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Learning Game Consoles for Young Children? 101

Posted by Cliff
from the entertainment-and-education-rolled-into-one dept.
revco_38 asks: "My wife and I are looking into purchasing a game based learning console for our 4 year old boy this Christmas. The two front runners are the VSmile from VTech and the Leapster from Leapfrog. Does the Slashdot community have any experience with either of these products? Are there any other products similar that should be considered? We also have a 2 year old boy so something that lasts would be nice."
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Learning Game Consoles for Young Children?

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    Isn't that the sort of age where learning social interaction would be a better bet?
    • by macrom (537566) <macrom75@hotmail.com> on Wednesday November 02, 2005 @07:27PM (#13936714) Homepage
      I seriously doubt this parent is going to substitute a preschool-aged video game system for human interaction. My daughter (3.5) is at school almost 8 hours a day. I think most kids like her get enough interaction that a bit of video game time isn't going to damage them forever.

      That said, we like the VSmile a lot. The basic cartridge that it comes with has a few games on it, and she does OK with it. It took a bit of practice for her to figure out how to use the joystick properly, and she likes to hit the colored buttons just to hear the guy say them over the TV. Most games that we've played only require the joystick and the big orange button, so getting started is easy. The graphics are probably SNES quality, along with similar sound. We had to get extra carts, though, cause the one it comes with gets old fast.

      The other thing I like about the VSmile is it has a portable counterpart. Think TurboGrafix 16, but for kids. We haven't purchased it yet, but I have to drive my daughter a few hours each way on my custody weekends, and that's something to help entertain her when we've played out all the Barney and Veggie Tales CDs...

      One final comment -- if you get the VSmile, get the AC adapter. It takes 3C batteries, but they get eaten quickly, especially since small children are prone to turning the unit on without you knowing (and hence leaving it on for an extended period of time).
      • My daughter (3.5) is at school almost 8 hours a day.

        Eight hours????????????

        She's only 3!!!!!!!!!!!
        • Yes, but her mother works full-time, so that's the breaks. She also lives out of town, so I or my family am not able to pick her up. It's not as bad as it sounds, since it's a school/day care. The facility is top-notch, and I and my ex-wife feel rather comfortable having her there.

          That said, divorce is rough on kids, and this is just one of the side effects.
          • It's not as bad as it sounds, since it's a school/day care. The facility is top-notch, and I and my ex-wife feel rather comfortable having her there.

            Bah. What's more important to her, her career or her child?

            She also lives out of town, so I or my family am not able to pick her up.

            What's more important to you, your career or your child?

            That said, divorce is rough on kids, and this is just one of the side effects.

            And one of the many sacrifices that parents have to make for their children is to be there for
            • Your blanket statements sound good, but you have no clue as to my situation. Most of what you said is standard boilerplate rhetoric spewed by outsiders that don't take an individual into consideration.
              • Your blanket statements sound good, but you have no clue as to my situation. Most of what you said is standard boilerplate rhetoric spewed by outsiders that don't take an individual into consideration.

                Yes, you're right. I still stand by my (amended) statement that parents (even divorced ones) need to sacrifice for their children.

                We've put our money where our mouths are: my wife could be making a lot more money, but we agreed that being around for our children when they come home from school is more importa
    • By that argument, you shouldn't give kids books, either.

      I doubt the kid is going to be doing nothing but playing with this game. It's all about balance.

    • When I was that age I was playing educational games on an Odyssey2 with the Voice add-on. I specifically remember playing games such as "Nimble Numbers Ned" and "Sid the Spellbinder".
       
      Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think any console has had a voice synthesis system since (Animal Crossing on the GameCube doesn't count. The "animalese" is less than intelligible.)
       
      I miss the Odyssey2. Those were some good games, gameplay wise.
  • How about a real (used) computer for about the same price? Then you can load a bunch of educational crap on it. The educational possibilities will be limitless, rather than limited to a small bundle of expensive low quality game cartridges.

    Or not. The jet engine sound of an old computer might scare the kid.
    • Re:Other products (Score:3, Insightful)

      by toleraen (831634)
      While I don't have any experience with the consoles, as a kid who grew up on educational games for the PC, I'd like to think it worked out pretty well =) Load 'em up with old classics like Number Munchers, Where in the US/World/Time/Hell is Carmen Sandiego, Oregon Trail...they'll learn a ton. And if they're geeky enough like i was in elementary school, they'll get an award for the "Number Muncher King" in front of the whole school.

