Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The battle of the Readers: Ruckus vs. Leapfrog Tag

Reading time in the House of Klein
As an avid lover of books, I feel lucky that both of my girls learned to read before age 5. I give their Montessori preschool most of the credit for teaching them phonics, but it can't hurt that that we read to them, read a lot ourselves and as two writers probably passed along some kind of genetic predisposition to verbal skills.

What I don't credit is educational toys. I doubt either the Leapfrog Tag Reader instrument and books (which we've had since Zoe was 3) or the brand spanking new iPad app Ruckus Reader (which I was given trial access to) will teach any kid to read. But I do believe they support literacy and reinforce verbal skills through entertainment and play. And more importantly, they will read your children books when you're too busy. Or driving. Or not yet awake. 

Both Leapfrog Tag and Ruckus Reader offer a wide range of titles, from classics to crappy TV and toy tie-ins. And both companies will monitor your child's interactions with the toy and send you email updates or showcase progress online. 

Assuming you already own an iPad, however, the Ruckus Reader is more affordable. At least upfront. For $24.99 you get 6 months of unlimited access to classic narrated books, interactive but lamely written titles from licensed characters like My Little Pony and Cars and some Reading Rainbow-eque animated books. (The app itself is free and you can download select books for free.)

Compare this to the Tag Reader, which is $35 plus the cost of books. Even if you've got younger siblings who might inherit the Tag collection, given the pace of technology and the short attention spans of children, I think Ruckus Reader has the advantage here.

Although nothing's better than a big tote of new library books, my 4 1/2 year old likes both systems and plays with each about once a week. She tends to favor the Tag Reader because she doesn't have to ask for permission. I still monitor and limit access to the iPad as I think it counts as screen time, no matter how "educational" the content. Also? It's expensive as f--- and I don't want her to break it. I will, however, happily bust out the iPad loaded with Ruckus Reader titles on lengthy car and plane trips--it packs a lot of reading material and distraction without taking up any space or weight.