We’ll start this article with a story about a mom who has a 14 year old son and an iPhone. He is smart, well-mannered (he said to his mom that he’s not doing drugs or anything like that) and a good student. But this mom’s problem is the same as millions of other moms: kids, put down that damn smartphone! It’s like he is tethered to the device, and it has reached a point where she will be taking it away from him completely so he can learn to live without it. At least until he is 18.
Now wouldn’t it be a great idea to give children, especially those under 10 who in most cases shouldn’t have a smartphone, an alternative that is more educational than entertaining? Enter Little Passports, the concept of two women, Amy and Stella. They were aware of the problems that technology, not just smartphones, was creating but the problem really didn’t hit home until they had children of their own. Looking into the future, they contemplated the solution to the problem and came up with the brand Little Passports.
Traveling around the country or around the world is something that many children dream about – and some also are able to do. For the vast majority of children it remains a dream until they hit their teenage years – or later. Little Passports gives children a retro, paper and ink, experience by easing them into the world of geography and travel as early as age three. There is a starter kit, and every month they are sent a new Little Passport kit with a number of exercises that will move them around the country and around the world.
The first argument against the idea, which Amy and Stella understood, was that the kids can get the same knowledge and a more real world experience on social media websites such as YouTube. To answer this criticism, there are three facts to be considered. One is that the tendency for many people, not just children, is to get locked into one particular thing (in this case, a specific country or website) and miss everything else that is out there. Second is that the entire idea behind Little Passports is to get kids away from the Internet. The third is that parents don’t have to worry about Little Johnny running into an ad for Big Busty Women while learning about geography.
A second criticism is that given the technological alternatives, the concept would never take hold with children of the 21st century. The answer to that is when it comes to actual education, not entertainment, children get easily bored with Internet content. For children under the age of 10 it is largely not an interactive medium. Children love activity, as in doing stuff, which is why gaming system and games in general are so popular with all ages. Yes, that means there is a little child in all of us. But the most important response to this criticism is that modern college students, who should have a reasonable foundation of world geography, are woefully ignorant of where any other country is on a world map. Attacking the problem at an early an age as possible seems to be the common sense approach.
Little Passports is a series of packaged activities that parents can begin to use with their children as early as age three. Amy and Stella aren’t naïve, and generally you won’t find a Little Passport kit for a child beyond age 12. There are currently 3 geography explorer kits: Early Explorers for children 3 to 5 years old, 6 to 10 for the World Edition, and 7 to 12 for USA Edition. They also now have a Science Expeditions kit which is recommended for children over the age of 8. This last kit is an indicator that more than a few parents are finding the value of Little Passports in a very real way.
The kits are subscription-based, meaning you pay for a kit to be delivered to your home once a month throughout the year. This is one of the more overlooked benefits to Little Passports – your children can be engaged in education throughout the year. The fact that they are activity-based kits means that even if children watch a fair amount of television or play video games, they will have a non-video alternative every month to choose as an alternative. Some parents discover that children actually get bored (or mind-numbed) from all the video activity and want to flee from being in front of the screen.
It is important to know that the activity kits aren’t all about finding countries and cities on a map. As the world becomes a culturally smaller place via the Internet and social media, children are exposed at a young age to a variety of different cultures, laying a foundation for greater cultural understanding in later years. And because the kits are activity-based, mom or dad, or grandma and grandpa, can sit with and participate in the activities. The grandparents don’t have to know the latest technology or navigate a game controller, while the parents can spend quality time with their children – and may learn a thing or two themselves.
On an innovative note, Little Passports brings back the idea of having a pen pal. The Early Explorers kit introduces children to Max, Mia, and Toby who they can write letters to sans a smartphone. Cursive writing is coming back into style (those who are under the age of 35 may have to Google the phrase) and children will learn that it will still take a while for every person on the planet to be able to communicate through Facebook or Twitter. On a personal note, it is always nice to get a letter in the mail from someone. You can see they took the time to actually write something thoughtful, the telltale signs being a coffee stain, a splotch of soda, or a tomato sauce stain from the pizza.