      On second thought, make sure you limit the amount of time they spend with
  • by pyrrhonist (701154) on Wednesday November 02, 2005 @06:16PM (#13936040)
    My wife and I are looking into purchasing a game based learning console for our 4 year old boy this Christmas. The two front runners are the VSmile from VTech and the Leapster from Leapfrog.

    Well, I sure as hell wouldn't buy my kid something called a VSmile.

  • by jbarr (2233) on Wednesday November 02, 2005 @06:17PM (#13936047) Homepage
    ...to also challenge him with other things to develop his imagination and creativity.

    "Old school" stuff like drawing on paper with crayons, playing with blocks, creating with Tinker Toys, Flying paper airplanes, playing with toys that have no electronic gizmos...anything to make him create and imagine, instead of following a pre-programmed toy.

    By all means, take advantage of the latest gadgets, but at least suppliment them with creativity-boosting toys.
    • Amen to that!

      This summer I was watching my nephew, who is seven. His parents (perhaps parents isn't the right word, they're just the people who brought him into this world -- aside from that they really don't do anything that I consider parenting) are very hands-off. In his bedroom he has a TV, VCR, DVD player, Nintendo 64, and a Playstation. He's had all of that in there since he was three years old. When he's at home, his parents make him stay in his room all the time. I guess they figure that he's
  • by RingDev (879105) on Wednesday November 02, 2005 @06:20PM (#13936076) Homepage Journal
    My favorite educational entertainment device was 'Stick'.

    Stick was great. I could put a crab able on the end and observe centrifical force and mechanical advantage. I could balance it on my hand to improve coordination. I could throw it and chase my dog to build muscles and stamina. I could charge my evil brother with it like charging into battle like King Arthur like in the stories and legends taught to me. I could share my stick with my friends to learn cooperation. I could combine my stick with my friends' sticks to make a fort.

    Ahhh, the simple joys of Stick.

    -Rick
    • bleh, edit first, then post. "crab able" should be "crab apple"

      -Rick
    • by OregonComputerSoluti (907749) on Wednesday November 02, 2005 @07:02PM (#13936516)
      Or better yet.... LOG!!!

      You remember LOG don't you -- it even had it's own theme song!

      "What rolls down stairs alone or in pairs
      rolls over your neighbor's dog?
      What's great for a snack and fits on your back?
      It's Log, Log, Log!

      It's Log, Log, it's big, it's heavy, it's wood.
      It's Log, Log, it's better than bad, it's good!
      Everyone wants a log! You're gonna love it, Log!
      Come on and get your log! Everyone needs a Log!"

      Stick -- BAH! I would take LOG over Stick any day of the week!
    • My favorite educational entertainment device was 'Stick'. Stick was great. I could put a crab able on the end and observe centrifical force and mechanical advantage. I could balance it on my hand to improve coordination. I could throw it and chase my dog to build muscles and stamina. I could charge my evil brother with it like charging into battle like King Arthur like in the stories and legends taught to me. I could share my stick with my friends to learn cooperation. I could combine my stick with my fri
    • Which particular brand of stick [google.com] would you suggest?
  • One Word: (Score:3, Informative)

    by CrazyClimber (469251) on Wednesday November 02, 2005 @06:27PM (#13936164)
    Legos
    • Two words: Choke Hazard His kid is two....he'll try to stuff them all down his throat.
      • DUPLO legos
      • Dip them all in NoBite nail polish :) Naaaa, I think DUPLO is better.
      • You've clearly not looked at Lego (there is no S) recently. My son had the Baby Lego range from 6 months, and there was no way he was going to get a block an inch a side down his throat.

        He's getting Quatro for Christmas (he'll be 15 months then), then moving up to Duplo, and won't get the 'real' lego bricks until he's about 4 or so. They've really got the toddler market sorted now.
  • First words (Score:5, Funny)

    by Yeechang Lee (3429) * <ylee@pobox.com> on Wednesday November 02, 2005 @06:37PM (#13936276) Homepage
    My wife and I are looking into purchasing a game based learning console for our 4 year old boy this Christmas . . . We also have a 2 year old boy so something that lasts would be nice.

