Monday, September 14, 2015

Pin Maps: Finally, a Set You Can Afford that You Don't Have to Make Yourself (Mostly)

Okay, I'm going to cut straight to the summary and then go into my typical long-winded nitty-gritty analysis afterward.

There is a new source available for pin maps as used in the Montessori elementary environment.  Now you have three options at three different price points:

1.  Nienhuis "Cabinet of World Parts."  
Cost:  $975 plus $136 shipping (to my location)
Labor hours:  None
Storage:  included
Caveat:  Pins may scratch wooden map surface or chip at pre-drilled holes.

2.  New:  Pin It! Maps "Complete Map Set:  Student Package."
Cost:  $219.98 plus $15 shipping plus cost of pins (likely around $26)
Promo Code:  Save 10%  on your entire purchase until 10/31/15 with the code "allday"
Labor hours: Eight (my estimation)
Storage:  $45-90 depending on your choices.

3.  DIY:  See my tutorial here.
Cost:  $125 plus $26-$90 for pins (price depends on how you code your pins or flags)
Labor hours:  Forty
Storage:  $25 for hardware drawers.

VERDICT:  If the Pin It! maps had been available two years ago, I would not have made my own set of pin maps.  The overall quality is better than my set, the control maps are significantly better, there are fun extras, and the price difference is so minimal that I definitely would have chosen to pay extra and save myself 32 hours of labor.  I received a set of Pin It! Maps from the company specifically to review so that I could tell my readers whether or not they are comparable to the maps that I made myself.  I will be brutally honest in expressing my opinions as always.

Edited to add:  I have since become a Pin It! Maps affiliate and receive a small commission if someone purchases via links here in this post and elsewhere on the blog.  We put any money earned right back into our homeschooling.  Please consider supporting our homeschool by purchasing through our links.  You can use the coupon code MAPS to receive 10% off.

Are these three options comparable?

I believe all three of these options are comparable in function and scope but there are differences in the level of quality.  I designed my set to be comparable to the Nienhuis set without the high price point and scratching issues.  Sara, the owner of Pin It! maps is a homeschooling mom who apparently read my blog post about the maps I made, saw an unfulfilled need in the market, and spent 10 months designing a product to specifically meet and exceed what I was looking for in a set of pin maps.  I was a muse people! So, it is no surprise that I love these maps.  They were designed to be exactly what I wanted, but better.   Even creepier, does anyone else remember my obsession with the maps command cards that I don't have from Waseca?  Sara created several similar sets and they are available as free downloads on her website.  In fact, Sara has improved the pin map concept by weaving in a bonus Waseca bend in several ways.  More on that later.  Before I get hopelessly bogged down in nitty gritty details I want to say some more things about the Pin It! Product.  When you open the box it comes carefully packaged and is well-organized.  I didn't have to spend 10 hours sorting things like I often do when I receive an ETC Montessori product, for example.  You have about 8 hours of flag/pin assembly to accomplish. I will say that Sara has tried to make this as painless as possible.  There are very clear, photo instructions for the assembly and the package even includes the roll of tape you need to laminate your flags.

Back to quality.  One might predict that most expensive option is going to be the highest quality, but I'm not sure that is the case here.  The storage for the Nienhuis set is obviously beautiful.  The flags (hard plastic flags with blunt-ended metal posts) are very sturdy and of the highest quality.  The questionable component comes down to the pin maps themselves. They are what I would call political maps.  The land is one color, the water is another.  The Pin It! maps and my own maps are what I would call physical maps that show elevations and this is a useful feature when labeling mountains.   The Nienhuis maps are wood and metal blunt-ended pins go into pre-drilled holes and the pins often scratch the paint off of the maps or can chip around the hole.

The quality of the maps for the DIY set will of course depend on where you source your maps.  I sourced the best maps that I was able to find for my purposes. Those who read my tutorial may recall that sourcing the maps was easily the most frustrating part of the process.  Pin It! appears to have had maps manufactured specifically for this purpose which is exciting (more information available in their FAQ section).

About the Maps Themselves: 

I mostly used A Beka maps.  The A Beka maps that I used are comparable in quality to the Pin It! maps but are different.  The maps are a similar size.  The Pin It! maps are just a bit larger and are uv coated.  Mine show the political boundaries a little more clearly due to the colors.  However, I would say that  the Pin It! maps use color more intelligently.  Instead of using color to boost the political boundaries (which is something I liked about the A Beka maps) they use it to show the different biomes, something I never would have thought of.   Here are photos of one of my maps and then a Pin It! map:

The level of detail is better on the Pin It! maps.  There are five rivers that show up on the Pin It! maps that do not show up on my A Beka maps.  Also, the way the physical geography is shown makes it easier to see where the highest points of a mountain range can be found.  This is probably due to the hand-shading mentioned on their site.

