An Evolution in Building From LeapFrog

Music Technology Toys
Image: Sarah Pinault

We have an enormous amount of building materials in our house. We have a vast collection of Lego, in both kit form, and random bricks from yard sales. We have an almost equally impressive Duplo collection, including some Mega Blocks thrown in for fun. We have bricks that stick together like the stickle bricks of my childhood. We have Tegu blocks that come with us on road trips. We have Lincoln Logs. No matter what we accumulate however, time and time again, we come back to our big box of jumbo bricks, be they Duplo or Mega. We have several large block builds that have remained in tact, longer than our pricey Lego kits. Our Ninjago dragon was laid to waste well before our two armed Duplo monster.

We also have a pretty decent stockpile of LeapFrog toys. They are the preferred toy company of my seven year old, who wants everything he sees with that magical frog on it. He has eagle eyes at yard sales, and can always find the LeapFrog deals. These are generally one of the few noisy toys I can stand for long stretches, as they use good quality sounds, and seem to have someone on staff whose job it is to test for level of parental annoyance. They have certain sounds that carry through, and are recognizable from toy to toy. Some might find this feature annoying, my kids like the instant recognition. For my seven year old with ADHD, the familiarity of it is comforting. I wasn’t entirely sure what was going to happen when they put the LeapFrog technology and curriculum based mission together with the traditionally silent building bricks. This is a different kind of interactive building experience.

Images: LeapFrog

 

We recently got to check out the Leap Builders Food Fun Family Farm set, and had lots of family fun at the farm. This set comes with 40 pieces, 15 of which are double sided “learning blocks,” which come in to play with the key feature of this new range; the interactive “Smart Star.™” The Smart Star™ interacts with the learning blocks to produce a variety of lights, sounds, and phrases. Simply place a learning block inside the Smart Star™ and it responds with the relevant sound effects. There are 150 different sounds in this kit alone, and yes, some are more annoying than others. Initially I thought that the songs in this kit would wear on me after a time, but I actually found the reverse happening. It would be really neat to have a CD of these songs in the car, to continue the learning. They reminded me in many ways of The Chickadees music, and my kids love listening to and learning from that.

Like most building kits, you can either go ahead and build the playset as it appears on the box, or you can build anything your heart desires. The various kits can be combined, as with other block sets, which always gives you more scope. As an added bonus, using additional sets unlocks new sounds and phrases. The kit is motion sensitive and responds as you build. For this set, pressing the question button on theSmart Star™ produces phrases and questions to get kids thinking about healthy foods and eating habits. Questions such as “Can you find a food that grows on trees?” and songs about where our food comes from, will hopefully, over time, prompt my daughter to expand her primary food groups out of the cracker aisle of the grocery store!

Images: LeapFrog

This Food Fun Family Farm set, and others in the LeapBuilders range, is intended for 24 months to 5 years. Certainly a block building system will generally get played with well beyond that age range, but for the purpose that these blocks were designed for, I’d say it is definitely best suited to a Pre-schooler, who is still learning the basics. My ten year old will play this with his four year old sister, but it is definitely far out of his interest range. However, this is a great way to reinforce pre-school learning. It is very hands on, and can be played with by multiple kids, but it is best for those times when your child just wants to get away to the farm by themselves. It comes with batteries, though they are demo batteries, so you will need to replace them pretty quickly, and the “Smart Star™” only takes two AA batteries.

There are currently four other sets that you can purchase. The ABC Smart House is a bigger set, with 20 learning blocks. Phrases and songs in this kit encourage familiarity with the alphabet. The Shapes and Music Castle is smaller, at 30 pieces with 10 of them being learning blocks. It has phrases and questions concerning shapes and instruments. The 123 Counting Train, does exactly what it says in the title, and encourages proficiency with numbers, but it also has phrases about professions and colors. This is the smallest kit at 19 pieces, with 10 learning blocks. At the moment, you can also free range it and buy the 81 piece Jumbo Blocks Box, which features letters and objects on the 13 learning blocks. However, this kit does not include a Smart Star™ cube by which to activate the learning blocks, and is the more generic of the kits. It does interact with the other kits and the Smart Star™ in those kits.

We always have fun with building kits, and this one has been no exception. For my pre-schooler, who is reluctant to do any out-of-school learning, this is a nice sneaky way to work on the skills her teachers are introducing her to.

GeekMom received the Leap Builders Food Fun Family Farm for review purposes, our love of Leap Frog and building blocks, is over a decade in the making.

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