Toddlers and Computer Toys

LeapPad and BoyI just read an article in the USA today that asks the question, “Do toddlers really need computers to learn“?

The article makes the case that young kids have too much “screen time” and not enough outdoors time. That may be true as a trend in the US, but to me, that’s really a parenting issue more than a problem with a certain type of toy or technology.

One of the hottest new “screen toys” this year is the LeapPad by LeapFrog. I listed it in my list of the 20 Top Toys of 2011. Every time I’ve been at a store and browsing the toy aisle this holiday season, the LeapPad is sold out, so I know demand has been high for this toy.

I’ve also written previously about my kids experience with the Fisher Price iXL vs. the LeapFrog Explorer. These are great electronic learning toys for young kids.

The LeapPad is suggested for Kids 4 years old up to around 9 year old. So it really isn’t a toddler toy. I’d have to agree with that. My Pre-school age kids love their LeapFrog Explorer and Fisher Price iXL — but our 1 year old don’t play with these toys much if at all.

Personally, I think that these educational toys are great. My young kids also certainly love to spend time with my iPad and playing games on my iPhone. Many of the games we let them play have an educational value, while some are “just for fun”. As parents, we make sure to limit “game time” or “screen time” (including tv) so that our young kids are getting enough exercise and “real world”, not just “virtual world” play time.

So overall, I have to disagree with the USA Today article and I think that these “computer toys” are great for young kids. But just like everything else, it’s most important for parents to monitor what their kids are doing and provide boundaries and guidance all along the way.

LEGO City Advent Calendar 2011

Lego City Advent Calendar 2011The LEGO City Advent Calendar is a best selling toy every year. This toy is a fun way to celebrate the tradition of Advent with your family. The Lego’s are designed for kids age 5 years old and up and include 232 pieces. Each day for 24 days, you open up a new compartment to reveal some new Lego’s on a Christmas theme. After opening up all 24 days, you can put all the pieces together to create one larger scene.

Best Learning Toys: iXL vs Leapfrog Explorer

I’ve been comparing the Fisher Price iXL vs. Leapfrog Explorer and trying to decide which is the best learning toy for my kids? So I bought one of each for the kids this Christmas and spent some time this week setting up each device and installing games so that on Christmas day the kids can open the gift and start playing right away.

I’ve been comparing the Fisher Price iXL vs. Leapfrog Explorer and trying to decide which is the best learning toy for my kids? So I bought one of each for the kids this Christmas and spent some time this week setting up each device and installing games so that on Christmas day the kids can open the gift and start playing right away.
Fisher price iXL Learning SystemLeapfrog Explorer

The iXL is a new device from Fisher Price. The LeapFrog Explorer is a brand new device that is really an updated version of the very popular Leapfrog2. Note that games are not cross compatible from the Leapster2 to the Explorer, so if you have an Leapster2 and update to the Explorer, you will be needing to buy new games also.

If you do buy either of these systems, I do highly suggest that you open the box ahead of time and do all the setup. Both systems were fairly easy to setup, but it is a bit time consuming. With both systems you have to install their software and possibly download some updates.

Boy with Fisher Price iXLAfter that, you have the ability to customize the device with the child’s name and a few other customizations. On the iXL, they work in your child’s name and favorite color into things which is a nice personalization. On the Leapfrog explorer, having multiple user profiles is even more valuable. As you child progresses through the games and levels on the Explorer, the levels increase in difficulty. If you have multiple kids at different age levels who will use the device, having the ability for each of them to learn at their own pace is great.

Next it’s time to install games. On the iXL, you install the games directly onto a hard drive built into the device and there’s an option to add an SD card for more storage. The Leapfrog Explorer is “cartridge” based, so it’s just one game at a time. The caveat there is that on the Explorer, you can download and install “Leaplets”. These are simple ebooks or game apps that can be installed on the device for some additional learning options. The Explorer comes with 1 credit to download a Leaplet and of course, you can buy more credits to download additional Leaplets.

After setup, I played with each device for awhile to get a feel for how the kids will like it.

Child with Leapfrog ExplorerThe iXL has multiple ways that it can be used. They advertise that it’s “6 in 1” and I have to agree. The iXL feels more similar to an iPod Touch that is rugged and designed just for children. The Leapfrog Explorer is more similar to a handheld gaming device. It’s even laid out with buttons similar to a gaming controller with an “A” and “B” select buttons.

The iXL 6 ways to play includes a photo viewer, ebook digital reader, game player, note pad, art studio for coloring pictures and mp3 player. You have the ability to upload your own photos to the iXL which kids will love to view and they can also then color on top of those pictures. So that’s a fun customization. Games also come with mp3 songs, but you can also load any song onto the iXL, so in that sense, it really does start to feel like an iPod for kids.

The iXL is designed for kids 3 years old up to age 7. While the Leapfrog Explorer is designed for kids age 4 year old up to age 9.

Both of these systems are great. So it just really depends what type of experience you are looking to provide for your kids. The iXL does many things (very much like an iPod for kids with book reader, games, coloring, music player and more). It is very easy to navigate, even for children as young as 3 years old. So for younger kids, the iXL will be the way to go.

The Explorer is a bit more complex and is really a “hand held gaming device”. If your kids aren’t ready to jump up to a Nintendo DSi or similar handheld gaming device and you prefer that the games they play have educational value that Leapfrog is known for, then the Leapfrog Explorer is the way to go. It will be more interesting to older children who want more challenging learning games than the iXL can provide.

We bought the iXL for our 3 year old and the Explorer for our 4 year old, but I’ve setup profiles for both kids on each device and expect that both devices will be a hit for each of them.

So which one would you pick and why?

Wooden Shape Sorting Clock

Wooden Shape Sorting Clock by Melissa and Doug The Wooden Shape Sorting Clock by Melissa and Doug is a very popular and highly rated toy for kids age 2 and up. One great thing about this toy is that it is built sturdy to last a long time (as Melissa and Doug Toys always are).

Kids as young as 2 years old can play with this as a puzzle to begin to explore colors and shapes with the large wood block pieces. As kids get older, this toy becomes a learning tool to help teach kids how to tell time on a non-digital clock. Check it out to see if this toy is a good fit for your child.