If you click on any of these pictures, they should enlarge.  That will allow you to see the differences better, particularly when it comes to knowing where to place the pin.  Nienhuis uses colors around the pre-drilled holes to identify the type of pin to insert.  They use a star around the capitol city.  I did the same thing (with a marker) but didn't bother with stars.  The Pin It! maps have different colors and symbols that make things even easier.  I think the symbols for volcanoes and mountain ranges are really cute.  Also, the "R" in the center of the spot for river makes it clear that it is the river that is being labelled and not just a place to put the country name or the flag.

One place the Pin It! maps blow mine out of the water is the included maps of the Caribbean and Oceania.  It was important to me that my kids learn where these small countries and other islands are, but that it is very difficult to include that level of detail on any of the six larger continent maps.  The relative size of the islands compared to the larger continents makes them very very small.  My solution was to include a separate, special map for each of these areas.  I then discovered that sourcing a map that showed those areas the way I wanted them to look was nearly impossible.  I finally found something adequate but they needed to be colored and they were not the same size or quality of the other maps I was using.  Sara had maps manufactured specifically for these areas that match in size and quality, are oriented the way they need to be (that is, shown fully with enough of the surrounding larger geography to give a reference point), and were visually what I wanted (that is, indicating the island groups in Oceania in a way that is is understandable).   Below are pictures of my maps versus her maps and you can see that mine are downright embarrassing in comparison:

MY Oceania map and physical map of Australia.  They are only 8" x 10"

Pin It! Maps version 18" x 24"

Close-up.  You can see you don' t need a separate physical map like I used.

About the Controls:

I did not make map-style controls for all of my maps.  You can see the controls I used in my tutorial post.  In short, they are a combination of puzzle map controls, an actual atlas, and charts for capitals and flags like this one:

It would have raised my costs considerably if I had made map-style controls for each type of pin.

The Pin It! maps and Nienhuis maps both use map-style controls.  Here is a picture of some of the Pin-It! controls for Asia:

You can see that the flag control is easier to check than mine.  Also, I think the way colored highlighting was used on the land and water control is very well done.  Again, you can click on these to enlarge.  I appreciate that the titles identifying each control map are color coded with Montessori colors.

Do they have a comparable level of difficulty?

One important question some people will have right away is whether all three options include the same number of flags and cover islands, rivers, and mountains at comparable levels of detail.  I literally used the Nienhuis labels for the pins so I know that my level is identical.  However, I also added quite a bit to my North America land and water map.  I also added the entire Caribbean and Oceania.  The Pin It! maps also added the Caribbean and Oceania.  I sat down and pulled out all of my land and water pins for Europe and laid them side by side with the Pin It! pins and they were nearly identical.  I was missing two pins they had and they were missing two pins I had.  It was fine.

Why do I still have to assemble my own pins with Pin It! maps?

The pin flags are already made, instructions and materials are included in the box for assembling them (right down to the tape for laminating the flags).  However, apparently the government doesn't allow 1200 small sharp pointy objects to be sold along with a product marketed to children so you have to get your own pins.  Also, this means that it is also going to cost you some hours to assemble the pins.  Sara estimates that Europe takes 2 hours and Central America/Caribbean takes 45 minutes.  So, based on my experience with these I would guess around eight hours for the whole set.

The pin design is different than the pin design I used.  There are two reasons for this, one is the different choices made for backing the maps.  The other is that the Pin It! maps were designed so you would not need glue.  Using glue is a pain and adds an extra time consuming step.  Plus I glued myself to myself repeatedly when making my own maps.

I used foam board from the dollar store to make my maps and it is only about a third of the thickness that Pin It! uses.  It's nice to use the thin foam because I was able to back every map individually without taking up too much space so each map is grab and go.  It also means I was able to use short pins without stoppers.  I find it is holding up well and is still holding the pins well.  We do have to use the maps on a hard surface to stop the pins from going in to the map too far as it would on the carpet.

Pin It! maps use .5" foam.  It has a better feel and isn't prone to warping like my thin foam could be.  It does mean that the pin design had to be different so that you don't completely sink the pin down to the flag.  Sara provides stoppers for each pin.  The combination of a stopper and clear pvc "flag poles" require a slightly longer pin than I used.  The "flag pole" prevents the pin from bending (I've not had that problem) and keeps the flag from sliding down the pole when the child pushes the pin into the map.  This is the part of the design that avoids having to superglue each flag to each pin.