    Sure, if you want the two year-old's first spoken words to be not "mommy" and "daddy" but "pwn," "teh," "l33t," "B11F," and "hax0r." His spelling skills will be forever ruined, but hey, at least he'll gain the linguistic skills necessary to speak fluent Bosnian [ox.ac.uk]!
  • GameCube (Score:5, Informative)

    by turtled (845180) on Wednesday November 02, 2005 @06:37PM (#13936283)
    I play GameCube side by side with my four year old. It is amazing the things he remembers and associates with. The way he can control characters is awesome. It builds map skills, memory skills, and hand eye coordination.
    • I play GameCube side by side with my four year old.

      I'm wondering which games you play with the tyke. I play SSBM with my stepsons, but they are 17 & 12;-) After several months of practicing I can even beat them- every now and again...

      • I play several games with him. SSBM is one, we both just mash buttons and find combos. MarioKart:DD is a great one to play with him! We also play PowerRangers, F-Zero (which is fast, and I am amazed on how fast he grasps that speed and control), X-Men wolverine, and we recenlty have played Paper Mario, although that's A LOT of reading, even for me! He doesn't know how to read yet, but Paper Mario will be an excellent game for enhancing reading skills. He is also good at Mario Party; we have 4/5/6, and
    • Re:GameCube (Score:1, Funny)

      by Xarius (691264)
      I can only imagine how proud you will be when your child becomes a perfect sphere...

      I used to play football.
    • 4 year olds, maybe, but 2 and 3 year olds don't have the attention span to sit with my and my gamecube.

      I own a V-Smile for my 3 year old and have had it since his 2nd birthday. It was a little challenging for him at 2, but putting the 'no death' and such settings let him get used to the system, and eventually you put it harder and harder until he's ready for the next set. My son has learned memory and other educational games (shape matching, etc..) from this system, and its games to him so he only gets
  • When our daughter was four, the grandparents bought one of those LeapFrog reading books that looked like a laptop. It lasted for a few hours on Christmas day and then it was forgotten. Stabbing at the words as fast as you can was the only fun to be had.

    Proper books work well. Reading and talking about the stories is so much more fun. There is a lot to gain from having a good selection of books. I know they're expensive but that's what libraries and second-hand book shops are for.

    We also have an old P3 650 l
    • We also have an old P3 650 laptop that I picked up cheap. It runs web pages with Flash fine. There are lots of sites that our daughter visits on her own. The cBBC site is her favourite. She loves Dora on the NickJr site. There are sometimes free games on the fronts of magazines - these are normally Flash based too and run fine on the old thing. She coped with the mouse fine but struggled a little with double-clicking on the touch pad.

      We also have a P3-600 PC which I now have up in my 3 year old's bedroom.

    • try http://www.bbc.co.uk/cbeebies/ [bbc.co.uk] for them. A cheap PC with a cheap keyboard/mouse or trackball (so you don't mind it getting broken or slobbered on) and the BBC CBeebies website keeps my two year old very amused...
  • My 2-year-old son has one of these (it's the same thing as a Leapster, but for younger kids). However, he doesn't really use it except to smash. :) Like someone else mentioned, go with crayons and other, more creative toys to help your kids with the learning. A 4-year-old just doesn't have the attention span for one of these things.

    • Right on - Techie toys list these are a waste of time with a 2 year old.

      My 3 year old wouldn't touch a computer game until he was 33 months.

      Even now, at 40 months, the computer games are worthwhile - these give him the opportunity to learn how to use the mouse. But the Leapster and its ilk sit idly by in the toybox.

      Someone said "Lego" (Duplo). I agree wholeheartedly.

      Add to that the Brio / Thomas the Tank Engine / Imaginarium wooden track sets. Seems silly, but there's a lot of playing, and a lot to learn
  • Leapfrog has an excellent reputation. My 2-year-old daughter enjoys her Little Touch LeapPad [amazon.com] and Fridge Phonics Magnet Set [amazon.com] from time to time, but she learned her letters more quickly from a combination of Dr. Seuss' ABC book [amazon.com] and sitting with me playing "The Letter Game"--fire up a word processor, set the font size to 72, change the font color and she's entertained for hours. She knew her entire alphabet before her 2nd birthday.

