This is a leap into the future – picture books with more! I was really impressed with the technology – I can’t think how it works!

The Leapfrog Tag products are nice little picture/story books for early primary, but with an electronic extra – the ‘Tag’. The books seem quite conventional, but become interactive when the Tag is put into use.

The Tag is a pen-like pointer with a built-in loudspeaker. Touch a spot on the page and Tag reads the text out to you. Touch another spot, and Tag asks a question. To answer, you touch on a picture in the book, then Tag talks back to you and marks you on the computer.

How does it do it?

The Tag comes with a CD of installation software that you load onto your home computer. You then connect it to your PC – just like a mouse – and go to the Leapfrog website to download into the Tag the interactive file for the book your child is reading. The onscreen instructions for this process were a little hard to follow, but the user manual was clear enough.

Please note that the Tag can only be used with compatible books from Leapfrog, and the Australian site lists ten available for purchase (the US site has double that). The books cost around $22 each.

In use

I like the idea and it has great potential, although I didn’t like the particular book supplied with the Tag (Ozzie and Mack). The book itself was suitable for five-year-olds, but the voiceover was firing comprehension questions of the “who said what to whom?” variety, which was a bit daunting and confusing.

Parents can upload the results of their child’s interaction with Tag books to LeapFrog’s online ‘Learning Path’ to keep up to date with the skills they are learning and see when they reach skills above their age level. This seems, however, a bit judgmental to have children’s progress tracked for parental monitoring, considering that the title supplied with the Tag was a picture book for beginner readers. This kind of feedback may be more appropriate to other titles in the Tag range and underscores the relationship between learning potential and the suitability of the book to the age of the child.

Reading as fun

The Leapfrog Tag has great potential as an encouragement to appreciate books. However, I am concerned that asking comprehension questions to such young readers could turn reading into a chore, instead of a fun activity. I would like the emphasis to be on enjoyment. Learning is not about being judged all the time.

As an age group, these young readers need encouragement to enjoy books, and comprehension tests may leave them frustrated rather than satisfied.

So I am concerned that the ‘Lesson Reports’ component of the system might worry parents unnecessarily, and that concern could be passed on to the child. The concept of ‘comprehension questions’ is introduced at a later stage in primary school, when the child is reading securely.

Final word

Will Leapfrog Tag teach your child to read? Not exactly. But it can make kids who can read, take more interest in books and keep them occupied. My concern is that a formula for learning has been applied, with a view to having something to mark and report on (i.e. comprehension tests).

I would have gone for a simpler application – I would prefer to see the Tag read out one phrase or sound at a time, so that kids could learn to read from it. The books I sampled read out whole paragraphs at a time. I would also like to see the Tag used with a picture book for pre-schoolers, but I couldn’t find that in the catalogue.

Any experience with books can encourage reading but this doesn’t actually teach kids to read. So the Leapfrog Tag is a nice idea but should not be taken too seriously as an educational system. The concept could make books more fun and encourage children to enjoy them more, but the design can’t be done on a formula. The concept must be very creative and entwined with a suitable book.

I love the concept of a book that can read itself out loud, but I felt the quizzing could be intimidating. So by all means buy and try, but don’t demand too much from your child. Treat it as a fun activity, rather than a learning activity.