LeapFrog system brings childrens' books to life

Playing tag used to mean running around trying to touch someone so you no longer had to be "It." Now, with the introduction of the LeapFrog Tag Reading System, playing tag means learning to read in an exciting high-tech manner.

Playing tag used to mean running around trying to touch someone so you no longer had to be "It." Now, with the introduction of the LeapFrog Tag Reading System, playing tag means learning to read in an exciting high-tech manner.

The Tag Reading System is a Web-connected reading system that centers on the Tag reader. The Tag reader is an outsized pen device that is about 6 inches long and uses two AAA batteries to run. By tapping the device over specially created Tag books, the Tag reads the book.

The Tag device houses a computer processor, a stereo audio system and a small infrared camera on the end of the device. It works by quickly photographing dots that are printed on special dot-matrix paper. By processing these dots' location, the device can to recognize letters, words and other symbols printed on the paper and then "read" or respond.

When your child uses the Tag, your child holds it like a pen and taps icons, words or images in the book. When your child taps the "Read the Story" icon, the Tag reads the whole book, while indicating when your child should turn the page. Alternatively, your child can tap the "Read the Page" icon or a specific word. Your child can even drag the pen over a series of words to have a sentence read. Touching illustrations will also provide an audio response.

In addition to reading, the Tag can initiate games involving the story or the characters. For example, in one, the Tag sends your child on a scavenger hunt to find specific words or pictures when given hints like "Look for a picture that is a home for bees."

The Tag comes bundled with one book: Ozzie and Mack by Trish Holland. But, it can hold the audio for five books at a time. At launch, the Tag Reading System has 16 books, two activity boards, and two card sets that work with the Tag reader. You can choose which classic and activity storybooks you want to add to your child's library by purchasing them at $13.99 a piece. You then connect to the Internet to download the audio content into the Tag for free.

The audio downloads are found on the new Leapfrog Connect, a website that automatically launches after you install the application on your Internet-connected computer with the included CD and plug in the Tag with its USB connector. From the website, you can easily load the five audio downloads you want in the Tag. The process is similar to managing MP3 music files.

The Tag reader is truly remarkable to hear and watch in action. LeapFrog has partnered with a number of book publishers to bring some of the best children's classics to this new reading format. You can buy Chicka Chicka Boom Boom,The Little Engine That Could,Olivia and other kids' favorites. LeapFrog also offers books featuring popular branded characters including Diego (from Go Diego Go ), SpongeBob SquarePants and Kung Fu Panda with Jack Black's voice featured in the audio.

The Tag's sound is clear and accompanied by music and ambient sounds. Kids can attach headphones to the Tag, so that they won't bother others when reading. The games come on three levels of difficulty, and the Tag knows to turn itself off after five minutes of inactivity.

But the Tag's greatest feature is that it makes reading fun. With the Tag, kids want to touch the words to hear them spoken. The games the Tag plays with kids systematically teach reading by working on vocabulary, phonics and reading comprehension and by playing word games about rhyming and letter sounds. And the Tag always provides positive feedback so kids feel good about themselves when playing with this electronic reader.

Gudmundsen is the editor of Computing With Kids magazine (www.ComputingWithKids.com). Contact her at gnstech@gns.gannett.com.

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