    I guess what I'm saying is, the nifty tech gadgetry will not hold your child'

    • and sitting with me playing "The Letter Game"--fire up a word processor, set the font size to 72, change the font color and she's entertained for hours.

      Ahh, yes... I remember sitting and playing copy con nul at my dad's work computer (an "IBM Compatible!") as a child. I was older, of course. That was... oh... upper single digits? Of course, before that I had BASIC on the Commodore 64.
    • The original Baby Einstein stuff, made by whats-her-name and her daughters, wasn't bad, and was oddly hypnotic to people of all ages. All the ones I've seen that were produced after Disney took over are total crap, basically just squeezing the last few dollars out of a good name. "Baby Einstein", "Baby Mozart", and "Baby Bach" are worth checking out if your child is very young.
  • by CokeJunky (51666) on Wednesday November 02, 2005 @07:07PM (#13936558)
    But then I am a new father (3mo!), and so untill lately I have not been remotely looking at kids toys. I just have to wonder what is the hardware in these things, and how hard would it be to hack them and write your own software. i.e.

    Step 1: Hack and boot linux on it
    Step 2: ...
    Step 3: Profit?

    (Couldn't resist, haven't seen one of those here for a while).

    Seriously though, what I see is a cheap full colour LCD hand held that is made of (hopefully) bullet proof plastic - I would expect it to be made more sturdy than toys made for older kids (aka adults) who don't throw things when they are frustated(well, not that often anyways.)

  • This is really wierd. This guy is asking about getting his kid into learning with technology, and people on /. are giving him a hard time about turning his kid into a nerd. Are your lives that bad that you're trying to save future generations from a life of being a technophile?

    Of course, parents need to teach kids other stuff like social skills, and let them play with other toys like coloring books, blocks, whatever. Duh, the guy isn't asking for parenting advice, he simply wants to know if we have any e
    • Having a kiddie techno-toy does not make one a nerd. I think it was easier being a kid nerd in the 80's because we didn't have the zoo-formerly-known-as-the-internet.. we didn't have pretty clicky things. You either knew how to use the CLI (and/or Basic) or you went out and played "kill yourself on a bike". Today's kids just hop on a game and waste their life away, learning to snipe the red team with sub-pixel accuracy, but mention the command line and they will either say "Dos is kewl, nigga!" or "Dos
    • No, slashdot has not become anti-tech. However, we have become anti-bad-tech. Leapfrog and VTech suck pretty hard and are incredibly expensive. Hell, for $69.95 plus some software prices you could pick up a one-gen-old console and load it out with all the educational games. Personally, I'd reccomend getting an old computer (laptop?) on the cheap and loading it with some old emulators, preferrably hooking a nice kid friendly controller up too. Back when I was younger (10-ish years ago?) my brother and I
    • I don't think people in this topic are being anti-tech at all. I think they're being anti-tech-that-tries-to-do-things-that-parents-sho uld-do and anti-tech-that-only-works-with-other-tech-from-the -same-company.
    • Are your lives that bad that you're trying to save future generations from a life of being a technophile?

      I think it's a general inclination on the part of parents to want their children to have lives that are different from their own. I teach my daughter what she needs to know to get around on whatever computer she happens to be using, but there's no way I want her to grow up and get a job in the tech field. It's not that I'm dissatisfied, but I have a vague sense that there has to be something better.

      I rem
      • there's no way I want her to grow up and get a job in the tech field. It's not that I'm dissatisfied, but I have a vague sense that there has to be something better

        First off, let me say I don't have any kids. I understand your wanting "something better" for your daughter, and I also understand that you want to cultivate in your daughter a sense that she can be who she wants to be, and not who you want her to be. The former can lead to independence and joy, the latter to resentment.

        However, don't kid yourse

    • I don't think people are trying to be anti-tech. Many are just stating the obvious, that sitting with your kids and reading to/with them is much better then shoving a talking toy in their face. Kids already have one of those... the T.V... You can get the Baby Einstein series and then move up to blues clues, Dora, bob the builder, etc, but none of that is a replacement for positive person-to-person interaction or giving a child the tools (crayons, etc) to be imaginative.

