Review: Tag! Reading is It!

Santa Claus was generous in the Tylbon household this year. Lots of Disney Princess gear, a cat piano, and most popular, the Leapfrog Tag Reader and a selection of books.

Normally, I resist buying things that pin me into one set of purchases. I like options and price comparison and open-source items. For instance, I love the GeoTrax Train sets, as does my daughter, but you are pigeonholed into buying GeoTrax accessories. Barbies are fine because, while they are a popular brand, other companies now make accessories that work just fine with the Barbie line. If buying a toy dooms me to buying more pieces of the same toy, I tend to resist it. I make exceptions for Lego (although heaven knows the brand is now so extensive there is no end of options, so Lego almost doesn’t count as a brand specific buyer-trap.)

The Tag Reading System only works with Tag books and products. But never fear, there is an exception to every rule. These books are fantastic. Each page is loaded with all sorts of information, games, quotes, and teachable moments, not to mention the story itself. I also got my daughter the World Map and that is one of the best investments I’ve ever made. I mounted the physical side of the map to the wall and she will stand there with her Tag Pen for hours, tapping away, filling her blonde little head with all sorts of invaluable knowledge. The investment was definitely worth it.

The best part of the whole thing is she can do it by herself. There had been great debate as to whether the Tag or the Tag Junior would be the wiser investment. I don’t regret the Tag at all. The selection of books is a little broader and the time line for usage is greatly extended. The box says ages 4-8, but my three year old doesn’t have one ounce of issue with it. The pen itself is still wide enough that she doesn’t have a problem gripping and controlling it. It took just a moment to convince her how to hold it. Unlike Tag Junior, you have to hold the pen a certain way or the sensor can’t see the book. But after a minute or two she caught on and can pick it up correctly every time now.

The Tag doesn’t have to be told what to do. It does it all by itself. She can tap the various symbols, drag the pen across a word, touch the pictures, and the Tag listens to her demands, never failing. You can have it read the story as a whole, page by page, line by line, or word by word, depending on how you (or, really, your child) chooses. The story lines of the books themselves remind me a little bit of the Dollar Store versions of the stories. They are a little choppy, greatly abbreviated, and not always in the most logical order if comparing it to the original movie, show, or book. But the books are littered with all sorts of interactive activities, easter eggs, and all sorts of fun. Given that they are targeted to a primary school audience, I think they’ll pass critique.

The Tag manages to congratulate your child on an accomplishment without sounding forced, fake-y, or condescending, a common issue with many teaching toys. When you win an award for completing a game in the Tag books, it celebrates with you instead of for you. The LeapFrog Connect program (required for operation) is easy to install and use, and has thus far not shown any tendency to being a virus magnet or buggy. When you purchase a book you have to hook the tag up to your PC using the provided USB cable and download the audio file for the book. I operate off a Mifi and this still took no time at all. Maybe twenty minutes for all 10 books and the world map. The prompts are not overdone for those of us with a little computer experience, yet still simple enough that even the most tech-challenged GeekMom can get it to cooperate. Unfortunately, you do need a computer and Internet access for the Tag to work. The packaging doesn’t make that too terribly clear.

This is my daughter’s first official geek toy and she has taken to it like a fish to water. (*JennT beams here*) In fact, tonight, after I had put her down for bed, I heard her rustling around a bit and she got out of bed. This is odd for her. She is a good kid and typically does not get out of bed once she is down. She doesn’t always go to sleep, but she normally stays put. I stood up to see what she was up to when I heard the Tag turn on. She had grabbed a book and the Tag and climbed back into bed for a little nighttime reading. The mom alarms in my head went off and I knew I should go in there, take the toy away, and send her back to bed with a stern warning about bedtime and being a good listener.  But the geek bells were louder and I was absolutely soaring that if my daughter was going to break rules, she was going to do so for the sake of books and reading and her first Geek Gadget.

I HIGHLY (you know I mean it because I used all caps) recommend the LeapFrog Tag Reading System. It is reasonably priced, all things considered. The books seem a little painful at first go but the information encoded on the pages makes it like buying three different books for the price of one. I know Christmas has those toy boxes topped off pretty well, but Easter is just around the corner. Valentine’s Day works too. As does the second Tuesday of the month.

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The GeekMom blog is captained by Jenny Bristol and Corrina Lawson, and supported by a brilliant team of writers. Since launching in 2010, we’ve created a robust community of writers, readers, and media geeks, dedicated to the vision of creating a smart, savvy, social online experience for geek parents everywhere.