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A couple of years ago when my eldest daughter was around 4, we were looking around for an educational games console that was age appropriate. We had previously been using the Leapfrog Click Start My First Computer and were happy when we found out that Leapfrog actually did a follow on from the Click Start - the Leapster. The Leapster had been a popular handheld junior games console and the Leapster 2 (released in summer 2008) had swiftly followed, which is what we settled upon.
The Leapster is perfect for younger children as it is well made and durable. It has tutorials to guide your child through each stage and the levels adapt to your child's abilities through animated games and activities. Much like a bulky Nintendo DS, it has a stylus but also a touch screen which helps them develop motor skills and practise writing.
There are a number of games for the Leapster 2 but the original Leapster games are also compatible. We found that the games may have content such as Cars or Disney Princesses, but the main goal was actually an educational one, but of course the children don't see this which is great.
A really handy feature of the console is that it comes with a USB connection which you can use to connect it to your computer. Here they can upload pictures in a creativity studio that they have created on the Leapster and they can change them, share them or simply print them through their very own profile page. Here is where the benefit for parents come in as you can see the progress your child has made in recent games when it is connected to your PC or laptop. I particularly like this feature as I know where she needs more help. It also means you are able to praise them and with the Leap Frog Learning Path (an online tool that looks at your child's learning - it's free) you can make sense of their achievements and progress.
The backlit colour screen is easy for children to see without it making their eyes sore, and the control pad is easy to use with multi directional controls which can be used in conjunction with the stylus. The compact size means it is handy to take with you on journeys, although it is slughtly large for very small hands but toddlers would be unable to work through the games anyway. The curved shape makes it comfortable and easy to hold for slightly older children.
The only negative of this game is the battery power, which is absolutely rubbish! You can buy a battery recharging station which I would recommend investing in (although this only comes in green - worth bearing in mind when you buy the pink console like we did!), otherwise it requires 4 x AA's. Also, I think it is a fairly regular occurrence for users that the screen becomes unresponsive and needs recalibrating. This doesn't take long but is a pain, I think this has happened to us now about 5 or 6 times.
Games I recommend:
Mr Pencil's Learn to Draw & Write Game - Has step by step lessons to help you write upper and lower case letters and numbers 1 to 10. Also helps you to draw and colour pictures, learning about shapes, colours and sequencing.
Disney Princesses Belle and Ariel Game - Help them collect treasures to decorate their rooms and use basic maths to help them along the way. Match letters with their sounds and help Belle to spell.
Winner of the 2009 Right Start Awards Gold and 2009 Practical Pre-School Gold Award.
Recommended for ages 4 and older (to probably no older than 8).
Price: You can pick the Leapster 2 up for around £30.
Available in pink and green.