Handheld games with an educational flavour! With a Leapster 2 each, the kids in the back seat will be well entertained on your next road trip.

The Leapster 2 looks like a toy and feels like a toy. It is nice to hold, feels robust and the handset itself is kid-friendly and colourful. It runs on AA batteries (rechargeables will be more economical) and the stylus is attached to the main handset so it won’t get lost.

LeapFrog handheld games form part of an integrated set of edu-games for school use in other countries, and the Leapster 2 comes with a couple of built-in games, with others available as hardy plastic cartridges for around $45 – though locally only around ten titles are available.

The are games for four to six year olds, and best viewed as activities for keeping them occupied and out of mischief rather than as exercises that satisfy a set of educational markers.

Additional games are available from international websites and additional activities can, apparently, be downloaded from the LeapFrog website via the handset’s USB port and using the supplied software CD. You can also upload information about your child’s play to LeapFrog’s online ‘Learning Path’ to track their progress.

Games

Learning about life includes reading and counting and shopping and all sorts of things that can be mixed in with the traditional ‘fight and survive’ format for computer games.  This is great because kids can relate to what they see and do in real life.

The ‘Dragons To The Rescue’ game that came with the review handset, for example, married ‘shoot-’em-down’-style gaming with letter and number recognition. – In it, a voice instructs the child to shoot down a letter or number while dodging some monsters, so learning the alphabet and numbers is lightly reinforced during gaming, as is an improvement in concentration skills.

Note that this game does not teach alphabet or number recognition. The player is invited to shoot ‘p’, and then a ‘p’ passes by (between a ghost and a cloud!), so children do not have to select the correct letter from a choice of letters. Resolution is simple, not great. Basically, it’s a Nintendo Game Boy-typle shooting game with a few alphabet letters floating by. As a game, it wasn’t really compelling, but it was OK.

Final word

Probably the strength of the LeapFrog range is that it offers sets of integrated items, so that a school or family can build up a library and adults can become familiar with the technology. The quality of the LeapFrog products varies, however, so look before you Leap(ster).

A note about the author: Mary Sanghvi has made a career as an innovative educator, applying tried and tested educational and pedagogical principles to computer-based learning, and pairing creative methodologies with today’s technology to make learning more interesting and accessible.