Sometimes someone makes an amazing product. The folks at LeapFrog did when they invented Leap Pad.
I honestly believe that a child could use this incredible tool to teach himself or herself to read. Alone. Without parental assistance. And enjoying every minute of it.
Webmaster's note: This article was written in 2006. The product line has since exploded! You'll want to explore the range of products in order to see which one(s) are the best fit for you.
Of course, we don't leave learning to read entirely up to our children but still, what a literacy aid this toy is! Plop your 3-5 year old in a car seat, hand over the Leap Pad, and enjoy the ride.
This learning toy is brilliantly conceived, and your child will master different aspects of it over time, naturally.
I mention 3-5 year olds, but Leapfrog makes a slew of educational products for everyone from toddlers to teens. You'll want to check them out yourself because I have no experience with them.
I do know this is one brilliant company and that thousands of schools are integrating Leapfrog products into their curricula.
Intuitive and self-directed
The heart of the LeapPad is the magic pen. A special book is secured into the unit. (There is a whole library of these children's books.) A matching cartridge is inserted. Your child turns the sturdy, untearable pages.
Whatever your child points the magic pen at makes a sound.
Point at a word, the unit says the word. Point at a sentence, the unit says the sentence. Point at a bird and hear a chirp.
Your child decides for him/herself how to use the Leap Pad, and over time their use of it grows naturally more sophisticated. (It's amazing to watch.) But know this: all paths lead toward reading skills.
The unit is sturdy as heck and built for fumbling little fingers and hands.
In the time since my child received her first Leap Pad, I understand that a microphone has been added. Now your child can record him/herself saying the words on the page.
I've read nothing but rave reviews on this addition.
Not just reading skills
There are number books that can be purchased. I remember my child figuring out how to make music with one of the books as well.
But reading is what Leap Pad and Leapfrog are best at. I would choose this marvelous device over, say, flashcards because of the feeling of competence your child develops from mastering this terrific tool. Also, your child is learning to entertain him/herself.
And of course, your child's use of Leap frees you to pay attention to other things!
Well, I'm sure there are some traditionalists out there who think reading should only be taught by a nun with a ruler.
Cost can be an issue. The Leap Pad unit costs only $29.99 at Amazon as I write this. Of course, like a lot of technology, the unit itself is a steal and the company makes the $$$ on the software.
In the case of Leap Pad, the software is the books and cartridges. Expect to pay $12-$15 new. But...
The only other downside I can think of is that your child might on occasion use LeapPad to drive you crazy! For instance, she could tap the magic pen compulsively on the word "crazy" and you would hear:
"Crazy, crazy, crazy, crazy, crazy, crazy, crazy, crazy, crazy, crazy, crazy, crazy, crazy, crazy, crazy, crazy, crazy, crazy, crazy, crazy, crazy, crazy, crazy...."
Just the sort of thing that doesn't bother kids at all and makes parents want to drive into oncoming traffic!
But I'm sure you have the parenting skills to put a stop to that, so most of the time what you'll be hearing is simply the sounds of your child learning.
And, of course, there's no nicer sound than that!
The reading resources page.
Best Children's Books - Find, Read or Write home page.