Thursday, January 1, 2009

Dumbing Down with Leapfrog

You've seen Leapfrog books whether on the store shelves or on television, or perhaps you're a parent who has purchased Leapfrog books for your child with the ambition that it'll get your children excited about reading. Work in the modern world doesn't often leave time to sit down with a child and read, so leave it to the engineers to devise a so-called solution. The issue here is that the problem being solved with these books is not a child's lack of interest in reading or a parent's time to sit down with their kids, but rather simply another gadget to give parents peace of mind hawked as an educational tool.

Not that there is anything wrong with Leapfrog in and of itself, but research has shown that fancy devices don't provide any more structure for a child than more traditional objects. For instance, a young child can get just as much stimulation out of kitchen pots as they can from a fancy drum kit. Obviously, learning how to read requires social interaction and material, not just material. You can load your child up with these toys but if one doesn't take the time to instruct a child personally, then the child will fail to grasp the purely socialization process that reading is. We know reading is more complicated than having a book literally spell it out to you.

This commercial seems to showcase everything that is horribly wrong about this product. Whether or not people regard Leapfrog in such a way, the advertisers pitch to the public in this commercial is beyond shameful. They depict children enjoying their "play" with the Leapfrog book, using their little pens to read Dora the Explorer and Spongebob, which there is nothing wrong with, but they compare a child's enthusiasm for Leapfrog to reading actual books, and try to make the claim that children will enjoy playing with their Leapfrog more than they will reading actual books!

Just to drive the message home, in the commercial they have a boy respond why he doesn't like reading actual books and he says, "That book doesn't talk!" Meanwhile there doesn't seem to be anything wrong with the so-called "Journal of Amphibious Species,"--those were some beautiful illustrations of frogs--the type of book that I personally enjoyed pouring over as a child, as I'm sure many other children do. If you're trying to get children to see the importance of reading, why go around dissuading them away from certain reading material? Particularly reading material that can inspire and enlighten kids about nature and the outside world in ways that corny TV-show based books can't.

The answer is obvious. It's because the company isn't concerned with getting kids interested in reading, but rather getting them and their parents interested in their product. In an industry diffused by video-games, movies and television, the idea that books must also be as dumbed down as anything else children interact with seemed like a money-making opportunity. The real solution is simple. Leapfrog is no solution...parents are!

The advice here, get out of the frog suit, sit down with your kids and read a book together. Parenting shouldn't be entrusted to four AA batteries.

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