      Kids these days have very little to
    • Slashdot isn't being anti-tech... but I think here at Slashdot we know better than most the importance of learning the basics first, and working up. You don't start programming with a visual lanugage, you start with a nice 'Hello World'.

      For raising kids, there are many basic skills to be developed, and most of them can be taught better through non-technological means. We're aren't always about using only technology, we're about doing things in the best way possible, which for us usually involves technolo

  • My mom decided to buy a Tandy 1000 with a lightning fast 8086 processor and 128kb of ram. It was to run her business from home, but when she wasn't using it, I would fire it up to play games and learn BASIC.

    This was really my first delving into computing. When my classroom got 20 TRS-80's, I was on the top of the heap (bad pun intended).

    Computers and educational software are by far superior to prepackaged consoles. I learned infinitely more from the Tandy 1000 and the TSR-80 than I ever did from the
  • We have used mostly Leap products, but also V-Tech, with our two girls (five and two years old). They both enjoy using them, but they are essentially toys. Sure, sure... they are games based around learning, but the learning portion is generally overstated.

    Some of the early reviews of the Leapster I think have been confirmed by now, and that is that the system is more game than education. As long as you're buying this as a gaming console with educational titles, rather than a learning console with games, y

  • I know my wife and I (along with most of our cousins) grew up on the Texas Instruments Speak 'N Spell, Speak 'N Math, Speak 'N Read.

    So, I guess what I'm saying is don't think this is a new idea. Don't think this is a bad idea (as a lot of the people I know that used it rated top 5-10 percentile for IQ).

    Also, you can potentially pick up the old Speak 'N... series for really cheap with the add-on modules. They are just as applicable now as they were then.
  • I recommend this [amazon.com] graphics system, it is much less expensive than the VTech and Leapfrog systems, has an infinite variety of software available, has a low learning curve, and kids enjoy it tremendously.
  • This doesn't really answer your question, but my experience with both brands is that Leapfrog is generally a lot less annoying than VTech. I think this is important, because as a parent I listen to the electronic beeps and so forth of my kids toys quite a bit, and they annoy me much more quickly than the kids.

    VTech toys have a habit of going into 'attract mode' like arcade games. For a while after you've played with them, they continue to make noises (the piano actually says 'play with me!'). Ugh.

    In ge

  • When I read "Gaming Console" and "Learning", two horrible, horrible things came to mind: The 3DO and the CD-i.

    Dear lord, I may not sleep tonight...

  • Try to find an old sega pico. They should be pretty cheap on ebay. http://www.absoluteastronomy.com/encyclopedia/s/se /sega_pico.htm [absoluteastronomy.com]
  • My family has had experience with both of those products, and both were ignored after a few days... we tried buying them more cartridges (which are expensive). Honestly, as much as I hate to say this, "educational" software SUCKS. Buy the kids some Lego's...

    ...or one of those little toy calculators that gave you problems to answer (some being simple 4+5=?, some being more like 4+X=9, some being ?x4=12)... I used to love mine, and it certainly gave me an advantage over the other kids in my kindergarten clas

  • At the risk of echoing other comments, I'd actually recommend considering a 'real' computer.

    I took the plunge for our 3-year-old, and picked up a 2nd-hand system for $160 (australian). I configured it to auto-login, and play a segment of a wiggles tune on startup. I put up a few nice big icons on the screen that lead to tuxracer, and web sites for:
    BBC Kids, the wiggles, and the fimbles. There are also a couple of MP3's of his favorite music on the desktop that he just has to hover the mouse over to play (go
  • Your kid still needs to develop some of the basic coping skills and also imagine stuff for themselves without having folks shove reality at them wheil they are still developing. I'm a big fan for computers and all but having worked in the Child Development field (as a techie) I have come to understand all this new fangled stuff is fine and dandy but there are basic things kids really NEED to do besides bury themselves into electronic gadgetland... How about play with others, draw on blank sheets of paper,
  • I'm dying for one of these for my son.. due out--- any day now
    http://images.google.com/images?q=hasbro+ion&hl=en [google.com]

    i WILL be first in line for one locally.
  • They're not even quite Sega Megadrive/Genesis power, and frankly the games didn't look any more educational than playing Sonic either, but the V-Tech's stick looked rather attractive to hotwire it for use on a real console, since my son keeps trying to play on my Soul Calibur 2 stick (no, I don't let him watch SC2, but I use it for Ikaruga).