The cost of each kit is $12.95. You can go to their website to get the details of what is in each kit, but this is an essential question for parents to deal with: “Is it worth it?” We’ll get to the reviews shortly, but a basic question to answer is what is it worth to you to move your children away from their devices and get involved in simple learning? A follow up question is what is it worth to your children?
Now for the reviews by actual people who ventured forth and tried it out on their own kids.
From an Actual World Traveler
The first review comes from ThePointsGuy whose website is actually about flying all around the globe, often in First Class seats, and reporting to his visitors about the pros and cons of a large number of different airlines and the points you can rack up simply by traveling. As much as you think this might be an opportunity for a shameless website promotion, the reason this is the first review is because this is someone who knows what the world is like by actually traveling to different countries.
In general he gives it a mixed review based more on how it captured, or failed to capture, the attention of his children. He reviews the Early Explorers kit and subscribed to it for an entire year, to give it a fair chance. When it came to the cards that are in every kit, the kids were about as thrilled using them as a kid trying to play a video game with a broken controller. Cards apparently are either passé or an old people thing.
Another activity in the kit was the Activity Books, which were deemed to be too simplistic for their 4 year old child. Remember they gave Little Passports an entire year to impress their child. The end verdict on this part of the “adventure” was also a fail.
The World Map was a big hit, and it tended to inspire conversations between dad and child. This might be a bit biased since his child already knows he travels everywhere and so has firsthand knowledge of the countries. Most dads and moms can’t say that.
From a Mom’s Perspective
Next up is an older review – from 2013. Little Passports has been around since 2009, so an earlier review is in order to compare with and see how things have improved – if at all. The mom writes a blog and is from Canada, which gives the review a different flavor. (Please stop with the Canadian bacon references.) The biggest criticism she had was the price, in part because she has to deal with the exchange rates, something Americans usually don’t think about. Otherwise she gives a very favorable review. One interesting thing she notes is the same kit can be shared by two (or more) children, so if you have a quiver full in your home the price may actually be a bargain.
From a Website that Reviews Children’s Products
This type of review had to be included so you will at least be able to know a potentially biased positive review when you see one. The website Fun Traveling with Kids took what appears to be a reasonably objective approach to their review of Little Passports, but there are a few things to be noted. According to their webpage:
- "A special Thank’s goes to Little Passports who send me a three months subscription for my kids to try out Little Passports for the purpose of this review. All views in this review are my opinion and based on my experience with this product. I don’t recommend a product I don’t use and love.”
These two notes found at the bottom of the page seem to strike a balance, so it is a question of whether you believe the author.
Other than the largely positive review, there are several interesting points for you to think about when considering a Little Passports subscription. One is that it is an updated review, so the author has previous tried out and reviewed the product. A second excellent point is that not every family can afford to go on a summer vacation trip, let alone globetrot the world, so it is a very economical way to “travel” when hard times arrive.
One of the World Explorer kits was about Japan and included an Origami activity – “a huge hit with the kids.” As you move up in age the kits become more personal, and more engaging. In some kits there are recipes that the whole family can try (or not) and will require parent-child interaction to complete. The author notes that the subscriptions are auto-renewing, so you need to keep on your financial toes if you are just trying them out for a few months.
Overall, the majority of reviews were positive, with some reservations about the price. People liked the idea of having something arrive for their children in the mail every month (though some parents said their kids were getting a bit pesty about it) and most reviewers said it was aimed at children who have a sense of adventure. Many of the reviews came with pictures showing their children engaged with Little Passports, so you can get an idea of what to expect.
We will wrap this up by returning to our mom’s dilemma about what to do with her iPhone addicted adolescent. It’s too late for her to get a Little Passports subscription in an attempt to turn the tide. It may be that there is a point of no return to get your children grounded in something other than virtual reality. Whether it is worth the $155 a year is something you will have to decide. Other than the price, there seem to be far more pros to the kits than cons.
Written by Bill Vix
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