Emily has spent many hours over the past month playing a new educational online game by Star Toaster, called Orphs of the Woodlands. Although the purpose of this game is primarily to encourage reading, it also includes content in the areas of math, science, Latin, vocabulary, critical thinking, and life skills.
To begin the game, the student “applies” to be part of a spy team. Then he or she may start reading the story, which stars the student as a squirrel spy-in-training who is trying to battle “night creatures” and to rescue the many orphs (orphans) of the woodlands. Throughout the chapter, vocabulary words are highlighted and if the student hovers the mouse over the word, its definition will appear. Most of the definitions appear as lists of synonyms for the target words, so the student is actually exposed to several potentially new vocabulary words. The vocabulary words are repeated several times throughout the story for additional reinforcement.
Each chapter also includes pop-up links for quotes, recipes, and math and science video lessons.
Elements like letters that open when clicked on make reading more interactive and fun. It reminds me of those books that have envelopes and mini books inside them.
At the end of the chapter, the student is offered the opportunity to do “jobs” to earn gold stars. These gold stars enable her to care for orphs by providing them with shelter, food, medicine, etc. Each job begins with a short lesson. (Many of these lessons are also linked to in the chapters, so the student may have already viewed them while reading.)
(Reading big numbers lesson)
Then the student answers a question or two about the topic and is awarded 6 or more gold stars. She may complete a few or all of the available jobs, earning additional stars for each job completed. More jobs appear after reading each additional chapter and any jobs not completed can be returned to at any time. We did discover, though, that if the student answers a question wrong, she may not return to it to earn stars. Emily was guessing her way through the jobs (Yep, that’s my lazy child) and missed out on earning a lot of stars in the first few chapters..
The recipes can be printed and prepared. We haven’t done this yet, but there seem to be some good recipes for foods like goulash, nut bread, and vegetable soup. There are also several tea recipes, as one of the characters is a prolific tea drinker. The recipes include health tips (peppermint is good for digestion, red peppers are good for your skin) and cooking tips (how to determine when pasta is cooked “al dente.”)
The Thinking Skills topic includes comprehension questions about the different characters. I had difficulty myself with this task, since it expects the reader to remember many physical characteristics of the characters. It also teaches tips for memory such as making moving mental pictures or associating silly words with a character to help remember traits.
Students will learn common Latin phrases like “Caveat Emptor” and “Carpe Diem.” Some of the longer phrases were rather difficult to remember for someone with no Latin background.
Star Toaster uses the Memorytyper system to help students learn quotes. I’ve used this before to memorize scripture and have found it very effective.
The game is intended for grades 4-7, so some of the content has been easy for Emily who is in 9th grade. I still considered quite a bit of the content beneficial for her, though. She’s an avid reader, so she didn’t need the motivation to read the story, and improving reading skills was not really a need, but she did enjoy the story, was exposed to new vocabulary (SAT Prep?), learned some Latin phrases, and was exposed to some famous and motivational quotes. Many of them encouraged persistence and other positive character qualities, and I enjoyed reading them as well. Additionally, she reviewed math and science concepts that she has already studied.
I think that Orphs of the Woodlands is a great combination of learning and fun. It is very creative, the story is well-written, and it covers a lot of subject areas. I find that many educational games are too heavy on the fun and light on learning, but this one has a good balance. The whole experience is learning, but it doesn’t feel like “school.” It would be a great summer reading program or homeschool supplement.
Orphs of the Woodlands: The Treasure of HighTower costs $19.99 for a 60 day subscription. For 15 chapters of learning fun, this is a lot of content. You can sign up for a free trial and get the first 100 pages to try it out for yourself.