Aug. 4, 2008 -- There's a new game of Tag, and this one does not involve running around and avoiding being "It." This new Tag is all about learning to read in a high-tech way.
The Tag Reading System, from Leapfrog, is a nifty new electronic reader that is contained in a penlike device that children hold over special books. Tag books look like regular books, and many children's classics are available. By tapping on a page of the book, the Tag can read the whole page, a word, a phrase, or respond to images on the page.
The Tag reader is six inches long and uses two AAA batteries to run. It houses a computer processor, a stereo audio system and a small infrared camera on the end of the device. The Tag books are printed on special dot-matrix paper. The Tag works by quickly photographing the dots on a page to determine where it is on the page and then it reads to your child.
When a child uses the Tag, they hold it like a pen and tap icons, words or images in the book. By tapping the "Read the Story" icon, the Tag reads the whole book, while indicating when the child should turn the page. Alternatively, the 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. And touching any illustrations will create an exciting audio response.
In addition to reading, the Tag can initiate games involving the story or the characters. For example, in one game the Tag sends your child on a scavenger hunt to find specific words or pictures when given hints such as, "Look for a picture that is a home for bees."
The Tag comes bundled with one book: "Ozzie and Mack," by Trish Holland. But additional books are available for purchase at $13.99. At launch, the Tag Reading System had 16 books, two activity boards and two card sets.
The Tag can hold the audio for five books at a time. After purchasing a Tag book, parents can upload the audio for it for free by connecting their Tag to the Internet.
The audio downloads are found on the new Leapfrog Connect, a Web site that automatically launches after you install the application on your Internet-connected computer and plug in the Tag with its USB connector. From the Web site, you can easily swap out which five audio downloads you want to reside in the Tag. The process is very similar to managing MP3 music files.
The Tag reader is fascinating to hear and see 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 purchase "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 in three levels of difficulty, and the Tag knows to turn itself off after five minutes of inactivity.
But Tag's greatest feature is that it makes reading fun. With Tag, kids want to touch the words to hear them spoken. The games Tag plays with kids systematically teach reading by working on vocabulary, phonics, and reading comprehension. And Tag always provides positive feedback so that kids feel good about themselves when playing with this electronic reader.
Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)
Best for ages 4-8
From Leapfrog, $49.99 (works with Windows or Mac)
Jinny Gudmundsen is the kid-tech columnist for the Gannett News Service and USA Today.com, and is also the editor of Computing with Kids Ezine.