Despite being a digital mom, I’m that mom; the one who refused to have anything but natural wooden and soft toys around Laurel as a baby, the one who has steered clear of anything battery operated since. Until recently. And while I remain a proponent of the learn through play philosophy via basic tools -- you’ll always find a plentiful supply of books, paper, paint, colored pencils, sculpting clay, dry pasta and beans + measuring cups, etc. at our house -- I now feel that it’s possible to merge certain electronics into the mix with Laurel; as a supplement, with benefits, and without taking over.
I’ve heard about LeapFrog several times in the last couple of years but it wasn’t until BlogHer Boston that I saw the Tag reading system (briefly) at an exhibition table, and then the Leapster learning game (again, briefly) at the home of one of Laurel’s friends. But it wasn’t until a couple of months ago that I decided to introduce Laurel to LeapFrog.
Admittedly, I was a bit nervous, (probably somewhat melodramatically) envisioning Laurel opting for noisy non-volume-controllable electronic devices over good old fashioned cuddle and play time with me and Jon. But I also was intrigued, particularly given that Laurel and I were starting to explore reading. I was interested in trying out the Tag as a means to encourage Laurel's reading and independence (she tends to be a tad resistant to independent play), and the Leapster as a form of educational entertainment, particularly while we’re on the go.
And after Laurel’s initial excited frenzy (during which I was a little concerned that I would need to restrict LeapFrog hours), I was relieved to see her chill out re: usage and was thrilled to see these tools enhance her learning experience while being super fun.
The Leapster2 is a handheld unit that comes with a starter game and has a cartridge slot to accommodate any of 30 or so other learning game titles (everything ranging from Disney fairies and princesses to Dora to Star Wars). The games are structured to encourage math and language skills (e.g., via number recognition, letter recognition, counting, etc.) as well as pattern recognition (e.g., colors, shapes) through games. Since Laurel knows a bit of Spanish, she especially loves Dora’s Camping Adventure, as well as the Disney Fairies and Princess and the Frog games. Game levels adapt along with your kid’s progress (the console can track multiple players) and you also can connect the Leapster2 online for all sorts of extra perks (plus parents can get learning progress reports), though admittedly we haven’t even gotten to this phase because there’s been plenty to explore within the Leapster2 itself.
I’ve found the Leapster2 to be especially handy to bring along when I anticipate a wait (e.g., doctor’s office, grocery store); otherwise, we haven’t had to worry about over-usage at all around the house. And yes, you can adjust the volume on the device.
The Tag system is very cool and pretty much mystifies me technology-wise. Basically you have the Tag Reader stylus + books that look typical with the exception of some small icons on each page. Like the Leapster2 games, the book options span classic tales and popular characters (Laurel especially loves Olivia and Dora). Before you get going you need to connect the Tag Reader to your computer via USB, download the audio for your Tag books, then load the stories onto the Tag Reader. (Sounds like a lot of steps but it's quick and easy.) Then simply touch the icons with the stylus and the Tag Reader will read by page and engage kids in games related to the page contents (designed to help with reading comprehension, object identification, etc), or touch word by word. And as with the Leapster2, yes, the Tag Reader offers volume control.
At first, Laurel would simply use the stylus to read the entire page or she’d want me to read the book to her, but now that she's learning more and more words at home and school, it's been very cool to see her use the stylus to read word by word. And now she's at a point where she can read many words on her own and uses the stylus as a prompt to help her when she encounters an unfamiliar word. Though we still spend countless hours reading books together, the Tag allows her to have independence with books (which in turn gives me a bit of time to get dinner together, put out client fires, or whatever).
In sum, I’m really impressed with the Leapster2 and Tag systems. They offer a fun mode through which Laurel can learn and play independently, but in an enhancing, not replacing, way; the majority of our play remains offline and hands on. Also, after attempting to watch The Little Mermaid with Laurel the other day -- which essentially boiled down to me fast-forwarding through the parts that scared her...which was a lot -- it also occured to me that another benefit of the Leapster2 and Tag systems is that they offer kids a way to enjoy their favorite characters in a far more interactive and less intense way than a movie.
THIS CONTEST IS NOW CLOSED
Congrats to winners Jennifer & Jackie!
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Now, want to be one of two winners to receive LeapFrog goodies? Here’s how:
*Two lucky winners will be drawn using Random.org. One winner will receive the Leapster2 + Princess and the Frog game ($95 value). The second winner will receive the new Chat & Count phone ($15 value).