Little Passports is a subscription service that sends your child a monthly package designed to teach them about a specific country. Each package includes activities and items themed around the culture of that month’s featured country. Geography has never been one of my strong points, in fact it was the subject I hated most at high school after gym, so I had more than a little trepidation when my son (FB) began to express a keen interest in the subject by constantly asking me to label maps and point out locations my husband and I had visited in the past.
Despite my lack of subject knowledge, I was keen to develop his interest at a young age—beginning first with simply buying a globe for his room and investing in an atlas. However, when I began to hear about the Little Passports service I was keen to sign him up for a trial.
Yesterday, Google launched SmartyPins, a geography game that lets you test your knowledge of geography, but Trivial-Pursuit-style.
You’re asked questions in one of six categories: Featured Topics, Arts & Culture, Science & Geography, Entertainment, Sports & Games, and History & Current Events. Then, place a pin on the map in the place that is the answer. You can take random questions or select the category to play in.
You start with 1,000 miles and lose them for every mile you are off. For example, if you get this question:
And for some reason, you decide that Milwaukee is the Windy City, you’ll lose 79 miles, as that is the distance from Milwaukee to Chicago:
If you answer quickly enough, you get bonus miles added to your score. This is where it helps to have a speedy internet connection. While I was able to play on slow hotel Wi-Fi, I never got bonus miles because I was always waiting for the map to load.
The better you do at the game, the more specific you’ll need to be with your answers. For example, when I started, “Chicago” was an acceptable answer. Later in the game, I dropped a pin on Washington, D.C., but lost two miles for it not being directly on the White House.
Unfortunately, many of the maps’ links take you to locations that don’t provide any additional information. For example, where did the bra cup size map get its data? Who reports on their breast sizes? I wonder if it’s based on manufacturing numbers…
The map above is of the countries that do not use the metric system.
One of my kids is a map whiz and has a tremendous understanding of geography. The other one, not so much. Over the years we’ve delved into cartography, searched for Carmen Sandiego, and played lots of different games, all to no avail. So color me surprised when my map-challenged young adult wanted to show me a game he’d found called Geoguessr.
The web-based game uses Google Street View technology, challenging players to guess their location using visible clues. Load the game and you’ll be virtually dropped somewhere in the world. Navigate the streets—remote dirt lanes or busy downtowns—to figure out your location. Take a look at street signs. Are they in English? Are the measurements in miles or kilometers? What about the cars? Or the terrain? Taking these clues into consideration, players can then pull up a map (Google, of course) and guess the location. And that’s where the map skills come in—in order to guess Finland, players need to be able to find Finland. Once the marker is placed, Geoguessr shows the distance between the actual location and the player’s guess. Players receive points based on the accuracy of their guess. After players guess five locations, the game shows those results on a world map.
During our virtual adventures, my son traveled a remote road with few clues for quite a distance, finally guessing—based purely on the terrain—that the location was somewhere in Australia. He was right. I spotted a business sign on a building; the language was Portuguese, so I incorrectly guessed Portugal. It was actually Brazil. There were some locations that gave virtually no clues, so we ended up randomly guessing at those.
There are no specific rules to playing the game, but I rather like that. It offers players the chance to use critical thinking skills and their own knowledge of things like architecture, language, and climate zones to determine the best possible guess. And while players can set a time limit to challenge themselves, I’m perfectly content with the slow explorations that happen with the game.
A year ago I wrote about a pre-school music app called A Jazzy Day. The app became a favorite of my son and featured cute cartoon cats who learned all about the instruments in a jazz orchestra by visiting the big band in New York City. A sequel, Jazzy World Tour, has recently been released and my son has been enjoying playing this new offering for the past few weeks.
Jazzy World Tour moves away from the linear story mode of its predecessor and broadens its educational reach. Rather than learning just about musical instruments, Jazzy World Tour introduces geography and cultural studies as players travel between countries from the main menu (a map of the world) and see each nation’s instruments as part of a wider cultural experience. Seven countries are available to explore: The USA, Australia, Brazil, Spain, Egypt, Kenya, and India, and each country has three options to explore with (learn, play and create).
The “learn” tab introduces some basic objects that teach players about the culture of the chosen country. These include a selection of musical instruments, local wildlife, famous buildings, foods, religious deities and more: The India selection includes a lotus flower, the Taj Mahal, a cobra, a sitar and Ganesh. Each of these objects is drawn in a colorful cartoon style. Tapping it brings up a short, simple paragraph explaining what it is with the object’s name spoken aloud, this is very helpful for certain words you may not have encountered before. The “play” tab brings up a single screen in which many of the items found in the “learn” tab are brought together to form a picture of that country along with local music forming a backdrop. Tapping each image animates it. Many of the musical instruments will be represented, so by tapping around the player, can create music from that location. The final tab is “create.” Here players can use animated stickers to create scenes (either still pictures or short animated videos) which can then be added to their “travel book” as they visit the different countries; they can also be instantly shared via social media, emailed or saved to the device. The Travel Book is accessible from the main menu and serves as a sort of scrapbook of the player’s experiences as they travel the world.
Naturally, an app like this cannot go into great depth for each of the countries it includes, however the scenes and items from the different cultures are great for young children only just learning about the way in which places and people differ. The app is bright and engaging, the animations are often funny (my son fell in love with the emu in the Australia section which would run off screen and then slip back on a moment later) and the learning is subtle. In choosing not to have a linear story mode, the app does feel like something is lacking when compared to its narrated predecessor. As it is, the app feels a little disjointed from my perspective. However, my 3-year-old loves jumping from country to country making as much noise as possible.
Jazzy World Tour is a great addition to your app collection and is great for kids beginning at pre-school age and ranging up to middle school as their reading skills increase and they can move from using the app as a musical sticker book to reading the information about different cultures by themselves. I’d love to see more countries opened up on the map and hope that we might see such an expansion one day as there are so many great cultures left to explore.
A copy of Jazzy World Tour was provided free for this review. It is available on the Apple Store costing $4.99/£2.99 for the complete game, or you can download a “free” trial edition featuring just one country, and buy the rest of the map as individual expansions costing 99c each.