Little Passports subscription – no thumbs up from me

I have been subscribing a year almost and now want to cancel this. If you’re contemplating getting this for your child, I hope this blog post helps inform your decision.

Pros :

– Something new in the post every month

– Fun introduction to a different country every month

Cons:

– Subscription fee is way overpriced for what you receive. I’ll tell you what you receive and you can also Google it online. Some have also uploaded photos of the stuff in every package online. One website like this I think is a Montessori-type website featuring Little Passports. The first month, you get the cardboard suitcase, which makes the mail package fairly large. You think wow, a large parcel box like that is going to arrive every month from then on. No in actual fact, all you will get after that first mailing is a thin padded envelope that will slip through your mailbox easily without needing for you to sign for it. Yes and that’s because the contents in each month’s package are really little.

1) You get a printed piece of A4 paper with activities like word searches and things on both sides of the paper.

2) You get a printed piece of C5 paper which is supposed to be a pretend letter written to you by your Little Passports pretend “penpals”, Sam and Sofia.

3) You get like 4 small stickers to stick on your Little Passports cardboard suitcase and pretend passport.

4) And lastly you get a very small and poor quality toy that is supposed to be from the country of the month – usually the toy would be some piece of tat that breaks easily or is worth no more than £2 in the shops – effectively “party bag fillers”.

Altogether these 4 items cost £13.95 per month. If you have the inclination to do so, just make up your own pretend letter from pretend pen pals (or find real ones from these countries online if possible), make up your own or download and print some worksheets or wordsearches from online sources, research online for toys that traditionally hail in that country and source it on the net or in real shops. Bet you can find ones of better quality. Lastly, make your own stickers with country flags on them or just ditch the stickers if they’re no big loss to your kids. £13.95 a month a package,  with 36 packages in total to collect. That’s £500+ you’ll pay in total over 3 years if you keep the subscription until you’ve received all 36 monthly packages. Is that really the kind of money you think worth spending on a very basic standard of Geography and cultural awareness exposure from purchasing this subscription? I bet if you saved your money, you could buy a tonne of resources to expose your child to more of this subject, and still have money left in the kitty after!

Alright, I am not asking for quantity over quality, I am just asking for quality and substance. Right now, the product lacks quality and quantity, lacks substance. Might be fine for an 8 or 9 year old but way too easy and basic for my 10 year old even, who by the way isn’t even a very academic child.

– What a bummer too that so far, despite attempts by home educators both in UK and the US to secure good educational discount deals with Little Passports for groups of us, Little Passports has been very unwilling to budge from their meagre 15% discount code which they already offer to all potential customers. That’s a pretty poor saving. Their classroom subscriptions for US schools works out at USD$16.50 per month for 30 packages. Now that’s the price home educators want, as we can group together and make group purchases of that number or more. Why aren’t Little Passports willing to do us a deal like they already do with schools? Do they not consider what we’re doing a form of teaching and schooling? Or do they suppose all/most home educators are rich and therefore will spend silly money on this? And if they wanted to play the numbers game, well there are a far lot more of us out there than you think, and we do tend to club together for deals and groupbuys for educational materials. They can easily get 100s of home educators subscribing to them, if they are willing to lower prices for us. Home educators already get a lot of discounts and deals together this way, and word travels fast in our community. We could potentially get you lots of subscribers in a small amount of time. Do you want to do business or what?

– Customer service is generally poor and slow to respond – quick to take your money though! And this is especially risky for non-US subscribers because there is no way to contact them other than by email or social media. They take a day or more to respond to every email. Sometimes quite erratically, they respond on the same day. And the fact it is all email-based makes it quite easy for them to ditch responsibility really. They could just ignore you. And well, what is their contact address should you wish to write a letter of complaint? And how would that work sending a recorded letter all the way to America from the UK? Expenses paid by yourself or them? (The answer is you)

And who can you report them to for questionable business practices if you live in the UK and perhaps have little knowledge of American consumer laws or perhaps because of the fact you aren’t a US resident, you might not get the help you need by law enforcement or the ombudsman? And when the customer service reps do respond, they are good with general politeness and that certain American “peppiness” but at the end of the day, issues remain unsatisfactorily resolved and they don’t budge no matter your objection.