    Then I tried one - it's a horrible soggy mess. Sure it's built to cope with kids, but I'd rather get him a cheap proper stick to use when he's old enough than one of the
  • I found the Leapster to be a great toy for my own 4 year old little gamer. The games are a very good replacement for the PC edutainment you'd typically find for the under 7 crowd, but without the hassle of installing it. A lot of edutainment titles I've encountered don't age well on the PC. That is, upgrading sound and video often breaks the older games which were designed with low end hardware in mind and sometimes simply won't work higher resolutions. And the form factor of the Leapster is a good intro to
  • I have three kids. We have educational toys. We have a computer they can use. Ages 8, 5, and 3. My wife is a college professor, and we homeschool. So we pay attention to 'educational value' in a toy/game.

    Understand this, even if you buy them both - they are toys. Period. Whatever learning that comes from them will be small and slow. You can impact her in a greater way through every interaction if you make that choice.

    Also know that she will model what she sees and experiences from you. If you play with her
  • by rakerman (409507)
    I recommend "book". Some of them have even been known to last more than 2 years.
  • Its not that I disapprove of video games. I love them and waste quite a lot of time on them. But not as much as I could. Now I understand that these arent the typical game console, but it builds a response in the child. Responses are sent from the system to the child in a pre-programmed manner. There is no room for experimentation. Get your kid some interactive toys, like lego's blocks, playmobil, something where there is only your child and the toy, not some machine that gives answers based on some program
  • For my 20 month old daughter I've been looking at used education playstation games, they're very cheap, and usually has characters she recognizes (Winnie the Pooh and for some strange reason Sponge Bob Square Pants. She has a doll of Sponge Bob but has never seen the show.) I'm scared of the interest she's beginning to show in Barbie though....

    I'm planning on setting up an older mac for when she is older. You can pick them up for practically nothing and there are tons of educational software out for them.

  • Small children have a built in desire to mimic their parents, and are often merely offended by toys that obviously don't have the same features that a real computer or device has. These "learning" machines also suffer from the flaw of manipulation. A child will learn much more when they are given the opportunity to choose for themselves; rather then being led by the nose down whatever path pop-child-psychology is headed these days.

    That being said I'm the father of a four year old also, and his "toys" a
  • I'm in a similar situation. My son is now almost 5 and he's had a wonderful creative gameplayer for awhile now: Color Pixter. Its portable, has a nice colorful backlit LCD screen, and the only "control" is a touch stylus attached by a strong rope (no "buttons"). Most of the games involve touching pictures on the screen or outright drawing. 4-to-6 years seems to be the ideal age for this device. I do warn you, though, it does tend to eat through its 4 AA batteries. [Don't bother with the camera cartrid

  • My almost-six-year-old has had both for more than a year. The V.Smile is OK, but the Leapster is amazing. Using the Leapster, he's learned to read, add, subtract, and multiply. He's already facile with negative numbers - really incredible stuff for a kindergartener. And we haven't pushed him at all - he just loves the Leapster games that teach this stuff.

    Since both products are relatively inexpensive, I'd recommend that you get both, and see how things work out.
  • My 7 and 5 year old boys love their leapsters. They've had them a few years now, and I can still find new software for them that's suitable for each of their ages and skill levels. I've no experience with the other one. All things considered, they're not all that expensive, either. (I spend more on my video games!)
  • We have purchased several leapfrog products for my daughter. Mostly the interactive books. Those just did not last long or hold her interest for very long. However the Leapster is a different story. It is one of the few things that will hold her interest and is educational also. She actually plays with it several times a week for up to 1-2 hours which for her is about right. The only other educational toy that will hold her attention is Casey the robot. That one is kinda neat since it spins around, m
  • As a parent I would recommend the VTech system. I've done some research on both (asking friends, etc...) and have just gotten more positive feedback for the VTech unit. I'm going to purchase the V.Smile this Christmas as well as the Pocket for when we go on winter vacation. Two systems and only one game to purchase...can't beat that

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