ROMper ROOM: Reading is easier with help from Frog

LeapFrog’s Tag Reading System ($50, requires two AA batteries) combines the style and portability of big brother’s Fly Pen with the extremely popular Leap Pad learning system to help children in preschool through third grade with reading and comprehension skills.

As the user touches the pen tip to the page, the pen’s infrared camera works with an audio system to translate the content and bring a book to life.

The child can choose to have the page read to them, or they can read the story themselves, using the pen to help with hard words or enhance the story with sound effects from a page’s many hot spots.

The audio files for the books must be downloaded separately using the included Connect software. While the process is fairly easy, it does take time and it helps if the end users are not near the computer clamoring to play.

After installing software from the included CD, the pen connects to the computer (Mac OSX or Windows 200/XP/Vista systems) with a USB cable. The adult must download the audio files and also should save them (as he likely will need them again later).

Users then can upload up to five Tag Reading Book audio files to the pen. This was a less-than-perfect experience as I would click on a book title, and then wait for the system to recognize the pen to allow the download to commence. I often had to reconnect the USB cables so the pen would be recognized.

Once the child is tired of a specific title, the Connect application is needed to remove old audio files and add new ones to the pen.

The Tag Reading System comes with one book “Ozzie and Mack.” The obvious draw is the ever-increasing group of titles available ($14 each) that feature plenty of classic stories such as “Oliva,” “I Spy” and “Miss Spider.”

Additionally, licensed characters are highlighted, including Lightning McQueen and Mater in “Tractor Tipping,” Kung Fu Panda in “Po’s Tasty Training” and Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends in the “The Golden Paddleball.”

For the child, book and pen in hand, reading is an audio-visual experience on every page. Children can direct their fun by simply touching the “read” icon to hear the story, complete with music and, sometimes character voices.

In the case of Walter the Farting Dog, a wonderful series written by William Kotzwinkle, Glenn Murray and Elizabeth Gundy, hearing Walter’s cacophony of emissions made this story particularly silly.

As skills grow, there are three levels of comprehension and phonics games to be conquered. Activities in challenges range from questions such as “Which character did what?” to phonics and spelling skill development.

For example, in “Ozzie and Mack,” a game has readers find words with short and long vowel sounds and rhyming words and fosters word building by adding the “silent e.”

For the youngest of beginning readers, the ability to read along with the audio will provide a sense of accomplishment.

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