For instance, my child’s package did not arrive on the expected date one month. I was worried it might have gotten lost in the mail and contacted them but all the said back to me was a) wait for it to arrive b) items aren’t tracked (well with the pricing and the cheap quality of materials, it should, really.) so they can’t tell me where the item is other than it has been sent. Eventually the package arrived late by a week or so c) just a sorry from them. Nothing else. If the package had arrived later or never arrived, I have no idea if they will even resend the package. Annoying thing is that they will continue taking the monthly payment from your card on time though.

– Speaking of monthly card payments, that takes us to the next important major cons about Little Passports – their requirement of every subscriber to pass them their credit or debit card details so they can take payment continuously during the entire subscription period. Now did you know that when you give an online retailer your card details to take payment as and when they wish, you have basically lost a huge amount of control on your end as to stopping any future payments, if you should ever feel disgruntled about the product. Basically there is no way you can stop these future payments Little Passports will take from you if they choose to keep taking them, if your bank is unwilling to do anything about it for you. Some banks will insist that such continuous payments can never be cancelled as long as the company keeps taking them, because some banks will tell you once you have given your card details away to a company, you have basically given up control over the matter and there will be nothing the bank can do about stopping future payments. Hopefully your bank won’t be like that. In the worst case scenario, the only thing you can do to stop further payments to be taken is to close down your bank account and reopen another one. Because even if you applied for a change of card number and kept your old account, some banks will just transfer Little Passports’ authority to take payments, to the new card associated with your bank account, so they can continue taking payments from your new card number!

So when you entrust your card payment details to a company like Little Passports, which to all intents and appearances seem to be a fully online company with no physical address nor call centre, you are basically trusting that nothing will ever go wrong as far as dealings with them are concerned, and that nothing will ever happen that could be the reason why you might wish to stop them taking another monthly payment off your payment card. Big, big risk. Especially with the poor level of customer care I have received. My advice to you after my own experiences is never hand over your card details for recurring payments for any subscription. If possible, use Direct Debit or Standing Orders.

– In addition, they have a very odd billing system I find, in which they take your money in advance, usually around 25th of the month, for the next month’s shipment which is expected to arrive around mid-month. Once they have taken your money, if you ask for a cancellation and refund, they will refuse to refund anything to you, saying that the packages are already in the process of being prepared and shipped and they cannot take the package back. What kind of preparation and airmail shipment method from the US takes just over 2 weeks to complete? They are basically saying that from round about the 25th of the month till round about the middle (15th) of the following month, the packages are in the process of being prepared and airmailed to you. Packages that typically contain one tiny toy, 2 sheets of printed paper, and a sheet of about 4 small stickers that isn’t bigger than your palm. I can’t imagine how that could take a lot of time and effort to pack and send. And the US is a first world country and not so far from the UK, so airmail packages from the US typically arrive in UK within a week of postage. In general, it’s all a bit BS really.

– If you’re thinking of purchasing more than 1 subscription for 1 household, perhaps so that each child in the household can have their own package, well I would caution against that. I purchased 2 subscriptions from the start so 2 of my children can have their own sets. Unfortunately the past 2 or 3 of my son’s packages didn’t arrive at the same time as my daughter’s, which affected his enjoyment of the packages – basically the surprise element was gone once he’d seen what his sister had received first. The surprise element of these packages was the main reason why I subscribed to Little Passports. As a home educator, I am used to planning and arranging curricula resources for my children. I could easily have gotten books, worksheets and workbooks or online resources to help my kids learn Geography and cultural awareness. However I notice my kids were more interested in a subject if there is a sensory aspect or a surprise element to it. I tried Little Passports out as it seemed to fit those expectations. Unfortunately it started out fine and then became less satisfactory as time went on due to the above-mentioned issues. When I contacted Little Passports about the lack of synchronicity with the mailing of both packages, I just got an answer that basically meant the company can’t do anything about it. Not only that, the company couldn’t track the packages so if one came late (and once my son’s package did come as late as nearly 2 weeks longer than his sister’s), all the company rep could tell me was they’re sorry and that I must just wait for the packages to arrive.

