Need Advice Selecting a Learning Toy for My 4yo

In another thread about what expertise Dopers possess, I saw many are in the field of education. It is for this reason I ask parents and teachers which learning games may be best for our son.
We have been looking at a few that are typically hand-held video types with a selection of plug-in catridges. The one’s we’ve see are V-Tech™, Leapster™ and L Max™. We lean toward the portable type that also can be attached to the TV. All seem interesting and varied but can range widely in price.
Our son is a bright boy and loves learning but can bore easily if the activity is to slow or uninteresting.
I turn to the wide resourses of the SDMB and ask for insights based on your experiance. Any advice on which to select will be, as always, greatly appreciated.

:smack: That’s “…Learning Toy for My 4yo.” for the title! :smack:

Must learn to proof read better!!

Informed opinions is what you’re after, so let’s move this to IMHO from General Questions.

samclem GQ moderator

Thank you. Can you fix the thread title while you’re at it? :smiley:

Well, you wanted opinions, so here’s mine: young children get way too much screen time already, and electronic games will not do as much for their growing minds as real, live running around, singing, and stories will do.

I would look through catalogs such as Chinaberry (we have loved the “Dwarves and dice” game and the solar prism, not to mention the books and Jim Weiss CDs), Magic Cabin, and Hearthsong (the set of 8 colorful silk scarves has been incredibly great, and check out those costumes!), and choose a good game or toy. Something that will spark his imagination and make for hours of play is, IMO, way better and more educational than an electronic learning device.

You asked for opinions, you got it. My credentials? Well, I have two daughters who have lots of imagination, and the older one, age 5, is a good reader, so the lack of a Leapfrog doesn’t seem to have hurt her.

Looking at my post, I see I may have sounded lecturing or confrontational, which was not my intent. Just my two cents. :slight_smile:

Well, since we’re in IMHO now.

I wasn’t gonna chime in at all, in fact, since I don’t even have kids, but I second the whole lose-the-video thing.

[crotchety old man] Why when I was four years old we didn’t even have pong! If we wanted to play pong, we had to get an actual table and run around like crazy people waving dangerous paddles made of REAL WOOD at each other! And that ball, ah tell ya that ball was just waiting for its chance to put out somebody’s eye! And we LIKED it that way! [/crotchety old man]

Seriously, get the kid a tinkertoy set or a buttload of Legos (a 50-piece set of legos is pointless, get hundreds) or something he can use his own imagination with. He’ll get all the video games he needs in another decade or so, and you won’t want to try to stop him then, trust me.

Books. Books with rhymes. Books with repetition. Books with pictures. For a four-year-old I’d recommend a couple of classics, Winnie the Pooh and Caps for Sale, as they have already reliably amused generations of children. My most recent 4-y-o (who is now 10) was also wildly entertained by The Way Things Work. Of course there are zillions of good children’s books out there. Read to him.

Of course books aren’t toys. But getting children to think of them as entertainment instead of homework is a good way to get them reading and imagining. Imagination is a great thing and can make a toy out of practically anything. Except a television…

Perhaps you want to look at Dr. Toy’s Guide, which I came across when looking for a gift for my friend’s kids.

While I appreciate the input, perhaps I should have made it clear we have tons of books and reading together time, coloring books, loads of yard play and sandbox time, neighboorhood walks and exploring. We do, however, have lengthy road trips on occasion and I would rather he be learning letters, numbers, shapes and colors, etc. than watching a movie or bored.
I did not intend to suggest this as being a babysitter or a substitute for parenting. It is intended to suppliment his learning experiance, not constitute the core of it.
Anyone with experiance with these or other similar teaching materials?

We have a Leappad. It was seldom used. Other people have had better results with it however.

I’d actually recommend buying one of the cheaper VTech learning toys and discovering if it gets played with before you invest in something pricier. My kids never played with the cheaper ones either, and that should have been a sign that the Leappad would be a bust.

You don’t want to hear it, but what my kids did on long trips was color, “read,” listen to music and sing along. At four, simple mazes and wordfinds were popular. The highly noneducational Gameboy became very popular with my son when he was in kindergarten, but that was the first time electronics were a hit. They played some educational computer games (Putt Putt was really popular) earlier, but those aren’t very portable.

I didn’t mean to imply that you are a bad parent or that your son isn’t doing lots of good things. Just that I wouldn’t buy one at all, even for road trips. But I have a little hang-up about that, as my mom has always insisted that any video entertainment during road trips is decadent. No TV in the van for us! :stuck_out_tongue:

We had a Leappad, and he never used it, even when he brought it in the car. We played the billboard game to learn letters and the license plate game to learn states. Later, we added or subtracted numbers we saw to reach a “target number” to learn that. (“I see a 3 on that sign! I’ll add that 4 over there and the 1 on that license plate for 8! Subtract that 2 and now I have 6. I win!”) Coloring books and books-on-tape rounded out his in car entertainment, even on our frequent three hour car rides. He got a Gameboy at age 11 1/2.

If you do decide to get a game system, for the love of Og, get one that you can turn the sound off. Headphones don’t cut it.

