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That's basically the question: to Leapster or not to Leapster?
We've got some travelling, including cross-country airplane
trips, coming up with our just-turned-4 year old. Someone
recommended a Leapster. I'm intrigued, but cautious; my husband
is anti, but admits the possibility of in-flight use. We are a
very limited-media family and have battery-free, licensed-
character-free toys, so a Leapster would be, well, a change. We
don't, for example, have any of the other Leapfrog toys. But
might the Leapster be worth it? In some limited context? I can
also add that she's just on the cusp of reading (with the BOB
Books -- love, love, love them!), and I wonder if the Leapster
would have some good programs to reinforce that? If there are
good tools out there, I don't want to ignore them just out of
some anti-battery bias.
Trying to walk the line, if I can find it
I am an anti-battery mom as well, and I personally don't think
you need to change your entire value system just because you
will be travelling. If your daughter loves to read, stock up on
books to read on the plane, as well as some favorite toys and
maybe some new toys and books as surprise gifts. (There is lots
of good advice in the BPN archives on travelling with small
kids.) If you bought a Leapster for the plane trip, what are
you going to do with it afterwards--throw it away? I imagine it
will be there to stay. You and I learned to read (and enjoy
reading) without any batteries, and I'm sure our kids can too.
Leapfrog isn't evil, but I don't think it's necessary either.
And I have to say, the Leapfrog interactive toys that have been
given to us always feature annoying voices and music, which I
certainly wouldn't want to have near me on a plane!
Vote for No Leapster
My mother-in-law bought our 4 year old son a Leapster. It's not a
toy I ever would have bought...but here it is. First of all, know
that you have to buy the games in addition to the actual thing,
and the games are between 20-25 dollars each. So it's an
expensive thing to ''try.''
My son has a few different games, and in my opinion the only one
he can really play by himself is one called Animal Genius. It's
simple enough in terms of the skills, and it's actually pretty
cute. There's really nothing offensive about that game at all!
Someone gave him the Cars game, and it's too complicated for him
at 4 in terms of the motor skills needed.
If you're going to try it, I'd say to stick to the games made by
Scholastic rather than a character/movie etc... I am also
interested in a game called Letterpillar, I think, which is about
letter recognition. Definitely trust the age level on the boxes.
Learning to Live with Leapster
Love the leapster-great for traveling-great to reinforce letter/number
you buy make sure you get the correct age -my 4yo loves LETTERS ON THE
COUNTING ON ZERO. My 7.5 yo uses his leapster and is clear on the
concept that no
other ''gaming machines'' will enter my home. The two games I cited have
merchandised characters-not Dora/Cars etc... you might find it as a nice
I suggest that you stick to your values and go without. The worst case
scenario is that
she will be bored for a few hours and pester you. It will be over when
you get off the
plane. Whereas if you introduce the Leapster, you may find yourself
regretting it when
she's glued to the screen months later and pestering you for more
programs. It's very
hard to stuff that genie back into the bottle and convince your child
imagination is more valuable than the gadget.
I don't think you have to be totally 100% logical with your "OK" and
"NOT OK" lists. You can be OK with renting a DVD player for your kid to
watch movies during an airplane flight, and NOT OK with Leapfrog even
though both have batteries. Or vice versa. You can be OK with some
electronic toys and not others. Check out the thing in question, and
go with your gut. Does it bug you? Do you hate the way it's advertised?
Does the sound bother you? (Will it bother other passengers is an
important question too!!) I allow movies because I myself like movies,
and I don't allow games because I don't like them. I also have different
rules for airplanes than for home and that works fine too. I can
see the appeal of having a clear philosophy like a litmus test
that you can apply to different things without having to think about it
too much, but sometimes you will need to decide things on a case by
case basis. Yes to this movie, no to that one. Yes to this junk food,
no to that one. Your rationale can be as logical as "mom doesn't like
And that's OK.
Leapster is a great travel toy. We keep one in our older
daughter's travel backpack -- which only comes out of the closet
when we go on a trip. We also have a travel DVD player -- ditto
on staying in the back pack. They never ask about them when we
aren't traveling -- though they do know that they are there and
ask for them as soon as we get on the plane.
