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My son was given the Fisher Price Power Touch Learning System for Christmas a few years back. It was when the Leap Pads were all the rage and I had added one of them to his Xmas list. Instead of the well-known Leap Pad however, he was given this and it has turned out to be an excellent alternative.
Essentially it is an electronic book casing, where you slot special books into the middle brackets of the Power Touch System and then by pressing various points, words and pictures on the pages it will speak out loud the thing you have pointed at. Let me explain:
##HOW DOES IT WORK##
When you open the large, slightly heavy, purple case (it looks a lot like a kiddies laptop) you are faced with a layout inside based on the alphabet. Each yellow letter (green for vowels) is in capitals and lowercase letters. Along the top of the case is a selection of other buttons which make the letters do different things. For example if you select Letters from the top and then press one of the letters on the main board it will tell you whether you have pressed capital or lower case and then the letter you have pressed. Another selection could be words, in which case you then press a letter and it will tell you what it is, followed by a word that begins with that letter. There are many different options you can concoct, just from this first section of the Power Touch, before you even put a book into the brackets. This is a great learning tool to play with your kids as you can play games too, like finding the next letter in the sequel read out to you. The only down side I have found with this is that they always read out the letters properly and dont seem to use phonics at all, which is the way my son is learning at school. I think if they had added another button at the top for sounds it would have been very helpful in matching the look of letters to sounds. This however is not the case with the books.
When you buy the Power Touch it comes with two books, School Skills and a Sesame Street storybook. The books have a coiled binder along the edges and this is the part that you slot into place in the centre of the system. It is really very cleverly made as the second the book comes into contact with the backboard it basically comes to life. Each page you turn has countless things to touch on the page to learn more from. Depending on what mode you select from the top buttons, depends on what you will get from the various pictures and words in the book. Thankfully, in the School Skills book it does have a phonics mode and this has proved really helpful in aiding my son to recognise the look of the letters. The School Skills book has sections dependent on age and these are 4+, 5+ and 6+, with each one being slighter harder than the last obviously. My son enjoys playing with them all and although he does not understand about telling the time and so on yet I think this will certainly help him when he comes to do it as he will be used to seeing the clock faces etc in this book. It also covers colours, letters, shapes, numbers, words and a lot more besides. The Sesame Street book is slightly more entertaining for him in terms of the characters. They are recognisable and the voices that speak out when touched are those of the characters and not a robot woman, which is great. There are endless opportunities to have fun with the various different modes along the top. By selecting different modes you can make the same thing in the book do around 5 different things, and with 5 double pages crammed full of characters and other ideas it really is something that will keep your children entertained for quite a while. One of my favourite parts of this is the Find button, which if you press it, a voice asks you to find something on that page. For instance, find something beginning with B. If you little ones are learning letters they can simply touch a picture of Big Bird with their fingers and they get congratulated for getting it right. There is also counting tasks under the find button, which are great as the kids get to press lots of things with their fingers, and this is most of the fun of this design. You dont need special pens that will get lost, your fingers are always there and the reaction is pretty sensitive so even the lightest touch will produce results.
The other good thing we have found is that it has a time out on the on/off switch. Basically if you have not used it for a few minutes, it will remind you in that robot voice that you still have it on and if you leave it alone it will switch itself off which is great for preserving those batteries. The large on/off button is located at the top of the machine and is big enough and easy enough to use for little fingers to turn it on and off, but there is also a smaller, stiffer on/off switch on the bottom, which parents can use if they need to restrict access to this toy for whatever reason. I love the volume control as well as it is a kind of slide scale and really easy to use for kids, and thankfully even the loudest setting isnt too loud!
##WHAT WE HAVE FOUND##
From the minute my son opened this he wanted to set it up right away and we put in the 4 x AA batteries immediately, which I have to say have not been changed since so this is not a battery zapper like some toys. He had received this before starting school so we had not done a lot of letter learning but this did not distract from his enjoyment of the interaction he was receiving from the robot American voice we have all got to know so well over the last couple of years.
Apparently teachers are trying to teach early readers to read by getting them to follow along the words on the page while the story is being told, and the Power Touch follows this example with the easy to use touch system, allowing an instant response for your childs efforts. You can positively see my sons face glowing when he gets praise from this machine when he gets things right, so it must be a beneficial aid to learning as we all know what positive praise can do for behaviour!
After about six months my son did start to get a little bored with the Sesame Street book and I began to look around for more books to regain his interest in this great learning tool. I looked in Woolworths to start with, convinced I would find some but to my dismay they only stocked Leap Pad stuff. I was really disappointed and we ended up finding that it was pretty hard to actually get hold of the Fisher Price alternative. In the end we brought extra books from Amazon as we really struggled to find them elsewhere. We got the Clifford the Big Red Dog one and the Dora the Explorer title, both of which I can recommend as being enjoyable for both my son and myself. They were around the £8 mark each although you could probably pick them up much cheaper on eBay, along with others to fit the system. I think there are around 12 titles in the series, split into sections dependent on age.
The manufacturers recommend this is suitable for ages 3-8 years, but in reality my daughter has been enjoying playing with the interaction side of it since she turned 2, although she obviously does not what is required of her yet, it is still a source of concentration for her and one she enjoys for longer periods than some of her other toys. The top end of the age range is too old in my opinion. I think my son will have had enough of learning in this way by the time he hits maybe 6 and a half and I really feel that any eight year old would have grown out of the characters available and the way in which the interaction works by this time, however we have not got there yet so I may be wrong.
I have struggled to even find this available in any UK shops, even though it is still advertised on Fisher Prices website, stating how great it is and the fact that it is an award winning toy. Your best bet to buy one here would be eBay I think and they seem to be going for around the £10 mark, although watch out for postage as it is pretty heavy. The books are great on here though and you can pick up some great titles pretty cheaply.
I would definitely recommend getting one of these if you have a pre-schooler who is excited by something a bit more interactive than the average pre-school toy (although I am not knocking them at all). This does provide a great way to learn whilst playing and the kids dont really realise they are ingesting the information fed to them through the characters in the books. I know it sounds corny but it is so true and I can say with a certainty that my son definitely benefited from using this prior to going to school and again in conjunction with the teachers efforts in reception year at school, he has learnt things a lot easier and happier than without the enjoyment from using this device.
With long lasting batteries and a little bit of time spent with your children this can prove to be an enjoyable activity for both of you, allowing you the time to sit down comfortably with your children and do something that is fun and educational at the same time.
If you do buy this system I would suggest trying to get hold of the specially designed backpack to store it in, as this keeps books and system together and prevents the books coiled binder from being bent, which results in malfunction when entered into the Power Touch, as we found to our detriment.
Learn reading skills by touching words and pictures with your fingers.