April 15, 2015

Orphs of the Woodlands: An Online Reading Adventure {Product Review}

Little Britches loves "screen time", but we are very strict about the amount of time he gets and what he gets to do. We don't do video games in our home, but we love educational games. We were given the chance to review Orphs of the Woodlands by Star Toaster and I was curious to see how Little Britches would like this online reading adventure.

Product Summary

Orphs of the Woodlands is a groundbreaking online educational series from Star Toaster. This reading program incorporates the use of a great plot and exciting adventure story to teach vocabulary, math, science, thinking skills, nutrition and much more! The basis of the program is a story about a squirrel who becomes a spy to fight a dreadful force of creatures who are terrorizing the woodlands. Along the path, the squirrel becomes caretaker and protector of the "orphs"--small orphaned creatures of the forest.

Your child takes on the role of the squirrel--even picking it's name which is put into the story. While reading the story, your child will learn hundreds of lessons on a multitude of subjects and they won't just learn, they will learn HOW to learn. The squirrel character is mentored and taught about memorization and is frequently advised to "pay attention!"

The game portion of the program is woven in at the end of each chapter as the squirrel gets to "work" to earn goldstars to be able to take care of and provide for the orphs he's adopted. Your child will earn stars by using their new knowledge obtained from the story as they answer questions on all the subjects woven in the story. They can use their earned stars to create a home for their orphs. They can buy extra food, clothing, shelter, medicine to make the costs of caring for their orphs go down. They can buy land and build new orphanages. They can do this all the while they are continuing in their reading adventure.

Orphs of the Woodlands is available as a 60 day subscription for up to 3 children, but you can do a free trial and experience the first 100 pages of the book! It is geared to children in grades 4th-7th.

We were given a year trial of Orphs of the Woodlands series to review, focusing on Book 1: The Treasure of High Tower.

How Did We Use This Product?

This is an online program, so I was able to easily access it using my Chrome browser. It is easy to set up your child with their log in information. They can then jump right on in and access the program. This program came at a good time for us, as Little Britches was sick and had "nothing to do". He was at first bored by the idea ("Reading?? I don't want to read.") but gave it a shot.

The adventure begins with videos to help explain how the program works. It's the first thing that pops up on your screen once your child logs in.

The videos were very helpful in explaining all the different aspects of the game and how it would work. Once these were completed, the next step was to jump into the adventure. Little Britches' adventure began by having to fill out a spy application.

He loved that he got to name his character and over the course of the program changed it's name about 5 times. The program uses this information and adds it to the story accordingly. Once this is filled out, the story begins.
You can see that at the bottom of the page is the page number, as well as the words "29 pages to Ivythwaite". This counts down how many pages there are in the chapter and is very helpful for the child to know how they are progressing.

Little Britches noticed right away that there were links tucked into the pages of the story. As he was told in the introduction videos, these are for him to hover or click on to learn more information to help him later. They are in a couple different forms: videos, recipes, definitions, audio clips and more.

When they are clicked on, the child will either be able to learn more. Here is an example of what pops up when they are clicked on:
Recipes that can actually be made, Videos to learn more about something, or nutritional tips
Little Britches is pretty excited about the recipes. I'm supposed to be making the Nutty Nut Bread later this week. He really likes the in text videos, but I rarely see him actually hovering over the vocabulary links.

Watching one of the Professor Forp videos
As your child comes to the end of the chapter, they are taken to a "help wanted" page where they are asked to complete jobs in order to take care of the orphs they are protecting.

Every job in the help wanted section is based on the chapter's reading--especially all of those in text links and videos. If Little Britches watches the videos and does the links, he does well in the jobs. The jobs all follow the same routine:

The jobs are merely a question or activity related to the story. Nothing new and very easy to complete if your child has been paying attention. When they answer correctly, they get a certain amount of wages. If they get continuous answers withing a category correct, they even get a raise.

It is possible to go straight to the jobs without reading the story, IF you have already progressed in the story. Simply go the top right corner under the child's name and click "skills report". This pulls up all the skills in the program and shows how much has been done. By clicking on any of the skills, it opens up a list of all the "jobs" available within that skill. Then simply either click "review" to being the training or "job" to go straight to the question. But it will only have jobs open within the chapters you have read.

