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Monday, May 16, 2011

WonderMaps, a review

I don’t know if I’ve told you before how utterly geeky we are about maps around here.  Old maps, new maps, fictional maps, we love them all.  We plaster our walls with maps.  Ok, not all our walls.  But there’s no doubt to anyone who enters my kitchen that there’s some geography learning going on.

Maps are a great tool to bring your studies home in a way that books can’t always do.  There’s something satisfying about seeing for yourself where the Holy Roman Empire was located, and tracing the outlines of the nations there now with your fingertips.  And reassuring about realizing that you’re unlikely to find a poison dart frog in your backyard, unless you live in Central or South America (or maybe that’s a bit disappointing?).

But collecting maps, beautiful, detailed, useful maps to cover all our mappy needs can get a bit, ahem, spendy.  Especially when the little ones like to pull them off the wall.  Lucky for me Bright Ideas Press has just introduced an incredible new resource for all you map lovers out there:  WonderMaps.

WonderMaps-case-and-cd

This is a map collection like you’ve never seen before.  Over 350 maps that can be customized to fit your specific needs.  WonderMaps includes:

  • More than 60 world maps
  • More than 60 US maps
  • 125 historical maps
  • Thematic maps, including
    • Biblical maps
    • map set for The Mystery of History
    • map set for All American History
    • and more

israel

Maps can be accessed through an pdf interface, dividing them up into categories, as well as alphabetically (for current maps), and chronologically (for historical maps).

That’s a lot of maps, but you are probably wondering, what makes them WonderMaps?  How is this  resource any different from the myriad of other map collections you can purchase and print for notebooks?

Have you ever printed out a map with no city labels and wished that you had one with the city labels?   Or vice versa?  Or needed a black map showing rivers, but couldn’t find it?  Or didn’t want all those rivers cluttering your map?  Every map in WonderMaps can be customized to fulfill your needs.  This is truly a brilliant concept and I love it! 

For every map that you open in the WonderMaps pdf interface, you’ll be presented with a list of options that you can turn on or off.  With a few mouse clicks, you can go from a full featured map…

maryland all

…to a blank map with city locations, ready to be labeled.

maryland blank

 

Country and regional maps also have a topography feature, so you can learn about the lay of the land.  Choose full-color…

regional color

…or black and white (a tremendous ink saver!).

regional bw

WonderMaps also features a Teacher’s Guide, full of ideas and tips for incorporating maps into your homeschool.

For a full demonstration of the WonderMaps interface, check this out:

What did I think?

WonderMaps is a welcome addition to our homeschool.  The maps look great, I’m truly impressed with the quality.  I love being able to customize what’s on them.  That said, there are a few areas that could be improved (few things in life couldn’t stand some improvement, right?).

As far as I can tell, there are only topographical options for modern country and regional maps.  If you want to study the topography of a particular state or relate topography to your historical study, you’ll need to use the modern country or region maps to do it.  Of course, topography changes some over hundreds of years, so having topographical info on the historical maps might not be possible.  I’ll note here: You can add a modern political map overlay to historical maps, so the kiddos can get a clearer idea of what was what.  Clever!  Might not be practical for printing purposes, but it’s a great on-screen teaching tool.

There are not individual country maps for every country.  For Africa, for instance, you can only access the full African continent, Egypt, or regional maps.  The regional maps are labeled with individual country names.  One way to get around this:  enlarge the regional map on your screen and scroll until you have the country the way you want it.  Then print that view.  My printer has a “print current view” option and most have a similar option.

I would also like to see a search feature from the main page, saving me the trouble of clicking through the subheadings to find the map I’m looking for.  And further options for customizing the maps themselves (pretty please?).  Wouldn’t it be great to be able to add a legend box for your kiddos to fill in with things like natural resources?

Lastly, it seems like there are a few key map elements missing.  While you can turn on/off latitude and longitude, none of the maps seem to show scale (how many miles to an inch), or feature a key for the elevation coloring on the topographical overlay.

Overall, I really like WonderMaps a ton, but it won’t totally replace our mapping resources.  I’ll still need my wall maps, of course ;0).  But I’ll also need other resources for showing actually distances, understanding relative areas of countries, finding elevation, and so on.  But it’s an outstanding tool to have in my educational box.

WonderMaps requires Adobe Reader v. 9.1 or higher to run and is available for Windows PC or Mac.

WonderMaps can be purchase from Bright Ideas Press for $49.95.

Available as a download or download plus cd.

For more TOS Homeschool Crew reviews, please visit the Crew blog.

Disclosure:  I received this software free of charge in order to review it.  I received no compensation.  The opinions expressed here are my own and I was in no way required to write a positive review. My thoughts cannot be “pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed or numbered.” They are my own.

Credit: The quote in my disclosure comes from the 1960’s TV series The Prisoner.

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