I felt the company could at least try to ensure that 2 orders from 2 children with the same surname and therefore from the same family at the same address (i.e. siblings) could be sent at the same time so they arrive together. It just makes sense to do so, right? But apparently this is not possible, according to their rep 😕

– And lastly, they have a very poor online  account management system. Below are a few incidents that have happened :

– I forgot my password (or I assumed I did since I tried what I thought was the password I’d set initially and it didn’t work) when I needed to log in one day to halt my shipments for a month. The customer rep I emailed just didn’t address the issue of my password, but she halted the shipments for me.

– When I emailed them to unsubscribe, and according to their online website FAQs, if you want to cancel subscription, all you have to do is email their customer support and give 30 days notice. Well when I emailed customer support to cancel subscription, she said I had to log into my account to do so myself! Well since my online login and password issue still remains unresolved for months, how can I? Why can’t she cancel the subscription herself? Even their FAQs say you just email customer support and give 30 days notice. So why now is she saying I have to log into my online account and unsubscribe from there myself? Conflicting information much? 😕 Below is a screenshot of their company policy from their website on cancelling subscriptions :

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– Once my son tried going onto their online portal to do the “additional online fun activities”, but we couldn’t log in. Emailed their customer reps only to be given login details but the fields for them were blank in the email. Duh… so this didn’t resolve anything. Luckily for us, after examining his Little Passports suitcase “boarding passes” I realised the problem may be the fact I hadn’t keyed in the correct boarding pass code for him. So problem resolved by myself, no thanks to the customer reps who seemed to not even know much about how the company system operates – ditto for my previous point about conflicting advice on subscription cancellation policies.

And just for interest, I went on Little Passport’s Facebook page to look at their Visitor Posts to see if others were having similar issues to mine. Well I found quite a few. To take a look yourself, go to https://www.facebook.com/littlepassports/

Click on the small arrow next to the word “Visitor Posts”  to view the full list of posts made by various visitors.  I’ve indicated it with a red arrow in the screenshot below.

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And below this paragraph are screenshots of the complaints, for the month of January 2017 alone, posted by Little Passport customers on the Little Passports Facebook page. I’m sure there are more if you want to look into their page. Hmm clearly a recurring pattern there amongst the complaints mainly relating to delivery issues, customer service issues, and charging and unsubscription issues.

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I hope this information is useful to anyone considering subscribing to Little Passports from the UK especially. Also, Little Passports, if you’re reading this, you might think this all sounds harsh, but I promise you if you actually manage to get my issues resolved satisfactorily, I will comment here as truthfully as I can about it. All of your usual pleasantries in your emails will sound nothing but insincere if you fail to be able to resolve your customer issues. I await any further emails from you in good faith and I hope you can understand how frustrated I have been at dealing with your company, which is why I want to cancel now.

You could be doing so much better. You have a great concept in your hands. It is on the strength of the concept that customers flock to you. If you really try and work on the issues surrounding your customer service, the quality of your materials, and your online account portal for customers, you could gain a lot more customers and not lose customers like me who have had frustrating experiences with you.

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UPDATE:  I received a final reply from the rep today which sounded as if she didn’t understand the issues I’ve had with the company in the past 10 months. She said she wasn’t able to respond timely because of timezone issues, but she was apologetic and said she has made sure my account has been cancelled straight away. I can’t fault the customer reps when they do respond. Rude is not a word that describes them. However the problems still remain, so it could be a company policy issue. Something the directors should decide. Also I suggest timezone issues affecting customer service rep response should not be present if this company wants to be established in the UK market as well. They used to restrict their business to US-only customers, and only last year they started shipping to UK customers too. But it would improve their UK customer service if they had UK-based reps or at least US ones who can man the customer service systems during daytime hours in the UK. And for goodness sakes, they really need to fix their online portal, delivery methods, and charging issues.