So what does Little Britches do with his goldstars once he receives them? He goes to Ivythwaite to start "playing" the game using his stars to build a habitat for the orphs he's caring for.
He can use his stars to start working on his property, adding in water, food, clothing, etc resources to help lower the cost of caring for his orphs. At the top he can see how many orphs his current star total can support and how many need a home. You can see how doing the jobs to earn stars is a great incentive to be able to do more here in this part of the game. And you do more jobs by doing more reading and learning more stuff. Get the idea?

Once Little Britches has done whatever he wants to do in Ivythwaite, he can exit the game or go back to reading. When he does, a journal report pops up with his progress.


As of this review Little Britches has gone through 4 chapters, well over 100 pages of reading, and he's not even half way through yet.

What Are Our Thoughts About This Product?

Little Britches:
"It's okay. I like the jobs part. Well some of them. I don't like the typing ones. But the multiple choice ones are fine. They are easy. And I like the videos. They are funny. But I don't like the reading. It takes me a long time. And if I skip ahead, it will only take me back to that place when I log in, and not back to where I really am. I wish the chapters weren't so long and that it was easier to get to Ivythwaite. And I wish the font was different so I could read it better."

Me:
Here are my primary observations...
#1 Little Britches does NOT read online well. 
He is a swift and accurate reader of books. He's at about a 5th grade level (he's in 3rd right now) but when it comes to reading on computers, he just struggles. This leads to him going very slow, and skipping lines.

#2 Because he reads slow, the chapters take forever to finish
Each chapter is AT LEAST 20 pages. And some are closer to 30 or 40. For a slow reader, this means you have to go a long time before you get to do the "jobs"--unless you know about how you can access them through the skills report. And because the chapters take forever, he gets disheartened and quits. If I had the time, I would sit and read it to him. But I don't have that time right now.

#3 He doesn't read the "training" slides for the jobs if they are needing to be read
This ties in to the first observation. He doesn't like to read the screen, so he avoids reading the training slides of the jobs. This means that he has a very high chance of getting his answers wrong. Wrong answers mean frustration and disgust at the program. Which means no desire to do it.

#4 He loves the videos
What can I say? He's primarily an audio learner. He likes the videos because someone is TALKING with the words and he isn't having to read them himself.

#5 He doesn't quite get how the game works
I have worked with him on it, but he's still not quite sure how to work the game. I don't know if this is because of his age or just that he doesn't do video games or anything remotely like this. Regardless, since he doesn't quite get the game, he doesn't have a big desire to play it.

So, what could be changed?
#1 Make it possible to change the font size with me having to zoom in with my computer

#2 Make the chapters a bit shorter
If he only had to read 10 pages for a chapter or even no more than 20, I think he'd enjoy it more.

#3 Make it a lot easier to get to Ivythwaite
As it is now, we found it a bit tricky to get to Ivythwaite to do the game portion if he didn't want to do any reading. We had to skip pages or by luck stumble onto it. There needs to be a simple icon that can be pushed to get there for the players who want to work on their game without doing the reading first.

#4 Make it possible for a job to be retaken
Little Britches missed a few jobs, and was wishing he could re-do them. It would be nice if there was a way to re-do a job--even if they get lesser pay.

Other things...
I liked that I got an email with progress reports.

This is my personal progress when I was doing it this week.
I honestly really like the program. But then, I am a visual learner and read fast no matter how I am reading. If I was his age, I would ADORE this program. I love everything about it, but I really think it's for a 4th+ grade reader--or someone who can read the screen well and is okay with LOTS of screen reading. The program is exceptionally high quality and we didn't experience any bugs in the system--except that we can't use it on our Kindle Fire (we can read but can't do videos or anything like that). I'm hoping they will work out that bug because doing it on the Kindle would be awesome.

Will we continue to use this product?
I guess. But it will probably only be whenever he wants to work on it. I won't add it to our schedule. That being said, I plan on doing it myself since I have it. hahahahah.

Would I Recommend This Product?

If you have a visual learner who can easily read screens, yes. If you are able to read it FOR them as they go along, yes. If your child is already a big fan of critical thinking games and such, yes.

But if your child isn't a strong reader, or isn't a strong online reader, than no. That is the key thing with this program.

I highly recommend that you at least give the free trial a go to see how your child likes it!

Want to Learn More?

We reviewed Orphs of the Woodlands by Star Toaster along with 89 other reviewers. You know what our thoughts on it, but what did others think? I hope you will go find out!
Star Toaster Review
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*****
Well this didn't end up being the program that catches his fancy, but that's okay. I think that he will still want to do it now and then and he IS learning about different subjects as he works through it. I look forward to "reading" the next book from Star Toaster when it comes out!
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