked off all of them. Then it asked are you willing to learn, and she picked yes, then hit apply.

Vocabulary rollovers that popup

Recipe for Nutty Nut Bread

The chapters of the online book are a bit long winded, but do set the stage for the game. The first chapter in The Treasure of HighTower is called Boar's Head and it tells the story of the gray squirrel, his home, how he became a spy, and why he started helping other Orphs. Teela did very well reading it and only needed help with a few of the larger words which I had her sound out before helping her with them. Since the first chapter was 27 pages it took a while to get through especially when she wanted to mouse over all the rollovers that popped up vocabulary definitions and quotes, as well. We also could click audio sounds to listen to and spy letters to open and read along the way. Above the reading there is a timeline that she could click and go backwards in the story if needed. It also showed where she was in the book chapter-wise and all the chapter titles how they where laid out. The subsequent chapters introduce you to more of the story, characters, and skills. They also include more of the popups, rollovers, videos, and links to enhance the learning.

Timeline to show you where you are.

At the end of the first chapter we came to Ivythwaite and the Help Wanted page in which Teela did tasks, learned skills, and earned gold stars. The only tasks to complete for the first chapter was answering 11 multiple choice questions about vocabulary she learned in the chapter. Each task/question had training on the subject before the she could answer so she knew the material covered even if she hadn't moused over everything in the chapter previously. Subjects covered in the chapters following include: math, science, language, vocabulary, thinking skills, life skills and the arts. There is a lot of ground covered with each subject. Teela loved the life skills section the best because of the recipes you could actually make that went along with the story. We saved a number of them to try later. After each question she answered correct she would get a certain amount of goldstars to put towards helping the Orphs later on.

Jaedan looking at vocabulary flashcards in the lesson review.

Help Wanted job section

In the Orph Care section Teela could purchase food, water, clothing, medicine, protection and energy with your gold stars. These resources help sustain more Orphs. Teela could also purchase buildings and crops for the Orph settlement. If she placed them well the settlement would thrive.

As a parent, I could log into the parent section with my own password and check Teela's progress and status. I was also emailed a progress report after each chapter when tasks were completed so I knew how she was doing in each section. This tells me the number of lessons completed correctly, how many pages read, and what can be expected in chapters following.

I feel that even though my boys didn't warm up to Orphs of the Woodlands that it is still a wonderful supplement to our homeschool. I think that if I had a 4th or 5th grader then they would enjoy this a whole lot better. Teela, although only in first grade, loved the story and learning along the way. I kind of wish this game was geared to kids in the younger set. If your child loves reading and doesn't mind spending time in front of a tablet or computer to do so then this game might be a great fit. I think it would also be great for a summer reading program.

Star Toaster is offering a FREE TRIAL for a limited time. Get access to the first 100 pages, over 50 lessons/games for FREE!

A 60-day subscription of Orphs of the Woodlands for up to 3 children is regularly $19.99. You can also purchase 30 day extensions for $6.99.

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