Tuesday, October 25, 2011

LeapFrog: Making Learning Fun With Tag & The New LeapPad!

I recently had the chance to try out some new products from LeapFrog in anticipation of the holiday season. I hosted a gathering of friends so we could all try out the LeapFrog Tag reading system and the brand new, ultra-cool LeapPad. As you can imagine, these were big hits with all of the kids.

My family is no stranger to LeapFrog. Each of my daughters has a Leapster with several games, and we already had a Tag reader. I love the educational games they get to play, and it's a great feeling to see my kids learning while having fun at the same time. For the party, I received a Tag reading pen for the guests to use, but I brought out the pen we already owned as well to give everyone more of a chance to use them.

The Tag reading system is designed for pre-readers through beginning readers. The pen works with special Tag books to either read each page to the child, or help the child with individual words or sounding out a word. You only need to touch the pen to the word and it immediately speaks the word for you. (After using a USB cable to connect the pen to your computer and download the book's information to the pen.)

But there's actually so much more the Tag pen can do beyond reading the words. Touch the pictures and the characters talk or sound effects are given. And most books contain games near the end that work with the pen to reinforce reading skills.

Mira can read just like her big sister now - and she's starting to recognize words thanks to Tag!

The Tag pen can also be used to learn geography. The LeapFrog Interactive World Map teaches about the different countries of the world as well as directions and distance through exploration with the pen and games available to play with the map.

My seven year old wasn't very interested in this product because she's already an advanced reader, but my four year old is obsessed with Tag. She loves to read the books "all by herself" with the help of the Tag pen, and it's helping her learn to recognize sight words. One of her friends also loved the Tag system so much that we sent his parents home with our extra pen and a couple of the books to get them started.

The big hit of the party had to be the LeapPad learning tablet, however. Several of us commented on how often our kids want to play with our smartphones or iPads, but we worry about them being broken or cluttering up our screen with nothing but apps for the kids. (Personally, I have barely been able to use my iPad because my kids love it.) The LeapPad, however, is the solution to win back our smartphones and tablets!

Mira even relaxes with her LeapPad like I do when using my iPad
The LeapPad is a tablet computer designed for kids 4-9 years old. It's smaller than an iPad but larger than a smartphone. The touch screen responds to both a finger touch and the included stylus. Like the grown up versions, you can download different apps for the LeapPad, including games, ebooks, and videos. (Apps are downloaded by connecting it to your computer with the included USB cable. And also like the grown up version, apps aren't free.)

It features a camera on the backside that can take still photos or video, and an editing program to create silly faces or add digital scenery to your photos. It has a cartridge slot at the top to allow you to use Leapster Explorer cartridge games as well.

I like the versatility of the LeapPad. It's simple enough for a non-reader like my four year old to navigate and use with little to no help from me, yet there are plenty of challenging games and activities for my seven year old. My younger daughter already considers herself a photographer now thanks to the camera app, and is now starting to dabble in shooting video.

All of the kids at our house had no trouble working the LeapPad. The youngest of the group - three years old - quickly found the drawing app and in no time was creating a masterpiece using the different drawing tools provided on the screen. The older kids played games and loved the interactive Cars ebook.

Reading ability is optional with the LeapPad - every kid loved it!
As for the parents, we all agreed the thick plastic case looked sturdy enough to handle rough play from our kids - far better than a iPad would fare! And the $99 retail price is a fair price for an electronic device that can do so much.

The one downside we noticed is that the LeapPad is battery powered. With heavy use, it needed new batteries by the end of the day, which can really add up. A rechargable battery pack would have been a better choice - we can only hope that it might be an option in the future. But since the party, my daughters have only been using the LeapPad for an hour or less each day, resulting in a longer timespan between battery changes. (Note: an AC adapter is available, which is great but limits the portability of the device when plugged in.)

Overall, I'm really impressed with the new LeapPad learning tablet and I predict it'll be one of the hottest toys for the holidays. I also like how many books and interactive products are available for the Tag reader now - my younger daughter has already pointed out several new Tag books she'd like Santa to bring her.

Take my advice - shop early for these educational toys! My daughters can't get enough of their LeapPad and Tag books, and I like that they're learning new reading and math concepts while they play. 

Full disclosure: I was provided with the above LeapFrog educational electronics and accessories to facilitate this review and demonstrate to guests at a play party. My party guests were also provided with coupons for discounts on LeapFrog products. All opinions stated here are my own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of LeapFrog. 

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