Review of Orphs of the Woodlands Online Learning Program by Star Toaster

My kids are always begging to go on online games that are played in "worlds".  They bug my husband to let them play in games where they can develop strategies, earn points, purchase supplies, and build territories.  For the most part, however, I've always found these games to be a huge waste of time; the appeal to build their kingdoms larger and larger lead them to becoming obsessed, and they're not really getting anything out of the games themselves.

When were were offered the chance to review the Orphs of the Woodlands Online Learning Program by Star Toaster, I watched the trailer and knew immediately that it would appeal to my son's desire to "build" things online, but that it would also have him learning in all the areas that we value in our classical educational-inspired homeschool.  We set him up with his account, and he got started right away.

What is the program?

It would take a little longer than I can write here (the program offers so much!) but, in a nutshell, your child will play as a squirrel "spy" and will immerse themselves in an online book and learning environment where kids read and master information in key areas of learning (math, life skills, science, nutrition, leadership and more).  The lessons are woven into the stories as links that kids can click on, and are presented as text, videos, and interactive exercises.  Once completed they can "test" themselves by taking jobs.

Once he takes a job and finishes it, he's rewarded with wages of a gold star, which he banks to be able to care for the Orphs.  What are the Orphs? They are little orphaned creatures that he has been tasked with caring for.  As he cares for them adequately, their number grows, and so does his kingdom.  More reading and learning equals more jobs posted for him to do, which results in more stars earned, which results in a bigger kingdom.  So he builds by learning.  It's a very simple and effective method of gamification with big educational results!

This program is recommended for kids in grades 4-7th. Any child with a reading level that falls into that range should enjoy the program. (My son is in the 5th grade in our homeschool, and it is perfect for him.)

What has he learned?

The learning topics are varied, but practical.  In just his first few days playing, he learned place value, Latin, how to make tea, and quotes from famous people.  He read -- a lot -- with the equivalent of a short chapter book read every day or so.  He first told me that he was surprised by the amount of reading, but it didn't seem to dampen his love for the game.  Since the makers of the game value seem to value the same things we do as a family, I feel good about letting him play alone.  The game is aligned with my family's life and learning goals.

What does it cost?

This online learning program costs $19.99 for a 60 day subscription for up to 3 children (extensions can be purchased for $6.99 for 30 days), but right now, you can try it out with a free trial that gives you access to the first part of the book with activities.

Would I recommend it?

Without a doubt.  If your child struggles to read, it may feel like a lot of work at first, but it's also one of the best ways we've found to get our reading time done painlessly and with additional learning opportunities.  Since parents are periodically emailed with updates on what their child is learning, it's a pretty hands-off way to get additional enrichment for your child in several key areas with no preparation or follow up from you.  Seeing all the interesting things my son has learned is very encouraging and helps me feel like he is getting a more well-rounded education from home.  And since the game has a very "old world" adventure feel, kids with a desire to be involved in online games with historic themes should find it to be an interesting way to learn.

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