Product Type: LeapFrog Child Development
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Let's Play Tag!
LeapFrog Tag Reading System
Member Name: jo1976
LeapFrog Tag Reading System
Date: 19/04/12, updated on 16/12/13 (137 review reads)
Advantages: Fun, easy for children to use independently, wide variety of materials available
Disadvantages: Books can be expensive, software and audio needs to be downloaded
The Leapfrog Tag reading system consists of a wireless chunky pen-like device that is used to 'read' special books in the range which are available to buy separately for around £8-£12 each. The unisex green reader itself cost me £29.99 from Amazon, with a pink version also available for a similar price.
Setting up the system prior to first use proved to be relatively straightforward. Whilst the original version included a CD to download the necessary software to a PC or laptop, the latest version (32 meg) which I own simply includes a lead to connect the reader to a USB port. The software is then transferred automatically, following the pop-up prompts on screen. The process was fairly idiot-proof, requiring no advanced technical knowledge or ability, but did take a lot longer than I'd anticipated. I'd certainly recommend setting this well in advance of giving it to an eager child. In addition, the audio software also needs to be loaded on to the reader separately for each book purchased. Again, this is simple to do but does take several minutes per book, certainly on my laptop. I generally add the audio well in advance of giving my son any new Tag books but, on the odd occasion when I've forgotten, I've had a very frustrated four year old waiting impatiently! This new model comes with a larger memory than the original and can store the audio for up to ten books at any one time. It also comes complete with an introductory 'book' although this is, to all intents and purposes, simply a thinly disguised advert for all the other books in the range and not a book that will actually be read and enjoyed.
Once set up, the Tag reader is a pretty impressive tool. Given its target age range, the handheld device is perfectly proportioned and very easy to use. Controls have been kept to an absolute minimum, featuring just an on/off button, volume buttons and a play button. There are also rubbery covers over the USB and headphone ports which are a little fiddly to open and close but do keep everything clean and safe. The reader feels very light, almost flimsy in adult hands, but it has proven to be more robust and resilient than it initially appears - withstanding numerous drops and regular mauling by an inquisitive toddler without any ill effects. Despite being used regularly for over nine months, the only signs of wear and tear are that the symbols have started to wear away from the volume keys. The Tag requires two AAA batteries (not supplied) and I find that the reader can eat through batteries very quickly if played with frequently. The Tag does feature a useful auto shut-off to help preserve battery life as well as a warning when the batteries are running low, helping to avoid a meltdown midway through a story.
===Ease of Use and Entertainment Value===
Using the reader is very simple and easily mastered by my four year old. It simply involves holding the tip of the 'pen' over individual words, pictures or symbols in the books and these are read aloud. Each book uses a consistent series of symbols so that a child can soon get to grips with using them independently, which is one of the major advantages of this kind of device for children who aren't yet able to read. As well as reading the story (or individual words or pages) out loud, the books also include various entertaining sound effects, with each picture or image making a noise when pressed with the reader. This is probably the feature that my four year old enjoys the most. Within each book there tends to be a particular image that he loves pressing repeatedly to create some silly sound effect. (The Cat in the Hat has a goldfish flying out of its bowl screaming, for example, whereas some pictures result in songs being played.)
There are several tasks or games on most of the pages (dependent on the individual books) which my son particularly enjoys playing. I was a little surprise that each book has a fairly broad recommended age range (generally 4-6 or 5-7), considering how rapidly reading ability progresses at these ages. Despite this, the activities do have different levels of difficulty so each book has the potential to grow with a child. I think the upper age limit of eight years is a little optimistic, as most eight years old would be competent readers and consider themselves too 'grown up' for this kind of product. Having said that, my oldest son (aged nine) does still play with his younger brother's Tag and enjoys the various games and activities. There are a number of books and activities within the range that should appeal to older children. (My oldest has been subtly trying to manipulate his brother into asking for the Star Wars book for his fifth birthday!) I probably wouldn't recommend buying a reader for a child over about six or seven (unless they have some difficulties with reading or other special needs) but do feel that it has the potential to be played with and enjoyed past this age, provided the parent is willing to invest in more books regularly to maintain interest.