My older daughter attends a Waldorf preschool, so you can guess
where we fall on the character/battery spectrum. My girls
probably average about one-hour of tv a day -- during the half
hour that they are waking up in the morning and waking up after
naps, so they do know all about Dora, Mickey and Calliou.
My husband AND Leapster 'Letter Factory' taught my older daughter
her letter sounds. She is a beginning reader, too (turned four
in April) so that was great prep. There are other great
DVDs/games for the leapster that reinforce/expand learning. If
you don't mind the frogs, you can do a lot to avoid characters.
Travel, especially on planes, can be tough for the short set. My
girls are frequent flyers (at last count my older daughter has
about 75 flights under her belt and my younger one is well over
30). Its okay to bring out some special/different stuff to keep
I was also apprehensive about Leap Track when they started to appear in
the schools. I
try to steer clear of bells and whistles that can be associated with
interventions, but ya know what? They do not stop kids from loving to
read a book
made out of paper. I see it as another tool or medium for information.
I use it now as
a fun part of our reading intervention in my third grade classroom. The
them, but they do not replace real books and stories. Sure, there is
research on either
side but it is all about balance. Now video games that teach reading,
never! I gotta
draw the line there!
My kid ''worked'' at LeapFrog for a while as a child toy tester,
and she got so bored that we dropped out. That was a few years
ago, before I got involved with a Living Wage dispute in
Emeryville that caused me to visit LeapFrog's office as part of
a boycott delegation. Of all the businesses we visited,
LeapFrog was the most bizarrely combative. We were there to let
them know that the local hotel they frequented (the Woodfin
Suites) had fired 21 workers (many of them single moms) a week
before Christmas. LeapFrog immediately called out their largest
security guards on us. Add to that a friend (a single mom) who
quit LeapFrog because it's not a parent-friendly place to work,
and now I'm firmly on the side of reading books, NOT playing
with LeapFrog's toys.
not fond of LeapFrog
Boy am I glad sometimes that I moved out of Berkeley. There is so much
there to conform to this ideal of child rearing that is romantically
simplistic. If you
don't like the idea of a leapster-type product in your house, then don't
get it. Anyone
over 25 learned to read without one, and had fun as a kid with other
toys. I always feel
more comfortable making decisions like this if they conform to my
values. Write a list
of the pros/cons of a Leapster for yourself and see how it balances out.
your decision is, you know that you can live with it.
Don't go there I say. Kids can be entertained on plane trips with books,
puppets (a real
lifesaver to animate requests in a fun way, redirect and just have fun),
connect the dot/drawing game books, etc. Put a few new (thin) paper
backs, a favorite
small train/truck/dollie, manipulative puzzle, etc. in his or her own
backpack. I think
part of travel is seeing/experiencing new things and they aren't as
likely to do so if
they're hooked into an electronic device.
My two cents,
We have one Dora game that our boys, 4 & 5, can share on plane
trip with leapsters that were given them by grandparents. It's
fun and mildly educational (letters, numbers, shapes) if you're
in an enclosed space and have to sit for 4 hours, but nothing
compared to the options that exist outside of a plane (bike,
baseball, firetrucks, or even a big pile of fresh ''real'' books
from the library). I was all ready to prohibit it from use when
they're not on the plane and I think I actually did make that
speech, but the truth is that they don't really care about it
when they're not on the plane. Even on the plane, it buys us
approximately as much time as any fresh toy or book, which is not
infinite. It's fairly small and nonmessy which is nice.
not a leapster fan, but not a foe either
I loved the way you characterized this. I have not been as anti-
battery but was worried that Leapster would take us down a road
I wasn't looking forward to. My experience -- my six year old
got one for his birthday, after being desperate for a gameboy,
and he found it pretty dull. In our lives, it was not only NOT
a gateway drug, it was in fact the antidote -- now I hear no
whining for gameboy (which might, in fact, be more fun). A
four year old will likely find it tough to manage the leapster -
- so it may just not actually do the job of keeping her
occupied on the trip. I think ours will come out of the closet
for the car ride portion of our summmer road trip, but doubt it
will become a hassle to manage duirng the trip because it's
somehow just not compelling enough. Good luck with your
decision! BYW, we bought the more expensive one and a few
games come on it.
bored by leapster -- who knew?
