Thursday, April 16, 2015

What Unique Online Program Has Proven a Triple Hit Here? {A Review}

I love it when I get to review a program that proves to be something that:

  • completely engages my son.
  • makes a fabulous fit for homeschooling families like ours.
  • is something I can recommend to non-homeschooling families, too!

That is just what has happened with Orphs of the Woodlands, an Online Educational Resource and Game by Star Toaster.  My nine-year-old loves the first story in the series, The Treasure of the High Tower, and I am impressed with it, too.

What is Orphs in the Woodlands?

Star Toaster Review

Orphs of the Woodlands is a learning adventure geared towards children in grades 4-7.  It combines an engaging story, with a creative online game that layers in 300+ lessons in a variety of subjects (such as math, science, vocabulary, thinking skills, life skills, the arts and more).  Part reading adventure, part academic treasure and part enjoyable online game, the program wraps a lot of learning and fun into one package.  When using it, children read the engaging story and then earn gold stars for completing "jobs" (lessons on a variety of subjects).  These gold stars become the currency for an online game in which the children buy land, food and other supplies to build orphanages for orphaned woodland creatures.

What Was Our Experience?

When we first received our login information for Orphs of the Woodlands, I actually signed in with my seven-year-old daughter since I wanted to check out the program myself and she did, too.

We began by applying to be a spy to help the "WAK Underground" stop Night Creatures from taking over the Woodlands.  By then, my oldest son had come over, and our adventure began.

My daughter listened as I read the online story aloud and, together, we enjoyed its interactive features (music, sound effects, vocabulary pop ups and more).  Finally, we got to the lessons, which, of course, were a bit above her level.  Not so for my son, though, who begged to have his turn.

Thus, soon, my son logged in, applied to by a spy for the WAK Underground himself, and began his adventure, too.  He loved it so much, he could not wait to show the program to his father  And, since then, when my son has had time, he has happily continued to use
Orphs of the Woodlands for as long as he is allowed to be online in one sitting.

He thoroughly enjoys the reading the story online.  Then, he perservered through the lessons and questions so he can thrill at using the stars he earns to build the woodland orphans a home.


A Child's Point of View

Since there is nothing like a child's own words to describe a program, and since my son was sitting near me when I was writing this review, I asked him for his honest thoughts about Star Toaster.  He said:

My favorite part of the program is the video game where you get to buy stuff to help your orphs because I get to create my own world.

Star Toaster Review

My least favorite part is the language arts and the vocabulary and the math lessons.  I do them to get money.

I like a few of the lessons, like the cooking lessons, the animal lessons and some of that. 

I was amused to find this recipe in a pile on our table.  My son had copied it from one of the Orphs in the Woodland cooking lessons, adapting it to his liking.

I also love the reading part, because it tells you a story and I just love reading.  I could the whole thing at once if my mom let me, but she won't let me stay online that long.

The story is interesting because you are a spy battling the evil, evil night creatures.  I just hate them, because they are so mean.  I named myself Sir Ned and got to pick the character's favorite color and a few things.  I wish I could choose more though.  I was forced to be a grey squirrel, but I'd want to be a huge lion!

The program is fun, but parts of it are very hard.  (I actually had to use sticky notes to remember stuff like vocabulary.)  I actually think they (Star Toaster) could make a just for fun version where the work is just moving stuff across the screen to build, write books, clean, etc.  If they did this, though, I would still want the story part to be the same.  I LOVE stories and reading.

Some of the chapters are short, but some are long.  The long ones should be shorter, because it takes so long to read and to do the lessons before the game part.

If you really like reading, hard work, having fun and building a community then this is for you!

A Parent's Point of View

And me?

I am pleased with the program, too.

The story engages, the lessons are varied and positively challenging and the game keeps my child coming back for me.  Plus, the parent features are helpful.

I don't know about anyone else, but I constantly forget usernames and passwords.  Thus, I appreciate the reminder I get every time I go to log into
Star Toaster:

It's simple details like the log-in page reminding me what to use for the parent account and child account login that make me smile.

Another thing that makes me happy is knowing how my son is progressing!

Honestly, I would love to say that I am a totally on-the-ball parent who keeps regular tabs on all of my children's explorations and learnings, especially their online ones.  That would be lying though.

In truth, as I balance
homeschooling three children with working, blogging, running local homeschool groups and more, I often find myself using our computer to "babysit" my children while I do other tasks.  In fact, once I trust an online program, if my children can use it independently, I often tend to let them at it while I do something else.

When I do so with my oldest child, who simply loves to be online and works independently when he is, I cannot help but to wonder:  Is he truly succeeding with the skills and content presented?  What topics has he covered and what might he be introduced to next?  Is he actually staying on the program he is supposed to or is he clicking over to other things when I am changing laundry, taking a phone call or helping one of his siblings? 

Star Toaster helps answer such questions by sending me regular email updates that include notes on what my son has been working on, such as:

"(Your child) has finished Chapter 7 and has learned about lines, angles, sound waves, rounding, perimeter, animal facts, memory tips, music, vocabulary, inspirational quotes, and so much more."

Likewise, email updates tell me what he'll be introduced to next, such as:
 "There are so many interesting things to learn in the next chapters.  (Your child) will be studying complementary and supplementary angles; sentences; fragments; punctuation; facts and opinions; homonyms; capitalization; cooking and nutrition; character; animal facts; and vocabulary.  Along with all of that, there's even a lesson on estimating tree height! There are always fun things to learn in the Woodlands.  (Your child) will enjoy the journey!"

Plus, the updates provide a quick look at how many lessons my son has completed correctly:

... and where his other stats stand...

I appreciate these emails and the fact that I can login to my parent account to see which specific skills my son has completed work on, for example: 

... and which questions he has had trouble with, such as:

These features allay my concerns and make it easy to keep tabs on my son's progress.  They are so handy!

Final Thought

I have never seen an online program like Orphs of the WoodlandsThe storyline sweeps you in and, then, the interactive nature and varied content of the activities included in the program, keep you engaged and learning.  My son has loved using Star Toaster and I look forward to reintroducing it to my daughter when her skills are a bit more advanced.  For the program truly provides a unique approach to reading and learning.   
Both my son and I highly recommend Orphs of the Woodlands to homeschoolers and to public, private or charter school students who might be looking for a fun, educational program to keep brains sharp during summer break! 

Star Toaster Review

Learn More

Watch a video clip about Orphs in the Woodland.

Enjoy a FREE TRIAL, which will allow you to access the first 100 pages of the online book, including access to 50 games and lessons!

Or, sign up at the current price of $19.99 for a 60 day subscription for up to three children.

 Find Startoaster on:
Star Toaster Review

Read how 90 Schoolhouse Crew Review families used Orphs in the Woodlands.

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