We have found foreign language classes (currently Spanish, Greek, and Sign Language) to go along with the Latin program we do at home. Science is a bit of a mish mash of textbooks, non-fiction readings, software, and hands-on science clubs. History is covered with a series of books, documentaries, and field trips.
But one of the most frustrating parts of history to teach is the visual part. The parts where battles are discussed or when land had different political lines than it does now, or even how a river made all the difference in a group of people's lives.
I have spent hours looking for maps that will illustrate what I am trying to explain so that these things will stick in the head of my visual children. And the most frustrating part is, after you have spent hours finding maps and altering them for your purposes, it often takes only minutes for the information to be learned and you are ready to move on to the next map, the one that you still need to spend a lot of time preparing.
Bright Ideas Press has come up with a product that helps to fill in this particular hole --WonderMaps.
This software is filled with nothing but customizable maps. Over 350 of them covering the World, the US, Historical Maps, and Thematic Maps.
- The World - includes a list of countries, along with a list of regions/continents
- The US - maps for each state, US territories, 10 regions, and a full country map
- Historical Maps - 38 Ancients Maps, 28 Middle Ages Maps, and 25 Renaissance Maps
- Thematic Maps - maps grouped in themes -- Biblical Maps, Chinese Dynasties, Native Americans, Explorers, American History, World Wars, and 20th Century Treaties
I love the layer part. I did not realize how many rivers surrounded us until I took the other layers off our state map. I also love the black and white layer to save on printer ink. And as a visual person, the layers feature allows me to get the most out of this software, adding and subtracting details until I have just what I need, and more importantly, nothing that I don't need.
Instead of using this software for formal schoolwork, we tend to sit at the computer and pull up the maps for whatever our interest was at that moment, including Revolutionary War battles, the location of Samoa (which we heard on NPR wants to change its time to jump across the International Date Line) and the area in Australia where one of our favorite TV shows takes place.
This software is the best I have seen in allowing you to make a map your own. It is not perfect, as it is definitely from a US stand point (no other country but the US has its own history section, for instance), and at times it cannot get as detailed as you like (it has limits on how many small towns/cities will show up or information about the islands of Indonesia and the Philippines). So while it it is very useful for US history, it has its limits with geography and detailed history from other vantages.
Included is also a teacher's guide, filled with ideas on how to use WonderMaps beyond the obvious.
This software is available for $49.95 and runs on Adobe Reader, a free download. There is also a 6 minute tutorial that gives you a good overview of what WonderMaps is all about. And if you read The Old Schoolhouse Magazine, keep your eyes peeled for a 20% off coupon code located in the magazine.
If you have the money available, I would consider this software a good investment. It is one of those items you can use for multiple children for years and years, no matter the curriculum used. That allows it to pay for itself, not only in usefulness, but in the amount of time it gives you back today, and also by extending your life expectancy due to stress reduction.