A friend of mine loaned my younger son her son’s Leapster thingmabob before they moved - she was hoping to sell it before the move and wanted to know if we were interested. I said no. My reasons…

The books are short and pricey.
The books teach one thing, and once the child has learned that, they don’t seem to have much repeat playability. My son spent most of his time with the toy finding out how it would respond to (intentional) errors.
The books nearly all “star” one or more licensed characters.
The toy is noisy - overstimulating to children, annoying to adults.
The toy can be played with in one way and only one way - little room for creativity.

I came away with the impression that the main lesson this would teach a child was how to be a good little consumer, and alas, that lesson is everywhere.

I don’t know anything about the other toys you mentioned, so I’ll just say one thing I have learned: Kids learn a lot by being bored. Some of our best conversations have taken place on long car rides, especially when it’s too dark to read or play and there’s nothing for the kids to do but let their minds wander.

Haven’t used the LeapPad, but my daughter really enjoyed the PC game “Mr Potato Head Saves Veggie Valley” at that age. We didn’t get a Leappad for all the reasons Flodnak said. However, I have an couple of alternative suggestions for car trips and plane trips, from when she was that age. (She is 8 now).

One is try non-reading books, like Where’s Wally, the Winnie-the-Pooh version of Where’s Wally and “I spy picture riddle” books.

Another is I second the Jim Weiss story CD’s and raise you the Dinotopia CDs. At that age my daughter ADORED those story CDs. We are in Australia and got them from ZBS Foundation in the USA. One time we were trying to find a reward for her when she had done someting particularly good, and asked her what she would like. She came up with an afternoon in bed listening to all the Dinotopia CDs in order.

The last is to get a tray with spaces for a large open book, a pencil bay and a cup holder, with legs that reach the car seat either side of the child so the tray stays stable and everything is within reach. Get a bunch of pencils, paper, colouring in books and books of mazes. The tray we had was rubber so that in case of an accident the tray wouldn’t damage the child’s stomach.

Unfortunately I have no idea what the name of the tray we had is, and Googling “child rubber table travel” was not helpful!!. If you are interested I can go back to the shop where we got it and see if they still have them and what they are called, but it has been quite a few years so there is no guarantee thay are still in stock.

Finally, a cautionary note. We tried “I Spy” . This is significantly NOT FUN with a child who can’t yet spell. Sounds obvious, doesn’t it? Wasn’t to us before we tried it out on a long trip. Then she wanted to play it every time we got in the car, unfazed by her complete inability to spell and our teeth-gnashing frustration. Learn from our mistake, OK? :slight_smile:

Good advice. Last Christmas, my aunt gave my son a Leappad with some books that she had gotten at a garage sale. He rarely uses it, and it really doesn’t seem to effectively teach anything. I’m going to dissapear it soon. No great loss, and my aunt won’t care.

My mom called me and asked me if the Sprout wanted a new Leappad for Christmas. (She saw it at Costco) I was able give her a definitive “no.” But to tell her that he would love one of those horsies they have there. You know, an old fashioned thing with a horse-head on a stick. He saw it and loved it. He doesn’t usually ask for everything in sight in a store, but he really wanted that thing. And last night, he stuck a PVC pipe elbow on a random stick, called it a horsie, and rode it around the house for an hour. And that, my friends, is some creative learning.

You can play ‘I Spy’ with a kid that can’t spell, just use colours :). I agree with the pp that the Leappad is a useless, expensive toy and also agree that getting them crayons, books on CD etc are a much better bet.

Thanks to all. Some good tips here. I can definatly rule out the Leap Pad thing. As stated in the post by Mame it is hard to do many of the things listed here before he knows numbers above 4 or 5 or A,B,C. The road trip in question is 9.5 hrs. so it is not a matter of chosing one approach but trying to find a blend of many things to keep the mind stimulated. We do have a portable DVD in the truck and have many of the learning DVD’s. These are good but limited in the area of interaction. We will also have crayons and coloring books, story books and toys.
That is why I have posed this question. It seems that if we have a device that allows him to select shapes, colors, numbers and letters while we oversee and help it would be a good use of this time. And not to fear, there is a lot of talking and playing together, not an effort to placate and minimize our involvement.
Thanks to all once again and I sincerely have taken no offence to any of the attempts to help.
And thanks Mame for the offer to go find the travel table. We have one of those “lap desk” kinda things with a writing surface on top and a bean-bag sort of thing on the bottom. This has worked pretty well in the past.

We recently spent a month (4 flights and many car trips) travelling with our 2.5 yo.

The biggest hits were:

fingerpaints (the “magic” crayola ones that only colour the paper)
finger puppets (we would act out stories of our everyday activities, like going to the park with friends)
stickers (there are some great educational sticker books out there)
connect-the-dots books (there are basic ones with numbers only going up to 10)
Brain Quest cards ( )
lacing cards
magnetic fishing set
mini photo album (before we left we prepared an album of the people & places we would see, then while on the trip we made a new photo album of the pictures we’d taken there)