Tuesday, September 09, 2008
I've written at length about how I am against videogames. But as the kids grow up and clamor for videogames, computer games, any electronic games, I'm taking a closer look at what's out there. And the landscape looks very encouraging. There's a whole lot of educational gaming going on --and Leapfrog's products are a great place to start.
Lately we've been playing with the Leapster2, Leapfrog's latest version of the old Leapster educational gaming system. I first heard about the Leapster around 3 years ago when my friend raved about it to me. She thought it was doing a great job helping her then-4-year-old to learn how to read, and was happy at how he never seemed to tire of it. She loved it so much I resolved to get one for my baby boys when they were old enough. Now that we actually own one and have tried it for ourselves, I have to agree with her. I think the Leapster2 strikes a great balance between electronic learning and video gaming. Jammy and 3Po are psyched that they actually have a real videogame system, like it's some badge of boyhood coolness (which it is). They get intensely involved whenever they play their Cars and Dora cartridges, getting educated and entertained at the same time. And after the initial "new toy" obsession, the kids have been very good at respecting the time limits I've set -- which has erased many of my initial anxieties about owning videogames.
The Leapster2 comes with 1 built-in game, and you can also choose from a wide library of additional games to plug into the console. Each game is targeted to a specific skill (math, spelling, vocabulary, Spanish words, etc...) and age range (i.e. K-1, 3rd-5th grade) so that children of a wide age range can play, with each child still being challenged to their appropriate level.
One of the things I like best about the Leapster2 is its backward compatibility: any cartridge from the Leapster series (Leapster2, Leapster, L-Max) works with this Leapster2 console. The Leapster2 games, however, have the most functionality because they take advantage of the Leapster2's internet connectivity. When you connect the Leapster2console to your computer, information from all the Leapster2 games you played is uploaded. Kids can keep track of the prizes (like special printable coloring pages or the printable certificate that 3Po earned in the photo above) and points they have earned (I have no idea what they can use these points for, but points are good, right?). Connecting the console also allows grownups to track their kids' gaming patterns (which games they have played, how long they have played a particular game, etc..) and learning progress via the Leapfrog Learning Path.
Another way to get more out of your Leapster2 is to install an SD card (available at most electronics stores or retail giants like Target for $15-$20). With the additional memory, you'll be able to download additional games (yay! more free games!) from the internet to play. You'll also be able to use the Leapster2 to create and store artwork that you can upload to the web later.
The Leapster2 costs about $50 and each cartridge costs between $15 (on eBay) or $20 (on sale) and $30 --but it's a great investment. A couple of weeks ago I emailed my friend to thank her for recommending the Leapster to me. I said we were building up our Leapster game library and asked if we could borrow or buy some of their Leapster cartridges (the old games are fully compatible with the Leapster2). Sorry, she said, her kids are still using their Leapster and all their Leapster cartridges regularly -- almost 3 years after her kids first fell in love with it. With new kids' electronics products springing up every week, I can't think of any better proof of Leapster's staying power than that.