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Leapster: Gateway Drug or Harmless Toy?

June 2007

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 pre reading-if you buy make sure you get the correct age -my 4yo loves LETTERS ON THE LOOSE AND 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 non merchandised characters-not Dora/Cars etc... you might find it as a nice quiet time activity. sydney
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 that her imagination is more valuable than the gadget. Alice
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 definitely 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 it." 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 them occupied. -anon


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 reading 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 students like 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! anon
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 pressure 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. Then whatever your decision is, you know that you can live with it. MTS
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), small travel 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, Constance
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! Leapster Fan

Leapster- a good purchase?

Nov 2006

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. Thanks, CB


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!) Jeff
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. CC
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 anon
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 anon

Do your kids like LeapPads?

Nov 2004

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. Whitney
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 for him. 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 learning. 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. Karen
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. Helena
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. NoLeaper
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 Leapfrog. 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. susan

Which Leap Pad books?

April 2003

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 customer service.

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. LF employee


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'. kim
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