My son’s love affair—and mine for that matter—with LeapFrog began back in 2010 when I stumbled upon a Phonics Pond at a consignment store. Even though my son was only 18 months old at the time, I bought it, figuring the music might amuse him until he got old enough to learn his ABCs. Well, much to my amazement, he quickly learned the sounds individual letters make, and went on to become an early reader.
As much as I’d like to take the credit for that triumph, I know it was partially LeapFrog's doing.
I’ve since come to appreciate LeapFrog’s trademark magic—kids have fun without even realizing they’re learning. When I was given the chance to check out the new LeapPad Ultra, I chomped at the bit.
LeapFrog’s latest tablet came on the market this past summer, and as you would expect that winning formula is still very much at the fore. The design is sturdy and tough enough to withstand abuse from ruffians like my five-year-old, yet with a modern touchscreen and stylus pen. The setup was so user-friendly (even for this technophobe mama) that the Ultra was literally up and running in less than 10 minutes—a definite bonus when there’s an impatient kindergartner tugging at your sleeve!
Within minutes, my little guy was customizing his home screen, choosing a background, typing in his name like a whiz. For a while, he played around with the photo feature, snapping selfies and warping his features then adding effects to see what he’d look like as various animals. In other words: all good silly fun. Next he found the music player, and sang along to tunes like ‘Sticky Icky Vowels’ that he recognized from the LeapFrog DVDs.
Then he discovered Pet Pad Party, and all bets were off. First he chose a cute robot as his pet, which he named Jackie Wing. (Personally, I preferred Dweezil McTuffin; too bad it wasn’t my choice). He took care in furnishing Jackie’s ‘pad,’ delighted in washing her and sending her out for some exercise on a glider. Later he invited a monkey-friend to come around for a friendly game of tic-tac-toe before Jackie Wing’s feeding time rolled around. There were giggles galore as my son sliced through watermelons and cherries and eggplants—yes, even tires—in an app reminiscent of Fruit Ninja.
He was instantly hooked. “I love this game,” was his mantra for the next twenty minutes or so, until I cut him off.
But truthfully, I was hooked, too.
Frankly, the Ultra is perfect for parents who want to keep their iPads to themselves. One of the biggest selling points is that you don’t need to worry about your child accidentally dropping your tablet or deleting your beloved Candy Crush. Nor do you have to worry about him clicking on something he shouldn’t (not to mention the heart-stopping bill that follows!) or inadvertently laying eyes on some sketchy pop-up that may or may not feature Miss Miley Cyrus. And with a four-digit security code, parents can easily download 'wish-listed' apps directly to the device, where kids can play with two or more friends over a local connection. The Ultra has really brought kids' tablets to the next level.
I don’t know about you, but when I visit YouTube or iTunes I often haven’t got a clue which apps or videos are suitable for my son, so it’s a huge relief and a comfort to find everything under one roof, so to speak. Though the Ultra's apps are on the pricey side—typically starting from $5—with LeapFrog you can be certain that you are paying for a quality experience. With the freebies, you never know what you are going to get, besides deeply annoying music and (potentially) spam.
Renowned as an educational innovator, the LeapFrog Ultra helps you track your child’s personal learning ‘path’ with badges. Parents can monitor progress through various academic skills, while your child gets the equivalent morale boost of a gold star. And with a Wi-Fi-enabled library of literally hundreds of carefully vetted videos, the sky is the limit as to what my little guy will learn with the Ultra. One minute he could be watching a funny video about a dog on a skateboard, the next he could be learning how to draw his favourite cartoon character, how to perform a science experiment, soccer technique or even a cool magic trick. (Now if he could make the dirty dishes disappear, that would be something…)
By far the biggest thrill for my son, though, is the fact that he now has a tablet all his own.
After all, what kid likes to share his toys with his parents?