Our family does not share the same guidelines as yours re:
battery-free and character-free toys. However, I was also
hesitant about getting a Leapster for my son who turned 4 in
April. It first came up when we were carpooling with a little
friend of ours who played her Leapster all the way from
Milpitas to Alameda. Needless to say, it was a long car ride
for all of us. My son forgot about it until more recently a
little boy had one in the airport while we were waiting for our
flight to Honolulu. We broke down and got him one shortly
after we arrived.
I am nervous about this being a ''gateway drug'' as well. But
our son has visibly become more interested in letters and
numbers and combinations thereof since he started playing his
Leapster a few weeks ago. He wants to ''draw'' letters in the
carpet now with a chopstick and likes to sound them out. He
enjoys doing artwork on the device and he is also getting much
better about being patient and less frustrated when he makes
mistakes because he realizes that with practice, he can get
better (hopefully he can generalize this lesson). He uses
Letterpillar, the pre-installed painting program and
Backyardigans (characters that he was not familiar with). He
seems to enjoy it in small doses (10 minutes) and then moves on
to something else. I am not sure that a Leapster is the best
way to teach these skills, but we decided that if he becomes
too attached or obsessed with his new toy, then we will use it
as a ''treat''.
Cautious of Leapster
I just read your post and the few replies about the Leapster and
wanted to add my two cents. We are also a very media-limited
home, but my twin sons, now 6, have had Leapsters since they were
4. We think they are great! We know people who have the
Leapsters that connect to a television and also, people who let
their kids bring them to restaurants and family gatherings so
they don't ''get bored.'' Yikes!!! Our boys use them primarily on
airplane and long car trips (we take several of each every year.)
The rest of the time, the Leapsters pretty much sit on a shelf,
forgotten. One of my sons will occasionally pick it up at home,
but never argues when I say, ''Time to put it away after this game
is over.'' We have about 5 of the game cartridges, which they
share: Talking Letter Factory and Talking Word Factory, which
really supplemented and reinforced their early reading skills.
The games have catchy tunes about letter sounds which I have
heard my sons singing: Every letter makes a sound - the a says
''a.'' There are also a few other games, such as Animal Genius,
which I believe have value. They love to recite the little facts
they learn about animals while playing on our road trips. They
have traded cartridges with friends on ski trips etc... and we
have found that the ''character'' themed cartridges tend to be
boring. One of my sons really wanted to purchase the Spiderman
cartridge (as much as you avoid media, they learn about these
things once they go to school) with birthday money he'd saved and
we allowed it. This cartridge is boring for them and is the last
game either of them choses to play. I think he learned a
valuable lesson from being allowed to make this purchase. Good
luck with your decision!
I am looking into getting my three sons Leapsters for X-mas. I
have 7yo twin boys and a 4 yo. I wanted to know from anyone
who has these what they thought. I have seen some reviews that
said they broke, but most reviews were really great. I also
wanted to know if parents thought this was too young for my 7
yo's who are getting into the idea of being ''cool'' and not
babyish. I really don't want to get them Gameboys which is
what they would REALLY like. I just can't stomach it yet.
My son has loved his Leapster (off and on) since he was almost four - it was a
little tough for him at first. He's almost 6 now and is enjoying some of the more
challenging games - he just started kindergarten so some of them follow what he's
learning in school. I have found that they're age suggestions are right on so,
while I'm not certain about the games for kids older than mine, I'd guess they'd
be interesting enough for them. I do suggest that you also get them each several
games - that keeps things interesting as they're mastering the levels.
PS Ours did break after over two years, but I notified Leapster and they replaced
it with a brand new one - no receipt, no questions asked. Great customer service
-Trying to steer clear of Game Boy too.
