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Times are changing. No longer do we want to be confined to any one place. We want to take our electronics with us—our phones, computers, schedulers, etc. If trends in the electronic toy industry are any indication, same goes for children. Game consoles confine kids to their television rooms. But with handhelds like the GameBoy line, kids can bring their video games to any (well-lit) room in the house and on the road. Computer learning games, like console video games, keep kids at their desks, and while many of their parents use laptops, very few children have their own portable computers. Companies like LeapFrog, however, have made it easy for kids to play electronic learning games on the go. Products like the LeapPad and Quantum Pad Learning Systems, and now Leapster and iQuest, are not only portable and trendy, they're brimming with educational opportunities. 

The New Leapster L-MaxLeapster L-Max

Last year's Leapster has already been updated. The Leapster L-Max is a handheld portable unit that mimics Nintendo's GameBoy, but with important differences that make it not only more kid-friendly, but exceptionally more educational as well. The comparatively large screen is also a touch screen, and kids interact with the games by using a directional pad and an attached stylus. Game cartridges, available separately, offer children "edutaining" games that support learning. What's the main difference between the Leapster and the Leapster L-Max? Besides a slightly less bulky unit, the L-Max can be played as a portable or can be plugged into the TV and played on both the little and "big" screens. The unit is backwards compatible -- the original Leapster game cartridges can be played on the new unit. Most of the original games play on both the portable and TV screens, while some only play on the handheld. Read our full review of the L-Max here.

[For more information, user reviews, or to buy: Leapster L-Max]

 

Leapster Multimedia Learning System

coverLast year's learning system from LeapFrog was probably the most exciting product released that season. The Leapster is a handheld portable unit that mimics the GameBoy Advance, but with important differences that make it not only more kid-friendly, but largely more educational. The package includes a sampler game for the Leapster, Learning with Leap, but parents will want to purchase more games to keep children's interest levels high. coverCurrently, games for the Leapster include Leapster Software: SpongeBob SquarePants Saves the Day, Leapster Software: Dora the Explorer- Animal Rescue, Leapster Software: Kindergarten, and Leapster Software: 1st Grade, and we can be fairly certain that this list will grow over the next months, judging by the popularity of toys by LeapFrog. This unit boasts not only a comparatively large screen, it comes with an attached stylus pen in addition to a multi-directional control pad. See our full review of this exceptional product.

[For more information, user reviews, or to buy Leapster at Amazon.com]

 

The LeapPad & Quantum Pad Learning Systems

Both the LeapPad and Quantum Pad electronic toys are electronic learning pads that bring special books designed for the systems to interactive life. Children use the attached stylus (a "magic pen") to activate hotspots on the pages of these books. Words and sentences are read aloud with a touch of the pen, maps come to life as children point their pen on different countries, states, and cities; and "paper keyboards" allow kids to compose their own tunes. 

Each of these learning pads come packaged with a "sampler" book that engross children for a time, but eventually they'll want more books. And more books is likely what they'll get--these learning pads are well-established and popular, and libraries of books, spanning across the curriculum, are available for purchase. Some of the books feature licensed favorites (Winnie the Pooh, Dora the Explorer, and Harry Potter are just some of the licenses), while others stand well on their own with either the Leap characters for younger kids, or no characters at all--just fun presentations of school subjects. 

Both systems have their own strengths, simply because they target different age groups and the educational possibilities are endless for each group. However, it is interesting to note that the books for both the LeapPad and the Quantum Pad work in either unit. The only significant differences between the two systems is their look and lingo. The Quantum Pad is a sleeker-looking unit that appears less like a toy than the LeapPad, and thus it goes over well with older kids. But most parents know that even preschoolers are attracted to things that don't "look" their age. The point here is that purchasing a Quantum Pad for your kids will likely take care of your 3 year old as well as your more technologically savvy 9 year old, as long as you purchase a book or two that is appropriate for your 3 year old's educational level (which you would likely want to do regardless). 

While the sampler book included with the LeapPad is a bit of a tease, the one in the Quantum Pad package has a longer life expectancy. It's terrific! The geography games are entirely addictive (for adults too)--you have to race the clock to find as many requested states, capitals, or, in the case of the map of Europe, countries. There's a solar system spread, work with fractions and multiplication, a spelling bee, and more.

These systems are worth the purchase. They are very expandable -- which is both a pro and a con. The good news is that the system is not going to blow out of steam too quickly; and the bad news is that it can get quite costly. There's the cost of the units themselves (about $40-50 US each), additional books (about $15 apiece), and the batteries. 

For more information, user reviews, or to buy, follow these links:

Leap Frog Quantum Pad Learning System

LeapPad

LeapPad Plus Writing (the second version of the Leap Pad that incorporates writing letters, numbers, shapes, and words into the learning system).

LeapPad Plus Writing and Microphone (the most current version of the Leap Pad that incorporates writing letters, numbers, shapes, and words into the learning system, as well as a microphone).

Note that there are a number of LeapPad versions available. In 2003, LeapPad Plus Writing was released, and the latest version released this year is LeapPad Plus Writing and Microphone. These two latest versions are backwards compatible. In other words, they will accept any LeapPad book, whether or not the books are microphone-enabled. Common sense suggests purchasing the latest version with the writing and microphone features.

 

These are some of our favorite additional books for the systems (remember any of these books work in both the Quantum Pad and the LeapPad Learning Systems):

LeapStart Pre-Reading Book: The Birthday...Surprise: This is one of the better books in the LeapPad Library--teaches phonics, pre-reading skills through a story starring the Leap characters.
Leap 2 Music Book: Hit it, Maestro! for a wonderful introduction to classical music, music terms, and more. Best for ages 6-7 up.
LeapStart Pre-Reading Book: Disney...Princess Stories: Another pre-reading book for preschoolers who love Disney Princesses.
Quantum Pad Book: Geography -- The Seven...Continents: Besides reading, the subject of Geography seems to be especially ideal for the LeapPad and Quantum Pad platforms.
Quantum Pad Book: 3rd Grade Science teaches children about matter, sound, the solar system, and more science topics at a third grade level. Games, facts, and fun. See our review of this Quantum Pad Book.

Other good books are the Quantum Pad Smart Guides to different grade levels (Grade 3, Grade 4, Grade 5) and books starring the Magic School Bus. Newly available are those focused on specific subjects and grades, such as Quantum Pad Book: 3rd Grade Science.  

The iQuest Interactive Talking Handheld

The iQuest is an electronic handheld unit that allows kids to play educational games, maintain an address book and schedule/calendar, consult a dictionary, use a calculator, and more. The unit comes with a set of quizzes designed to develop 5th to 8th grade skills in Math, Science, and Social Studies. Owners of the iQuest can purchase more quiz packs separately if they wish. 

Kids can take electronic notes, consult the Merriam Webster's School Dictionary, add reminders and events to their calendar, and use the unit as a calculator. Although there is a volume control, the unit starts up at a default volume level that is a little too loud. However, all in all, the iQuest is a handy little portable handheld that kids will be proud to own. It comes in black, red, and purple, and is designed for children ages 10-13.

[For more information, user reviews, or to buy iQuest: Black, iQuest: Red, or iQuest: Purple at Toys R Us]

 

 

 
 

 

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February 2003; Updated April 2004/November 2004/October 2005

 

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