My two-year-old son, Sawyer, is a bit underwhelmed when it comes to technology. His five-year-old brother has introduced him to a number of devices that include the iPad, the Nabi 2, the LeapPad 2, and the Nintendo DSi. Of course, he doesn’t understand the rules of most games, and I’ve yet to see him spend any longer than two minutes with any app. He’s definitely more active at two than my first son was at that age, so the football and baseball bat and soccer ball get more action from him, something that I’m very happy to see. My boys are night-and-day different, and while one definitely seems to enjoy technology and has actually benefited from some education apps over the last few years, the other just doesn’t show any interest (yet, anyway).
But a few weeks ago I introduced Sawyer to two new products from LeapFrog — the Touch Magic Rockin’ Guitar and the Touch Magic Learning Bus. And the responses I got from him were surprising. As I said, he just hasn’t been all that taken with technology except to watch train videos on the iPad… but one of these two devices has turned out to be quite the surprise hit and the other is starting to become a toy that he wants to spend a little time with each day. Let me explain.
Touch Magic Rockin’ Guitar
This one was a big hit, and was a total surprise to me. The Rockin’ Guitar’s surface is completely smooth to the touch, and has various graphics on it that perform different tasks. One button, for example, plays a number of familiar songs (10 in all), complete with catchy music and vocals. But what’s fun to Sawyer is the fake strings on the surface. As you strum the strings, an extra melody is added to the song, and it does NOT sound like noise: the melody actually blends in with the singer’s voice and sounds quite nice. Strum faster and the vocals and background music speed up, keeping time with your strumming. Slow down and the music pulls back to match. Sawyer actually laughed when he finally figured this out, and the star above the strings lights up to let him know when he’s strumming correctly.
Extra buttons add sound effects like clapping, cheering, and drums. And there’s a kid-version of a whammy bar that provides some fun sounds. Sawyer played with the red version, but it also comes in pink.
I had to show Sawyer a few times how to properly throw the strap over his shoulder, and he’s almost got it now (but keeps slipping his arm out and wearing it like a very large necklace). It’s very cute to see him pick up the Rockin’ Guitar, sling the strap over his shoulder, and then go to town. I have a few guitars of my own, and I’m smiling to see him showing an interest in the toy. I may have a little rocker in the house!
No offense to LeapFrog, but when the Rockin’ Guitar arrived, I really didn’t think Sawyer would show any interest. It just goes to show that what kids find interesting is always a surprise to parents. I really thought this education toy would be the one gathering dust in the corner, and I’m happy to be wrong about that.
Touch Magic Learning Bus
Like the Rockin’ Guitar, the Learning Bus also has that smooth surface and fast responses to taps and touches. This one teaches the alphabet, obviously, helping kids identify the letter that goes with sounds and images. Sawyer is learning his letters, but so far the class hasn’t started with associating sounds with images or even with specific letters. But this little toy has surprised me. Sawyer knows a few letters — A, B, C, and O — and he can readily identify them on the Learning Bus. When he taps the letter, he hears the letter’s name clearly (B!), is told the name of an object that begins with that letter, and then hears a sound that relates to this object (the Bell rings, for example).
There are three mode buttons — Learn, Game, and Music. Learn Mode is just as I described — touch a letter to hear its name, sound, and an object that starts with that letter. The Game Mode button, when pressed, asks a question (Touch the letter Y, Touch the turtle, Touch the picture that makes the sound RING). And the Music mode offers three different tunes and tapping on the wheels of the bus or the piano keys at the bottom allow the child to add to the song. (Unlike the Rockin’ Guitar, however, the software does not synch the drums, cymbals and piano with the song.)
Education toys have been around forever, and toys that provide this functionality are nothing new, but the Touch Magic system of toys definitely stand out. They are bright and colorful and I was surprised at their extreme light weight — super easy for Sawyer to carry around without dropping. And they are rugged and spill proof. I can’t count the number of buttons that broke off or cracks that appeared in my older son’s learning toys, but there’s nothing on these two devices to break off or chip and the surface wipes off easy. Both devices have Low and High volume settings and a Power Off switch, a sanity saver for many parents.
I don’t know how long Sawyer will continue to play with these toys, but I’ll take what I can get. He loves the Rockin’ Guitar and seems to spend a little time each day just making some music. And while he doesn’t reach for the Learning Bus everyday, when he does grab it he seems to spend enough time with it that I believe some of it is sinking in. I’m always impressed with the stuff from LeapFrog, and they’ve definitely got a handle on what young kids like — the colors, sounds, and overall look and feel of these new Touch Magic devices make them eye-catching and something that youngsters just want to pick up and play with and experiment. As a matter of fact, as I’m writing this (just before Sawyer’s bedtime), my five-year-old has the Rockin’ Guitar and the two-year-old has the Learning Bus. I had them with me for less than a minute to verify the Off switch on back of both devices before they were pulled off the table and switched on — a sure sign to this dad that the Rockin’ Guitar and the Learning Bus are hits in this household.
I’d like to thank the folks at LeapFrog for providing the test units — they definitely got Sawyer’s attention!