I also called my bank today to explain my situation. Having looked at UK-based online forums where people described their difficulties in getting their banks to stop recurring subscription card payments such as this, I was expecting there could be a chance my request could be refused. However I got transferred by the phone banking customer rep to the right person in the company handling this sort of thing, and this lady was very helpful and understanding. She asked me to describe the details of what happened and why I was wanting the payments to be stopped. I explained and didn’t even need to go into excruciating detail, but she basically replied and said it sounds like this company isn’t interested in stopping the payments, and then told me she will ensure all attempts by Little Passports to claim future payments will be refused as of immediate effect. She also said I should receive a letter in the post soon confirming this. How’s that for efficient and responsive customer service? 🙂

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Unit study : The Emergence of Farming (Free Powerpoint slide)

We started using Khan Academy for learning History in a chronological way about a few weeks ago. The videos by John Green are humorous, informative, and a great jumping off point that can lead to all sorts of research and reflection. First topic he deals with is about the emergence of agriculture. I felt there were some unanswered questions in the video. Of course! And nobody ever said these videos were really meant to cover everything one can or should learn about History. It’s great for starting off somewhere.

As my daughter and I are new to the 3D Notebooking thing – well, she has been doing some lapbooks and she likes them. Only thing is I find that with lapbooks, even if we tried to make it deal with more complex terminologies and concepts, there still isn’t a lot of scope to practice writing longer pieces – like an A4 sheet long piece of work, or more. And as my daughter is building up her skills towards her IGCSE English exam (which she will take in about 3 years’ time) which has a rather substantial essay-writing component, I decided to start getting her used to writing longer pieces from now on. So I found out about 3D Notebooking. It’s like a fusion of lapbooking and essay writing. Best example is to show you this website link so you can see what it’s about : http://notebookingpages.com/ There is also a gallery on that website where you can see examples of children’s 3D notebooking work in a large age range.

We started off gently. I first got her to read certain articles on the internet – news or informative ones, or watch videos, then asked her to write about a paragraph, a few lines of words, or as much as she wants, about her thoughts on what she’d just read/seen. She rather enjoyed this actually. I could see it seemed more fun than following a textbook. For this reason I will never ever try to teach History or Social Studies from a textbook ever again. I mean they can be useful as a base to jump off from, or as a guide to know when to learn what – but really ever since we started using Khan Academy, I realised how good it was and how much information is available online. The only problem is that there is so much information out there. It can take time to seek out what you’re looking for, and to verify the information is true.

I wrote up a Powerpoint slide show for my daughter to help her with the Emergence of Agriculture theme, kickstarted by the Khan Academy History video she watched.

The Powerpoint slide show I made can be downloaded here : https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B8KolCk2cqBESU5Rd3FHT0k4RXM/view?usp=sharing

So how I did it was I let her watch the Powerpoint. It includes some basic general info, some links, some possible new words (vocabulary-building) and some questions at the end to prompt some reflection or research. But I leave it up to her entirely on what she chooses to write about in her Notebooking pages.

I also purchased this set of Notebooking papers for her here : http://notebookingpages.com/archives/2330

I thought it would be nice for her to have, you see. I let her choose any design she wants. It’s her Notebooking pages. So her choice. She decides how the pages will look and what she wants to write in them and she decides if she wants to draw or stick mini-flapbooks in them or whatever. Everything gets filed into a folder reserved especially for Notebooking pages.

She ended up writing up about 3 pages worth of Notebooking pages on this topic alone. She chose not to do 3D notebooking this time, but just to do notebooking and draw in pictures herself. It was a great topic because it relates to a “living” book my daughter had read in the Sonlight Core D series called “Walk The World’s Rim” and it detailed a lot of how life was as a hunter-gatherer (the protagonist in the story is an American Indian boy). These days there is a trend (in some circles) of eating diets that emulate what the practitioners think hunter-gatherers supposedly ate in the past. They argue that the hunter-gatherer diet is healthier than the grain-based diet that humans started after they switched to an agricultural lifestyle. The reality of hunter-gatherer lifestyles can be less idealistic – often they went hungry for a week or more. Hunter-gatherer diets actually varied a great deal depending on the geography and environment each hunter-gatherer group/tribe lived in. Not all of them ate little grain. They were sometimes so hungry they ate ground-up fish bones or grubs for subsistence. Agriculture provided them with a more stable food supply (although even that can be disputed in times of famine and bad harvests). But there must have been reasons why so many human societies ditched the hunter-gathering lifestyle for agriculture. What were they? These things were explored in the Powerpoint slides I created for my child.

