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My 4 year old son was bought a leap pad computer console from leap frog last Christmas when he was 3 and a half. At the time, he received this game with the console, along with a few others, and I have watched him use the various games throughout this year. When he first received this game, he was in a nursery class and had some pencil control, now he is in the foundation class (first year of school) where he is expected to have much better pencil control. I feel this game is very suitable to children of this particular life stage and also children who are new to using touch screen based devices with a stylus, as the game play relies heavily on your technique.
Mr Doodle is a game that can be used on the Leap frog explorer console and also the leap pad, and it costs around £15 to buy this new. For that price, you get a little cartridge that slots into your console in a similar manner to the cartridges that house Nintendo DS games.
The game comes with limited instructions, but to be honest, I find the games that come with the leap pad are very self explanatory, and my children have not needed a lot of input from me to work them.
In an attempt to make learning pencil holding technique fun, there is a story to this game. It is set in the fictional town of Doodleburg. Tornadoes have ripped through the town, destroying buildings and leaving it wrecked. With the help of a tool case of art supplies, the child is to repair the town using drawing and art techniques. The main character is Mr Pencil, but he is joined by Miss Brush, Marky (the marker pen), Professor Shapes and E Raser.
The game starts off with an animation setting the scene, and progresses to you entering the fire station to learn how to start repairing the town where you are introduced to drawing straight lines to repair the fire truck. From here you are directed to the library where you now need to draw vertical and diagonal lines to repair the shelves, before learning curved lines.
When you finish repairing the library, you have then unlocked the town fountain, which you must repair with triangles and painting it in colour, and so the game goes on. There are approximately 20 levels in total to work through drawing lines and shapes, and colouring in. For each level you complete you can get a star.
As well as the main part of the game, there is an art studio which has a simple drawing programme which is similar in style to paint, where your child can draw whatever they want. There is facility to save your drawings on the leap pad. The beauty of having this game on the leap pad is that the more the child plays with it, you can then go on the leap frog website daily if you wish to and download more content relevant for your games. This means you can collect new features such as different stamps to use in your art work, and so it means there are ways of making this seem fresh after your child has played for a while.
Another little feature is there is a learning zone, so you can go into a section entitled lessons and start looking at how to draw shapes again, or letters, or the line types.
At first, my son did not seem to think much of this game, as he was not that good at controlling the stylus to make the lines he needed to. You don't have to have brilliant pen control as the line you draw on screen is pretty thick, so it can be a bit wobbly as long as you stay within an area of tolerance. The child will get the idea though how to do what they are being asked, whether this is a line, a shape or even a letter.
What I like as a parent about this game is that it is teaching my son proper letter formation. He started off writing letters at school by writing his name on a laminated sheet every morning over dashed lines. Here, he is shown a green dot to start, and a red dot to finish over the dashed line, and they also break the letter down into sections if need be, so for example: t - you start with drawing the line down and go into the curve. You then cross it from left to right. This means that as well as getting better pen control, my son is also getting into his head which order he needs to make the letter in.
While this probably seems quite dry, the child is busily repairing buildings and writing letters on signs in Doodleburg, so not quite as dull as it sounds.
The leap pad is aimed really at children somewhere between 4 and 8. This game is something I would recommend for perhaps the four and five year olds rather than the older children. My eldest son is very proficient at writing, and he finds this one rather dull and would much prefer to play the character games you can get for the console. However, as a confidence and skill improving game, I think this one has a firm place.
The voices and animations are a little basic and annoying, but it seems to amuse and appeal to my four year old. As he is the intended audience and he likes it, I think I can safely say we recommend this one for children who need help learning to control the stylus. It is fairly gentle and involving, and would keep a small child entertained for many hours while they unlock all the content and save the town of Doodleburg.
Little Man loves my Nintendo DS, and although he has a couple of children's games for it, there are limited titles available for a three year old! His Nanny decided to buy him a Leapfrog Explorer for Christmas, and bought him Mr Pencil Saves Doodleburg to go with it. She chose Mr Pencil as Little Man had not long started nursery and she thought it looked fun and educational.
A series of twisters have wiped out all the lines, colours, letters and shapes in Doodleburg, and Mr Pencil needs you to help to fix the town. You work through several locations in the town, including the park, fire station and taxi rank doing various jobs like colouring in trees, drawing in road signs and writing letters and numbers. As you start each area you get a little instructional video to watch before you do the task. These talk you through key skills such as practicing letters with straight and wavy lines, mixing primary colours to make secondary ones and forming shapes. The instruction videos are quite entertaining with little jokes and rhymes to make the lessons more memorable. However, they are very Americanised and cheesy but Little Man seems to like them.
When you first set up your Leapfrog Explorer you have to enter what age group your child is in. Little Man's is set to pre-schooler, and the game play is designed to match the preset information. Each level gets progressively more complex as you work through the game, starting with straight lines and simple colours, moving on to waves & curves and warm & cool colours. When you first start only one location is open to you, and you have to clear each one before new locations are unlocked. This is good as it stops him trying tasks that he is not ready for, however he does get a bit frustrated when the areas he wants to go to is locked. As you complete the tasks you can earn credits for the Leap World website. You can use these to customise Doodleburg, but we have never tried this as little man prefers to use his for shampoo and treats for the virtual pet that comes with the console.
There are also some stand alone applications such as an art studio, where you can do free drawing with different pen strokes, colours and stamps - a bit like the paint function on the PC. Little man loves using the art studio, making lots of colourful scribbles and pictures. There is also an animation programme where you can make your own flip book. This is too advanced for Little Man but I must confess that I had a go with some very dodgy looking stick men!
I am very impressed with Mr Pencil. The game is recommended for 4 to 7 year olds, and as Little Man is not quite 4 this seems about right to me. I have seen a great improvement in Little Man's knowledge of letters and phonics. He is only just beginning to write, and has started to form letters independently on paper following the dot to dot drawing he has been doing on in Mr Pencil. I like the way it combines fun tasks like colouring with drawing and educational lessons so that it all feels like fun. Little Man has had this game since Christmas and it is one he still goes back to at least a few days a week almost six months on. There is add on available from Leap World for £5, but we have not needed this yet - however I would not hesitate to buy it once he has completed all the original content.
We have our version of Mr Pencil in cartridge form, which comes with a case and instructions (similar to a Nintendo DS game). We got ours as a gift but is available from Amazon for £17.99 delivered. You can also download the game direct to the Explorer for £20 from www.Leapworld.com. The game is also compatible with the Leap Pad console.