I may be a bit biased because I actually help develop Leapster titles. Judging
from my experience with my son (now almost 10), he enjoyed some of the games
through his 8th year. But you'd have to be selective in your choices and look for
games that are more problem-solving or puzzle oriented than doing basic letter
skills, etc. For example, games that I worked on that my boy liked included I
Spy, Math Missions, Animal Genius, and SchoolHouse Rock (as I tried to explain the
importance of our recent Democratic victory, he immediately launched into their
''3 Ring Circus'' song, proving he was way ahead of me!)
My two boys ages 8 and 5 love their Leapster L-Max. In fact, the
8-year old often chooses to play it over his Game Boy! I highly
recommend the product. Get the L-Max version, which connects to
the TV and has ''bonus'' games for the TV hookup.
And as much as you resist, Game Boy is only a year or more away.
If they REALLY want the Gameboys, do you think they will actually enjoy the
Leapsters? I'm concerned you may feel you wasted your money if they don't like the
Leapsters. I'd recommend sucking it up and getting them the Gameboys-- you can set
time limits; or going in a completely different direction to replace it. Sounds to
me like they're not going to be happy with anything other than a Gameboy
A 4 year old will love his leapster but I am not sure that a 7 year old will. My
son got his leapster at 4 and used it constantly but even though we bought him
more challenging games it lost its appeal by the time he was 5 and a half. We had
an early version and it did break twice (replaced by Leapfrog after numerous phone
calls) but I hear the newer ones are more durable
My parents have offered to give my almost-three-year-old son a
LeapPad as a Christmas gift. I'm not overly fond of
battery-operated toys because of the waste (batteries), annoying
sounds, and reduced interest after a short time. But the Leap
Frog products seem like they could be different, at least in the
interest-retaining aspect. So I would like some opinions from
those of you who have LeapPads. Do your kids like them? Do
*you* like them? Do they really have educational value? Are
they annoying? How often do you purchase new books? Does the
expense of the books seem worth their value? Is there a better
LeapFrog product for a three-year-old than a LeapPad? Thanks
very much for any information or opinions!
Not Leaping Yet
I work for LeapFrog, so I have some expertise on this question. I
will not bother with the sales pitch, but if you do decide to
start ''leaping'', I recommend that you purchase a My First LeapPad
rather than the regular LeapPad for a 3 year old. The product
design is more appropriate for a smaller lap and smaller hands.
The downside is that your child will eventually outgrow it and
the books for LeapPad are not compatible with the books for My
First LeapPad. If your child is larger, has great fine motor
skills, or is really close to reading, then you might want to
jump ahead to the regular LeapPad which will last many years (the
book library goes from ages 4 to 10). Otherwise, go with My
First LeapPad (book library focuses on preschool skills such as
colors, shapes, counting, opposites, and preschool characters
such as Thomas, Bob the Builder, Jay Jay, Seuss, The Wiggles,
Dora). It comes in blue and pink. There is a backpack that goes
with it (sold sep.) and it's great for car trips. I probably
shouldn't say this, but you'll often find the books on sale at
the big box stores, so don't be put off by the need to buy books.
My3-year-old son has a ''My first leap-pad'' that has never really quite
worked for him, yet. It requires a bit more coordination than he is ready
to give it -- i.e. the cartridge must match the book, after you turn every
page, you must first touch the green Go circle, then he has to be willing
to either poke different things and see what they say (which is not
always either sensible or clearly understandable), or play ''follow the
instructions'' kinds of games, which he's not really all that interested in.
He's not a particularly active kid, but this machine just doesn't work well
It also turns itself off at unexpected times, and he sometime just sits and
pushes the on/off button over and over again. In addition, he's not rally
in to playing extensively alone right now -- which this toy is really
designed for. He wants to play with people.
Quite frankly, I think the thing is useless and annoying, and would like to
throw it away (but it was a gift... sigh.). A good book, or some paper and
color crayons, or a jigsaw puzzle, provide him with much more fun and
Also, lately, it has started to have problems. The ''on'' button sticks
down, and sometimes the page that the machine brings up the text for is
not the page that my son has up, even when you hit the go circle several
times. Maybe the battery is running down, I don't know.