As part of our foray into this topic, we also looked into how switching from a hunter-gatherer lifestyle to an agricultural lifestyle may have changed our social dynamics. Hunter-gatherer lifestyles were more egalitarian. It was the agricultural lifestyle that brought about feudalism, etc. All very big concepts, big words, for a young 12 year old girl like my daughter. But she learnt a little from it even if she did not fully understand everything. I did not test her to see how much she understood. I did not even grade her notebooking work for her standard of writing or her ability to express her thoughts and opinions. This is a totally free, knowledge-enriching experience that I want my child to have. By learning this way, she doesn’t just learn History. She learns a bit of social studies, a bit of sociology, a bit of science, etc.  Like I said in a previous post, I don’t believe in compartmentalising learning into separate subjects. So much of learning – real learning- is a fusion of lots of different subjects and multidisciplinary in nature.

I wonder where our notebooking adventures will take us to next. But I’m really enjoying this home education journey with her. I love unit studies.

 

The refugee crisis

This week, Aylan Kurdi’s death made huge headlines across every continent. I felt it was a great opportunity to teach my kids about refugees. It hadn’t always been a priority for me to teach that – more of a “if we have enough time, then we’ll touch on it” sort of thing. They don’t really have the maturity to comprehend a lot of the complex aspects involved in this issue. However, since I’ve started doing Unit Studies with my eldest recently, using Khan Academy’s History lessons as a base and a guide (we like the humorous videos by John Green and I believe in teaching History chronologically), I decided maybe we could do one on refugees this week.

I’ve been trying to find resources online to teach children about refugees in an age-appropriate way. Okay I know every kid is different. Some kids are more mature than others even if they are the same ages. But I just needed a guide of sorts. I could always get my eldest to read a news article or two, but I realised many articles about refugees (in particular Aylan Kurdi’s case) use terminology that may be too difficult for her to comprehend. Heck, I was even shocked recently when I discovered my eldest had no idea what the phrase “home economics” meant! So I cannot assume she would understand a lot of the more complex stuff, although she is capable of understanding the main gist. I had her read a newspaper article about the 3 brave Americans who helped save an entire train carriage of passengers from massacre by a gun-wielding terrorist. She could understand that. I often ask her to write up a paragraph at least about her thoughts on whatever I asked her to read. Sort of as a practicing of writing, and a practice in reflection I suppose. I’ve been trying to get her to read “living articles”. You know how Charlotte Mason thought “living books” were best for teaching about History? Well I think “living articles” are great for social studies too. I prefer the term “social studies” for what I try to get my daughter to learn. It is a great mix of history, geography, current affairs, cultural issues, etc. It is very hard and I find, unnecessary, to try and break up the things I get her to learn into neat little subject boxes. It just doesn’t exist over here. Though I could do that if I tried. But when you learn naturally, things usually don’t come in neat isolated subject packages.

I found the following resources for teaching about refugees which I personally found useful and adaptable for home education:

UNHCR’s Lesson Modules http://www.unhcr.org/pages/4ab356d36.html

Red Cross’s refugee teaching resources  http://www.redcross.org.uk/Tags/Refugees-

Amnesty International’s Human Rights teaching resources http://www.amnesty.org.uk/resources/teaching-pack-everyone-everywhere-human-rights-secondary-school#.Ve5TuX2mQ5s

Guardian’s teaching resource (requires registration but it’s free to register) http://teachers.theguardian.com/teacher-resources/2149/elearn/Migration

Naldic’s teaching resource http://www.employabilityforum.co.uk/documents/RefugeesintoSchoolsResourcePack2.pdf

Lastly this one isn’t a teaching resource per se but it is a nice website and concept where people can learn about the different ways they can help refugees and even keep an online record of which ones they’ve managed to achieve http://www.simpleacts.org.uk/