LeapFrog has been making learning easier and more fun for children since the company was founded in 1995. Recently it took reading and writing education to another level with the innovative LeapFrog LeapReader.
The LeapReader pen is a new and improved version of LeapFrog’s Tag Reading System, which used interactive touch-and-talk books to help preschoolers understand how speech sounds combine to make words.
Given the success of the Tag Reading System, it was only a matter of time before LeapFrog used it as the basis for something even better. That something is the LeapFrog LeapReader reading and writing system.
The operative word here is “writing.” Whereas the Tag focused exclusively on helping children 4-8 years old learn to read, the LeapReader expands the system so that they can develop their reading and writing skills simultaneously.
Since my own kids were very receptive to the Tag, I figured I’d give the LeapFrog LeapReader a whirl to see how it compares.
How does the LeapReader pen work?
What you’ll get is a USB rechargeable stylus that communicates with books in the LeapFrog library. There are more than 150 such books, and the nice thing is that the LeapReader is compatible with many of them (more on that later).
Fortunately, my wife and I saved our children’s old LeapFrog books, so I was able to use those for this review. Note: activity books are sold separately, though the LeapReader pen does come with a sampler book.
Here’s how it works. When you hold the stylus over a page in the book, the sensor on the end recognizes the words and the device begins to sound them out, encouraging the user to do the same. When you’re finished with one word you move on to the next one, continuing until you reach the end of a sentence, story, etc.
That’s the reading portion. But as I stated, the exciting thing about the LeapReader is its writing function. The product includes proprietary writing paper that interacts with the pen just as the books do. As the user writes a letter or word on the paper, the pen offers stroke by stroke instruction by producing the corresponding speech sounds.
And in case you were wondering, the LeapFrog pen does not work on other surfaces. So there’s no need to worry about having to scrub ink marks off your kitchen table.
The LeapFrog LeapReader is a fantastic reading and writing system. This is due in large part to the fact that it makes learning fun. The books themselves are amusing for kids (they make 3D ones now), but the new LeapFrog pen also features listening activities. By connecting it to your PC, you can download apps—including music, audiobooks and trivia games—from the Leap Center.
The control panel in the middle of the stylus is lit by an LED light that changes colors when your child changes activities, a nice touch of modernity that the original Tag lacked. The LeapReader is also noticeably thinner and more ergonomic than the Tag, making it easier for your child to hold for long periods of time.
Another big improvement is the larger storage space (256 MB of memory).
Are there any drawbacks to the LeapReader pen?
Yes, but nothing major.
First, LeapFrog says the LeapReader is backward compatible, meaning it works with the original Tag books. This is only partially true. I had compatibility issues with a couple of the older books. Based on some of the customer reviews I read online, it seems like a common problem. With that said, the compatibility was just fine most of the time.
Second, getting it configured and set up isn’t as easy as it perhaps could be. People lacking tech savvy are certain to struggle with it for a while. Also, you’ll need access to a PC, as the LeapReader doesn’t appear to agree with Mac.
Lastly, the new activity books can be quite expensive, so you might want to try to get your hands on a few used ones.
What do the real users think?
My children are a bit outside the targeted age range now, so I brought the LeapReader to my sister’s house and let her 4-year-old son try it out. It took some time for him to get the hang of it, but once he did he was occupied for the better part of two hours. He liked the books but seemed to enjoy the listening activities most. Each to his own, as they say.
Anyway, judging by how focused and entertained he appeared to be, I’d say his LeapFrog LeapReader review was an overwhelmingly positive one.