I have a ten year old boy. He doesn’t like to read. It’s not that he can’t read. He just doesn’t enjoy it. So, when we received the opportunity to review Orphs of the Woodlands, a unique educational resource from Star Toaster, I was excited to find something that I felt he would really enjoy for reading practice.
What We Received
We received online access for up to three students to the digital reading adventure Orphs of the Woodlands. This access is completely online and there are no downloads, so you will need a computer with an internet browser and a good connection to the internet. Their website indicates that it can be used on most internet browsers. We used it on Google Chrome with no difficulties.
I do want to mention at the outset that this is a product that is geared towards 4th-7th graders. I don’t always mention that when I write a review, but so many online reading programs are geared at younger readers, that I wanted to mention that this one is for middle grades, but I enjoyed it and feel that even high school readers may enjoy reading and learning with this book (I enjoyed it!)
The Layout of the Product
Orphs of the Woodlands: The Treasure of HighTower is a fifteen chapter book that details the adventures of a gray squirrel who is destined to be part of an underground movement that is a resistance against evil night creatures who are trying to take over the woodlands. Along the way, the begins taking establishing orphanages for the little creatures (or Orphs) who have been orphaned by the night creatures.
He is recruited as a spy for the resistance movement, and immediately the resistance begins sending him books of learning. He is unaware of the treasure that these books are and just stacks them haphazardly in his home until the night creatures come. They raid his house, and while he’s hiding, they take away all of his books, leaving him without the knowledge that the Underground desired him to have.
The squirrel decides to travel to HighTower to contact the resistance and make a new home for himself, and that’s where the adventure begins.
Of course, Orphs of the Woodlands is much more than just a book. It’s interactive, with many lessons and skills to learn along the way. For example, as you read the text, you’ll find that certain words are highlighted. If you roll your mouse over these words, then synonyms and a definition will pop up underneath the word. The same thing happens when you read a famous quote or a Latin phrase, only the quote and attribution or the English translation will pop up. There are little boxes beside sentences that pop out to recipes, videos, etc. in all sorts of different subjects.
One your child completes a chapter, they are taken to a screen with a job list. After the first chapter, the job list is simply vocabulary jobs. However, in subsequent chapters, more and more subjects are added to the job list including: mathematics, fine arts, life skills, science, language, thinking skills and character. As your child does these jobs, they earn gold stars for correct answers.
Gold stars can then be used to play the game. This game is a strategy game where your child must use their gold stars to feed and care for Orphs, as well as to build projects and purchase items to lower the cost of Orph care so that more orphans can be supported. All of these projects and items also need gold stars, so your child is going to want to be very proficient at answering the questions correctly in the different skill sets.
Firecracker would log into his account and would read 3-4 pages a day, with me sitting with him in case he needed help (and because I wanted to hear the story too). As we went, he would look through the vocabulary words, and if there was a video or a picture, we would look at that as well. We cooked recipes as we found them, and even made a paper airplane.
At the end of each chapter, we would go through the jobs, reviewing the skills with the training before he would go through the jobs and answer the questions. Then, he would feed his Orphs and pay for projects and items to help care for his orphans.
Our Final Opinion
We really loved this educational adventure. We loved the book portion. We enjoyed the jobs and the training. We loved the videos and we loved the inclusion of recipes and other fun things that we could take into the “real world.”
We wished the chapters weren’t quite so long. For my son, who hates to read, it would have been more fun if the chapters were divided into smaller sections and then had a more immediate reward with jobs then. You can access the jobs as they open at anytime from the jobs then, but there’s a different feeling of accomplishment when you see the job menu with all the jobs on it at the end of the chapter.
We also wish that the descriptions of different animals and plants that are included in the rollovers had pictures. We spent a good bit of time looking pictures up of different animals and trees described on the internet, and I wish it had been included in the rollover material. Later on in the book, illustrated animal facts are added into the book, and that is very enjoyable for my animal loving child. I was glad to see this addition.
I love the constant emphasis on vocabulary.and the word families that the program uses to teach vocabulary. I also love all the reach-outs to other subjects. I love all the fun quotable lines in the book. One of my favorites is the bad guy saying to his sidekicks:
Fools! Every last one of you! If I want your opinion, I’ll give it to you!
Or how about this one from one of the math videos:
Now go eat your homework. Why? Because it’s a piece of cake.
There are many other fun quotable lines, including lines from other books and famous people to remember. Several times as Firecracker read, I burst out laughing and then had the opportunity to explain to him why I thought something was so funny!
We haven’t completely finished the book yet, but we will soon, and I’m really impressed with the product. Despite not finishing the book yet, this is the most reading Firecracker has ever done and he enjoys spending time with this book each day.