Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Leapfrog Tag and Tag Junior Reviews and Giveaway


UPDATED AGAIN: Through 10/16 only, use code TAGJFS to get a Tag Junior for 20% off and free shipping on the Web site, or code TAGJBOOK for 20% off a book.

Tag Junior Book Pal, $34.99 (books cost $10.99 each), ages 2-4
Tag Reading System, $29.99 (books cost $13.99 each), ages 4-8

Recently Leapfrog sent me both the Tag Junior and the regular Tag for the girls to try out. I'm going to tell you what I think and then at the end I have a modest giveaway for you.

Leapfrog is an interesting company for me. In general I shy away from the concept of "educational toys" -- after all, all toys are educational in their own ways. I don't feel like my kid needs to be learning the ABCs or counting from a talking toy when they are busy trying to play dolls or trains. They're already learning about imagination or family lif or, physics, and to have a little battery-operated voice shouting the alphabet seems like an inappropriate distraction.

HOWEVER. For educational toys, Leapfrog definitely makes the highest quality available. For one thing, the sound recording is so much better than in other toys, and that makes a big difference to those of us adults who have to listen to the sounds over and over until the batteries run out and we "forget" to replace them. In a few months I'll be hauling out the Leapfrog Learning Table for Toth, and I can't say I dread the return of the jazzy lady who sings "onetwothreeforfivesixseveneightnineten." Much.

So, the Tags. The short review is that -- in a direct reversal of my expectations -- 5-year-old Nutmeg immediately embraced the Tag but 2-year-old Pebbles was slower to warm to the Tag Junior.

And for the long reviews, we'll start with the Tag Junior, which is the new product Leapfrog is promoting right now.

The Tag Junior is a chubby little gnome-shaped thing that toddlers are supposed to use to "read" special Leapfrog books. Hold the Tag over the text and you hear the text. Hold it over a picture and you get a little sound or song.

My main impressin of the Tag Junior is that it is better than the Little Touch Leappad. When Nutmeg was a baby, we had the Little Touch Leappad, which was similar in that little kids were supposed to touch certain parts of books and hear the text or sounds, music and games. With that product, we had frustrations in getting the book to line up on the right place of the machine and stay in place, problems with the cartridges, etc. Too many moving parts. Also, the Little Touch Leappad was this big lap-desk sized thing that demanded a whole bin of its own on the toy shelf.

This product is much easier. All the content is self contained in the handheld thingie. It's easy enough for a 2-year-old to handle nicely and to turn on and off by herself, and now that I showed her what it's all about, Pebbles can use it independently.

I know all these educational toy manufacturer's say they want the parent to sit down with the child and have a learning experience together, but personally I feel the same way about toys like this as I do about TV: If I was going to sit down and spend time with my kid, I wouldn't need it. A regular book is perfectly sufficient for sharing a story with my kid, and we use regular books in this way several times a day. When I turn to technology, it's because I'm desperate to have something to keep my kid occupied for a few minutes while I change the baby's diaper or make an appointment with a guy to gut our upstairs bathroom before water leakage causes the dining room ceiling to cave in. You know, Me Time.
So at first I was a little disappointed that my 2-year-old didn't use the Tag on her own for more than a minute or two. But today for the first time she asked for it, and then sat down and used it on her own. It really bought me some time to upload the video for this review this morning, actually.

All in all, I think this Tag is a big improvment over the Little Touch Leap Pad, and I would recommend it for other parents, especially parents with a long car ride, plane ride or the like coming up. For your sake I hope it babysits your kid longer than it babysat mine. If you're one of those parents who actually wants to sit down with your kid and play with an electronic toy together, then you'll probably love it because it works seamlessly and there seems to be lots of content in there to discover.
The only thing I didn't like about it is that the chubbiness of it tends to block the text from view when you are hovering over it. You can get around this by quickly touching the text, then moving the thing to the side -- once it starts reading the passage, it will keep going even if the thingie is moved.
Oh, I also noticed that if you put the reader near a book for the big kids' Tag Reader, it prompts you to download the content to it online. So does this mean your kid can graduate to the big kid books without having to buy the regular Tag? I hope so. That would be a good value.

Now for the regular Tag Reader.

I was hesitant to give this toy to Nutmeg, because she can already read fluently. I feared that the Tag with its reading to her, and the picture books that come with it, would insult and bore her. I was very wrong.
My 5-year-old quickly figured out that there was a lot more to the Tag Reader than just listening to the story. She did listen to the story a few times, which was great.
The story, "The Amazing Spiderman: The Lizard's Tale," included some pretty advanced vocabulary. Since my daughter is very into reading indepently these days and usually doesn't want to be read to, she often picks up new words but pronounces them incorrectly. It's something that happened to me a lot as a kid and sometimes happens still, and it's embarrassing whether you're 5 or 50. The tag gave her the thrill of independent word acquisition, without the embarrassment of saying it wrong.
She also loved the games and activities that the Reader contained. Being the lazy hands-off parent, I was happy to see she was able to access these games without any explanation from me. The Tag Reader is so interactive it is really like playing a computer game, but to me it's more asthetically pleasing because I like seeing a kid in front of an open book much more than I like seeing one staring into a screen. It's also much more portable than a computer game -- making use of the headphone jack, this would be a great toy to bring along on a flight or in the car. My kid gets car sick, so I don't know if I would use it there -- I could tell her to just let the thing read her the whole story without looking at the pages but she wouldn't have that kind of will power, and before we knew it I'd be sponging barf off the pages of the Tag book.
Now for the giveaway: Leapfrog accidentally sent me two Tag Juniors, so I can send one winner one along with a copy of the book "If I Were." The packaging has been opened (little maniacs live in my house, remember) but I think I can get it back into the packaging before I mail it to you.

So, if you want to win an open but not used Tag Junior, leave an email here. I'll use Random.org to pick the winner.