Tuesday, April 14, 2015

{Review} Star Toaster: Orphs of the Woodlands

Wow! That succinctly sums up Orphs of the Woodlands, the online educational resource and game by Star Toaster. When this item came up for review I let Amber preview it to gauge her interest and there has been no going back.  She was desperate for our login information to arrive and begin the review period.

Star Toaster Review

Let's talk about what Orphs of the Woodlands actually is.  This is a new resource that starts with the student being placed as a woodland creature into an online interactive book titled The Treasure of Hightower (more books are slated to follow).  The student completes a spy application prior to going undercover to aid the Woodlands.

Next the story portion begins with the first of fifteen chapters, each running between 20-30 pages.  At the end of each chapter the child is taken to a set of jobs that earns them gold stars, the currency of the Woodlands.  The jobs are, in fact, lessons in:
  • Math (66 jobs)
  • Science (32 jobs)
  • Language (29 jobs)
  • Vocabulary (66 jobs)
  • Thinking Skills (62 jobs)
  • Character (19 jobs)
  • Life Skills (34 jobs)
  • The Arts (6 jobs).  
The entire product is geared toward fourth to seventh grade children, so the lessons are appropriate for most students in that age range as is the reading level.

After completing the end-of-chapter jobs, the child is next taken to Ivythwaite where the game portion of this product is located. The entire goal of the game is to rescue as many Orphs (orphan animals) of the Woodlands as possible. You start with a plot of land and need to support the Orphs with earned gold stars.  The game teaches budgeting of resources and making good decisions on purchases. Providing for Orphs requires sufficient gold stars to be in your account based on the number of Orphs currently in your care. The cost of upgrading buildings, purchasing land, and installing the projects (to reduce your overall cost per Orph) must be weighed against keeping enough funds on hand for general Orph care.

Unexpected Homeschool: Review - Star Toaster: Orphs of the Woodlands

Our Experience:
Right off the bat Amber and I were blown away by the absolutely beautiful graphics accompanied by lovely music and sound effects.  We received a parent account with up to three student accounts, of which we only utilized one.  I set up my parent account then handed a student account over to Amber.  The first screen of the student account gives you the option to watch "Getting Started" videos or to immediately begin reading.  Of course Amber wanted to skip the instructions, but I made her watch all four videos.  I should have watched too instead of merely listening nearby, because later on I was a bit confused while Amber completely understood the whole setup.  I will say that written instructions or a FAQ, even if only on the parent account, would definitely be a nice addition. Still, I was able to muddle through and figure out the system with only a little bit of prodding from Amber.

The parent account gives me instant results to any of Amber's jobs, as well as her reading progress.  Not only can I see which jobs were completed, but the score received, the actual lesson and question for the job, and Amber's answer.  I had a bit of fun stalking her progress. The system also automatically sends updates to the associated parent email at set points throughout the book.  When Amber finished chapter one, I received the first of several progress report emails that detailed how many lessons were completed and on what topics, plus a preview of what was coming up for Amber.  Reports were also sent after chapters 4, 7, 10 & 13.  Additional parent information emails were sporadically sent that helped explain details of the whole product.

Amber was absolutely addicted to Orphs of the Woodlands.  She completed the entire story with all jobs and as much of the game as allowed in five days (approximately 14 hours).  The book is actually designed to be completed within 60 days. Amber was hooked from the very start by the humor included in the spy application. Amber chose to not check punctual as a qualification on her application (because Amber is not personally punctual), so her character is described as not a very punctual creature either.  The spy letters with disappearing ink also helped to reinforce the fun element and mood of the entire story.

Unexpected Homeschool: Review - Star Toaster: Orphs of the Woodlands

The Learning:
The majority of the jobs are multiple choice and always include a somewhat funny / ridiculous answer that never failed to make Amber laugh.  While the lessons are geared toward fourth through seventh grade students and Amber is at the upper end of the range in seventh grade, she did not feel it was overall too easy for her.  Of course there were some simpler math problems, but there were also a few with basic algebra where the student needed to solve for "x", as well as several lessons on median, mode and mean.  Some of Amber's favorite lessons were on the use of the abacus. 

The vocabulary lessons were by no means simplistic and Amber even missed a few of the 66 total vocabulary jobs as well as a few of the memory lessons under Thinking Skills.  She found the science lessons to be interesting and needed to carefully read each one because this was not information she had already studied ad nauseam.

The Fun:
Amber had an absolute blast with the game portion too, lest you think seventh graders will find the game beneath them.  She planned out her orphanage and all the projects to reduce her total cost per Orph.  Each time she was able to rescue more Orphs I heard a shout out from her with a count to date.  She went through Orph withdrawl when she finished the story and was worried about her poor little Orphs with nobody to care for them.

Of course, Amber wanted to use Orphs of the Woodlands through the browser on her iPad Mini because it allows her the freedom to go anywhere in the house.  We found that while much of the functionality is available on the iPad, a few items are not working through Safari.  Several jobs include a Memory Typer that does not work because the iPad does not see it as a typing situation and thus will not load the keyboard.  Then there are the aforementioned projects in Ivythwaite that are purchased through a drag and drop action which is also not functional on an iPad.  Overall, it was fairly easy for Amber to login to Star Toaster on a computer for the few things she couldn't do on her iPad.  She did complete a couple of her sessions entirely on the computer and decided that despite the limitations she still preferred to use her iPad.

Amber cannot not wait for the next book in the Orphs of the Woodlands series to be released.  Her account and progress with the Orphs is saved indefinitely.  When the next book is released Amber can pick up with the game right where she left off at the end of The Treasure of Hightower .
Star Toaster Review

This whole product is fantastic and so detailed that it is hard to explain every last feature here, but thankfully I don't have to. Star Toaster offers a FREE TRIAL of Orphs of the Woodlands where you can read the beginning of the book and complete the first lessons completely free!  Amber and I highly recommend Orphs of the Woodland.  It is a unique learning experience that fully engages the children while providing a bit of fun along the way.

Please check out what other members of the Review Crew thought of Orphs of the Woodlands!

Star Toaster Review

Crew Disclaimer


  1. Sounds really fun! I will do the free trial to see if it's something Gianna would be interested in. Glad that Amber took to it and is enjoying it!

  2. I'm checking out the game. My kids love computers and animals. :)

  3. Christy, thank you for the great review! Loved your photos of Amber. Your readers can still try “Orphs of the Woodlands” for FREE. It's a great way to get ahead for the next school year. Those who complete the FREE TRIAL receive a 25% OFF Promo Code for the program. Thanks again for the wonderful review! Happy Learning! ~StarToaster