Here is a picture from the website in which you can see the pins clearly:

These pins are inserted into the World Map.  The World map was another unexpected bonus that is not part of the Nienhuis set or the set I made.  Flags come with the set to label the Tropic of Cancer, Capricorn, etc.,  This means you don't have to make a working chart when you get to that portion of the geography album.  It also provides a way to practice world biomes.

I had no interest in assembling all of the Pin It! maps pins after having already spent so many hours assembling my own, so I have been using my pins on the Pin It! maps when trying them out.

The set came with two pieces of the .5" foam and two sets of special plastic corners.  This set-up is designed to keep the storage space required low.  The maps themselves take up very little room.  You choose the map you want to use, put it on the foam, and then add the corner pieces to hold the map to the foam and protect the corners.

I wondered if using the same foam for so many maps would wear out the foam in places where pins fall close together but not in the exact same spot.  Sara uses these with her own children and hasn't noticed a problem.  She points out that the foam can be turned and/or flipped as needed so it creates more spread.

Also, I will point out that replacement parts are really easy to get for these maps.  It's nice to find a Montessori material in which you can replace parts without buying a new set.  There are replacement maps, foam, flags, flag parts, everything.

About buying pins:

How much this costs is highly dependent on how much you spend on pins.  When I made my own pin maps I used a different color pin for each continent rather than writing or printing the name of the continent on the back of every flag.  Labeling the back of each flag would have doubled my flag-making hours.  Getting the colored pins at a low cost can be tricky. I managed $0.01 when I did the project but lately haven't seen better than $0.02 and if you don't find a sale they can be $0.04.  Also, when you buy in the different colors you wind up over-buying for certain colors and therefore overspending.  Yellow is the common color for these pins.  You can get them more easily and at less expense.  For example they are $0.017 today on Amazon.  If you got them locally and on sale (50% off notions) you might do better.  If you are making your own pin map set you could get all one color and just code them on the back.  If you are really hard core like my friend Abbie and want color-coded pin heads you can paint yours different colors with nail polish.  If you are buying pins in all one color for either the Pin It! set or making your own you need around 1150 pins.  If you are buying colored pins I have a breakdown on my original tutorial post.


I store my own pins in a set of hardware drawers.  If I were to use the longer pins required for the Pin It! maps and put on the stoppers and flag poles I don't think that I could fit an entire set of country names or capitals for a continent in a single drawer anymore.  Sara recommends using 4x6 Iris storage boxes (like for photos).  It is going to be more economical to source the boxes yourself than to buy them through her site.  She does sell a nifty set of labels for the boxes ready to go and color-coded.  There are 45 labels in that set.  I'm guessing there must be a dollar store version available if you look.  Otherwise you'll need to look for a sale at a craft store of some kind.

Fun Extras:

Speaking of storage, Pin It! sells a nice set of pin-cushions for holding the set of pins you are working with while you are using them.  They are color-coded to match the Montessori colors for each continent.  Here is a photo of some of MY pins in one of the Pin It! pincushions.

Remember, those are MY pins.  The Pin It! flags are not ragged on the edges, are nicely printed, and are coded on the back with the continent name.  I am using the Europe side of the pincushion.  I would flip it for Africa.  Or, I can use any color I want.

Another fun extra is a special map set Sara created for practicing the landforms.
It is 9"x 24" and comes with two controls, one for land forms and one for water forms.  It also includes all of the pin/flag making materials that you would need.  Labels for the storage containers you would use for this map is included in the labels set.  This is a separate map set.  It is not part of the student set.

If you have a coop or classroom setting and would want more foam and a second set of pins there is a classroom package available.

Another thing to consider is that Sara suggests that these maps could be used in a multi-level homeschool setting that includes primary children by using Toob figures rather than pins along with any of these maps.  Deb, over at Living Montessori Now, focused on this aspect of the package in here review which you can find here.  She also took a good close-up of an assembled pin if you want to see one.

Finally, be sure to check out the Free Teaching Materials section of the Pin It! website.  There you will find the command cards I mentioned earlier as well as card sets to help you link this map set to any Waseca biome work you might be doing.

Don't forget, you can save 10% on your entire purchase until 10/31/15 with the promo code "all day."


  1. I am so Happy about this!! I hope she does so well with her design. Inspiring Momma.

  2. Wow, what a great long review post. Now I am glad that I didn't make the map of the world. If we ever get to learning the land forms and waterways of the word, I still think I'd nail polish all of the pin heads. :)

    I like the relief maps. That is what I used for my US contiguous set.

  3. Thank you for the wonderful review!! It is a dream to have you blog about them after many hours studying your DIY blog post! I am so happy and honored that you love them so much! :)

  4. Wow! I don't even use Montessori methods anymore, but sure am tempted by Pin It! maps. Very detailed and thorough review.