I think the minimum age range of four years is probably a fairly accurate feature. A younger child would still, no doubt, enjoy using the reader and exploring the books and fun sound effects but they would get the best use out of this once they have started an element of formal literacy teaching. It is certainly easy enough for a much younger child to play with and enjoy - my twenty month old knows how this works and is able to create the sounds independently! There is a Junior version of the Tag available which is a slightly chunkier version with a range of books specially created for children from two upwards.
===Product Range and Versatility===
I am particularly impressed by the number and diversity of the products available for use with the Tag reader. The range includes several classic story books (such as Paddington and the Cat in the Hat), branded books based on TV or film characters (such as Cars, Toy Story and Spongebob), activity and puzzle books as well as collections of more generic story books which claim to build on reading skills through phonics based methods. New products continue to be added regularly, helping to reassure me that the system isn't likely to become obsolete in the near future. As well as books, Leapfrog have even created a map which works with the Tag reader. My most recent purchase has been the 'Learn to Write' set which utilises the Tag as a way of encouraging young children to practice letter formation, proving just how versatile the Tag actually is. This set even includes stickers which also produce fun sound effects when touched by the Tag reader which my four year old adores!
I do think the books themselves could be a little more robust, particularly considering the full RRP of around £12.99 per book. The books are pretty much like any other hardbacked story, resembling the Grolier books. The interior pages are quite glossy but can mark and tear easily, particularly if well-loved, which is a little disappointing. I have spent a small fortune on books for this system as we now have the maximum of ten books. (It is possible to swap the audio around for the books stored on the reader, if you own more than ten, but this seems a time-consuming and irritating task to me.)
The only other minor irritant with the books themselves is that they all feature advertising for other books in the series on the back cover, some of which aren't even available in this country. (My boys were gutted that 'Walter and his Farting Dog' isn't available in the UK!)
I've found the Tag an excellent means of encouraging my son to enjoy books and want to read independently although I'm not totally convinced that the reading system is particularly useful in terms of teaching the actual mechanics of reading. My son usually chooses the option for the Tag to read the entire story aloud with a single press of the Tag reader, so isn't particularly focusing on individual words himself, although he does enjoy the stories and the activities at the end do test his comprehension and understanding. On the rare occasion that he does try to use this to read word by word, he tends to press each word several times resulting in an annoying constant repetition of the same word over and over! I suspect this is because he is used to reading words by picking out individual letters and sounds, rather than reading entire words from memory so this is the method he follows, even with his Tag reader.
The reader does offer parents a means of monitoring their child's use and progress with the Tag, using an online 'Learning Path.' This isn't a feature that particular appeals to me and I find it a little annoying when the reader tells my son to 'connect to a computer and claim your reward', especially when he's using this at bedtime. It's all the more irritating because the online 'rewards' that a child earns by completing the activities and tasks within the books aren't all that exciting - generally just a certificate to be printed out. My son does like the verbal encouragement that the Tag offers whenever he achieves a high score on a game or completes an activity for the first time, so I'm not convinced that this online rewards system is altogether necessary.
I think the main benefit of this system is that it helps to reinforce a general love of reading with a wide range of fun and accessible reading material. The main advantage of this over traditional stories is that it gives even pre-school children or those who are not yet confident readers, the opportunity to 'read' independently without any adult assistance. I do find that the reader and the books have reinforced the learning that my son is doing through his Reception year at school, making this a great accompaniment to more traditional teaching methods.
I wasn't expecting to like the Tag reader quite as much as I actually do but this has certainly proved to be a toy that continues to entertain and educate my son, making learning fun just as it should be. I feel this was worth every penny that I paid so I'm not even resentful that the Tag is currently available for half price, at just £14.99, from both Toys R Us and Amazon (from Amazon themselves, not their preferred merchant.) At that price, it did even cross my mind to buy a second one as it seems such a bargain! I'd certainly highly recommend this to any parents with a child due to start their Reception year, providing they are willing to invest in a number of different books to maintain variety and their child's interest.
Summary: An excellent fun way to build on a love of reading and reinforce basic literacy skills