In short, I would say, don't bother.
Save your money and don't bother with the Leap Pads. My son has
been given various Leap Pad products and I can honestly say that
your money is best spent elsewhere. In theory in seems great but
the reality is much different. Everyone I know whose child has a
Leap Pad agrees with me. As a teacher, I think you can never go
wrong with buying quality children's books, story tapes,
alphabet tiles, magnetic poetry kits, etc. to build literacy
skills. Plus they are just more engaging than an electronic toy.
No Fan of Leap Pads
We have gotten a leap pad as a gift and have hidden it away, at
least for now. Our daughter had another leapfrog toy when she
was younger, and it was really REALLY annoying. We have a bias
against electronic toys also, so we aren't the best to answer,
maybe, but our previous experience with this so-called
interactive toy has made us wary.
Not leaping either
I am a big fan of LeapFrog toys and my boys have several of them. While I like
LeapPads for the education and non-annoyance factors, I was surprised that my
boys didn't really take to their LeapPad. The three-year old never plays with it and
my four-year-old picks it up occasionally.
My son received a LeapPad when he was four, and never had the
slightest interest in it. (He's six now.) It can't compete with
the pizazz of interactive computer games or the endless variety
of plain old books.
Instead, I would recommend an alphabet pad. Both of my sons got
a lot of use out of one when they were preschoolers. I think it
was made by Vtech. It has keys shaped like letters and numbers,
and when the child presses a key, it says the letter or a word
that begins with the letter. It also includes simple games
like ''Find the letter S'' and ''What letter does the word Sun
begin with?'' It prepared them for reading while they had many
hours of fun.
We have had very bad luck with them. Both of ours broke quickly
and now we have all the books and cartridges and don't know
whether to bother with getting another Leap Pad. The kids did
like them, but they never lasted long enough for us to see if the
interest would be lasting. Ok, they did drop them into the well
in front of their carseats and then step on them...so it is not
like we took good care of them, but still.
My kids (4 and 6) have really enjoyed Learning Screen Karaoke by
In fact my 4yo and my 3yo niece fight bitterly over it every
single time my niece is visiting. Is it educational? Maybe. It
has phonics and counting songs and rhyming. Is it annoying to
parents? certainly. It is loud and you will surely tire of the
songs. Do I appreciate it on long car trips? yes.
It has proved quite hardy as well.
I just bought my daughter (3 + 3 mo.) a Leap Pad learning system.
I am totally confused as to which books to start her on...Leap
Start, Leap 1, Phonics (I'm leaning towards Phonics)? She
recognizes all the letters, & knows their sounds, and I want to
help her make the jump to ''sounding out'' whole words. Does
anyone have any suggestions on which books to start with? I
bought a Winnie the Pooh Leap 1 Reading book, but it basically
just reads her the story, which she enjoys, but there is no
''phonics'' lesson unless I sit and sound the words out with her
using the ''sound it'' mode. Any advice greatly appreciated.
Ready to Read!
Full disclosure: I work for LeapFrog, and in a dept. that is
responsible for the LeapPad books, and yet I didn't even know
how to answer your question without going to our website
www.leapfrog.com (where you can see all the titles and get an
idea of content) and going to some people in marketing and
Here is a response from Marketing (who took this issue seriously
and will try and make it easier for all consumers - so thanks
for posting this!):
Your instinct is correct. The LeapPad Phonics program was
created for children that already have a pretty good
understanding of the alphabet and are ready to begin connecting
letter sounds into words. Lesson #1 is still a great book, even
if your daughter already knows her letter sounds - it's full of
songs and lots of fun. Lesson #2, #3 and #4 begin to sound out
short vowel words ... and so on. On every page of Lesson #2 -
Lesson #10, children can use the ''magic pen'' to sound out
individual sounds to create words - using the ''sound it'' feature
- which you're doing anyway with her. Hope this helps.
It seems that children have varying levels of interest with the
LeapPad. The same goes with each title. I searched and read
opinions on the titles I was interested in at 'Amazon.com'.
this page was last updated: Nov 12, 2007
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