Our newest review item from the Schoolhouse Review Crew is one that’s truly unlike any we’ve ever used before! Star Toaster‘s “Orphs of the Woodlands” is a wonderful adventure story that will involve your 4th-7th grade child not only in reading….but in solving problems in math, science, language arts and more!
As a homeschooling parent, I am always on the lookout for creative subjects I can teach at home. I am also a huge fan of reading and reading aloud. So, when I was offered a year’s subscription for this online book from Star Toaster to use and review, I jumped at the chance! My son Jackson is in 7th grade, and he was quite interested as well.
Star Toaster has produced an incredible online experience, in which the student reads a captivating adventure story. It is more than just a story, however. Scattered throughout the narrative are activities in math, science, art, language arts and character building. And students also have the opportunity to complete “jobs” which earn them “goldstars,” the legal tender of the Woodlands.
In “Orphs of the Woodlands,” students are introduced to a young squirrel, who’s the protagonist of the story. They can personalize the squirrel by giving him a name, character qualities, a favorite color, and so on; and then throughout the story he’s called by that name. (We named our squirrel “Alpha.”) This squirrel was orphaned when his parents’ lives were taken by the Night Creatures, who terrorize the surrounding countryside and cities. He, now an orph, has hidden ever since in a gnarled old tree; lonely and without family or friends.
One day, all of that changes! The squirrel finds a letter on his doorstep from the WAK Underground. It invites him to join the fight, as a secret spy, to defeat the Night Creatures. For the trustworthy applicant, it promises great adventure…doubtful pay…and a dicey long life. So, that is not all that promising.
However, it does offer him the chance to discover and defeat the Night Creatures who took his parents from him. So he agrees, and applies.
Upon his acceptance by the WAK Underground, he receives little in the way of instruction…until the enormous parcels of books are delivered to him. Books on math; on science; on vocabulary and wordsmithing….all things he has little to no interest in studying. He discovers, too late, that he should have spent time in the books when they’re all stolen by an invasive group of Night Creatures….while he hides. He is left with only one book.
The squirrel is left with no discernible options, but to head off to the city, along with the only book the Night Creatures left behind. On his journey he’ll learn many things (even about invisible ink!), begin to care for some young orphs, and face great danger. Will the squirrel learn more about whether Abba is real or just a story….and will he defeat the Night Creatures? “Orphs of the Woodlands” will have you reading as fast as you can to discover the squirrel’s…and the Woodlands’…fate!
A Variety of Subjects
While reading “Orphs of the Woodlands,” students are exposed to a plethora of interesting lessons, just for being involved in the story!
- Vocabulary skills are honed when the student clicks on highlighted words and sees the definition.
- Math problems provide reinforcement for what the student’s studying in his regular math course.
- Latin phrases are used and defined.
- Students experience zoology by learning about the many creatures who reside in the forest.
- Life skills are enhanced when students learn about nutrition and even prepare Woodlands recipes with their parents.
- Thinking and character skills activities are also offered.
But, what encourages the student to complete tasks on all these subjects while reading the book?
Like the squirrel in the story, each student creates an orphanage where he can support a number of orphs! And each time he completes a job, he earns goldstars which contribute not only to the upkeep of the orphanage, but also food, clothing, medicine and other necessities. When enough goldstars are earned, the student can build another orphanage and support even more orphs!
This is actually a genius way to keep children involved with the story and the skills activities offered in each chapter. And while the students are working to earn goldstars to care for more orphs, they’re learning in many subjects!
You can keep track of your student’s progress in the story, the skills attained and the jobs completed (and orphs rescued) in the parents’ area. I also chose to read along with Jackson. “Orphs of the Woodlands” is an incredibly humorous, creative and engaging story. I can’t wait to see what happens next!
Star Toaster also sends a weekly email detailing your child’s progress and informing you of upcoming lessons and experiences. I found this very helpful, and it explained so much to me about the learning process Jackson was in.
How We Used “Orphs of the Woodlands”
Jackson spent about a half hour 3-4 days each week reading the story and completing the jobs in each chapter. It was quite simple and enjoyable to add this to our homeschool days. Because we have one PC that we use for schoolwork, I read the “Orphs of the Woodlands” on my Kindle while he worked on the computer. He did struggle with some of the sadder parts of the story (like the orphans, for example), yet we found it quite interesting and there are some great redemptive elements.
Each chapter has some jobs that the student can complete, simply by recalling the lessons that each chapter has taught. Students may miss a few here and there, but if they pay attention to the events and lessons described, they’ll be able to successfully complete the jobs and gain more goldstars.
Here’s what Jackson has to say about “Orphs of the Woodlands”–
“”Orphs of the Woodlands” is a very good story. I would recommend this story only to older readers or very tolerant young readers, because there are some mildly disturbing elements in certain chapters. Overall, it’s a good story and worth your time.”
If you have a child who:
- loves reading
- doesn’t particularly enjoy reading
- is seeking a great adventure story
- is looking for an interesting summer reading activity
- or, if you’re just looking for a new and different way to bring literature to your children,
then Star Toaster‘s “Orphs of the Woodlands” is for you! You can even sign up for a free trial, which will give you the first 100 pages of the story and 50 lessons. Just click on the banner below, which will take you to the Star Toaster website and the free trial page. 60-day subscriptions are available (covering up to three children), plus one-month extensions can be purchased when necessary.
I really recommend that you try this out. It’s a very unusual way to learn….but such an enjoyable one!