Pros: Teaches letters and phonics. Great educational toy for any Blue's Clues fan.
Cons: No volume control or on/off switch
My 2 year old is a Blue's Clues fanatic. Although he already has a Blue's Clues toy that teaches letters (the Learning Time ABC Playhouse), when we found the Learning Letters Mailbox on clearance for only $7.99, it seemed like such a great deal we couldn't pass it up. It's a good thing too, because my son loves the Mailbox character, and although we've had the toy for 5 months now he still plays with it every day.
For those not familiar with the famous puppy, Blue's Clues is a popular, award winning kid's show that airs on Nickelodeon (and Noggin and CBS). The stories center around an animated dog named Blue and her owner (originally Steve -- new episodes feature Steve's "brother" Joe). The episodes are like game-shows for toddlers -- Blue leaves paw-prints on items to mark them as "clues", and Steve/Joe uses the clues to figure out the answer to the question of the day.
The Learning Letters Mailbox is an alphabet-learning toy that features one of my son's favorite characters from the show, Mailbox! Made of a hard plastic, Mailbox is roughly 8 inches wide, 7 inches tall, and 1½ inches thick. On Mailbox's raised flag there is a small LCD screen that measures approximately 1½ wide and 1 inch tall. Blue is peeking up from behind, around Mailbox's flag. Across Mailbox's body are the letters of the alphabet on bright yellow keys. Also pictured on the key is a line-drawing of something that begins with that letter (such as the fish on the letter "F"). The letters are arranged alphabetically (not in QWERTY-keyboard order), and only the capital letters are displayed. There is also a key shaped like Blue's paw-print, used to give clues or repeat the last letter pressed. Along the bottom is a magnifying-glass slider to move between the 3 modes. An indention on the back of the unit effectively forms a handle for easy portability.
The LCD screen is what really sets this toy apart from the similar Learning Time ABC Playhouse. As your child interacts with Mailbox, little images of Blue's happy face and paw-prints light up on the screen. Letters and images (of words that start with the selected letter) tumble onto the screen as your child plays.
There is no on/off switch, but the toy will turn itself off if no buttons have been pressed in a while. Blue barks "bow-bow" for "bye-bye" before it turns itself off. There is also no volume control, but we find the volume to be set at a quite pleasant level so it is not a problem.
Mailbox requires 3 "AA" batteries (included). We've had the toy for 5 months now and have yet to change the batteries. The manufacturer recommends this toy for children ages 1 to 6.
Modes of Play:
The first mode teaches letter identification. When set to this mode, Mailbox greets your child by saying "Hiya Buddy! Wanna learn about letters with me? Press a letter." When a letter is selected, mailbox says your letter as well as a word that begins with the letter (the word matches the picture on the key). For example, when "A" is pressed, Mailbox says:
Here's your letter, "A". Acorn begins with the letter "A".
As Mailbox talks, your letter appears on the LCD screen, accompanied by a picture of the accompanying word (in this case, an acorn). To encourage your child to select another letter, Mailbox follows up with, "Wanna keep going?"
The second mode teaches letter sounds/phonics. When switched to this mode, Mailbox greets you with "Hiya Pal! Wanna hear what a letter sounds like? Press a letter." If, for example, your child selects the "G", Mailbox says:
"G" sounds like "geh" or "guh"
Mailbox pronounces two sounds for all vowels and a few consonants, and a single sound for most consonants. Blue "bow bow's" encouragingly after some letters, and Mailbox asks, "Wanna keep going?"
The third and most challenging setting is the letter-find game. Mailbox greets your child by saying "Hiya Amigo! Will you help me find a letter? I'm looking for the letter that...", followed by a clue. Some of the clues are:
...comes before "Y"
...comes after "V"
...sounds like "ess"
...begins the word "acorn"
or finally, "I'm looking for the letter 'X'" while the letter is displayed on the screen. Pressing the paw-print key will give another clue.
If your child chooses incorrectly, Blue barks a questioning "bow-bow", then Mailbox identifies the letter pressed before saying something encouraging (such as "Try again pal" or "Keep tryin' buddy"), followed by another clue.
If your child chooses correctly, Blue barks excitedly and Mailbox congratulates your child.
Much to my surprise, my son plays with his Learning Letters Mailbox much more frequently than he plays with his Learning Time ABC Playhouse (a very similar toy). There are a variety of reasons for this. One is, because the toy is so flat and compact, it is easier for him to carry around with him or to set in his lap to play. Also, because it is smaller, we are more willing to allow it to stay out all the time -- it can usually be found on our end-table, where it is at the perfect height for my son to toddle by and stop for a moment to play and learn. The LCD screen is also a big plus, giving my son something eye-catching to watch as he learns.
One of the big pluses for my boy is the fact that many of the words/images that accompany the letters are somehow related to the Blue's Clues television show. My son tends to single out those letters because he loves the show so much. The letters/images that are Blue's Clues-oriented include:
B - Blue
C - Crayon
H - House
L - Letter (as in the kind Mailbox delivers)
M - Mailbox
N - Notebook
P - Pail
S - Slippery Soap
T - Tickety
The other letters are accompanied by images that should also be easily recognizable to most toddlers (Egg, Fish, Owl, Radio, Xylophone, Yo-Yo, Zipper, etc).
My complaints about this toy are fairly minor. By biggest issue is the lack of a master on/off switch. With its thin design it would be PERFECT for dropping into our diaper-bag and taking it on our trips to the grandparents' houses, but with no on/off switch something invariably shifts against it, causing it to come on in the car and bother everyone. There is no volume control, but the volume is set at a quite pleasant level. A minor complaint, if you are a stickler for diction, is the fact that Mailbox has an accent. Some parents, intent on teaching their toddlers to enunciate properly, might not like their children learning letters with a thick New York/Ethel Merman-esque accent.
+) It's Blue's Clues!
+) LCD screen
+) 3 play modes, so it can grow with your child
+) Teaches letter recognition, phonics, and letter order
+) The many Blue's Clues themed words encourage my son to press those buttons
+) Friendly and encouraging, even when the wrong answer is selected
+) Built-in handle for easy portability
+) Cute, compact design
-) No on/off switch
-) No volume control
-) Mailbox's accent
My son doesn't sit down and spend hours with this toy, but it gets at least a few minutes of his attention every day, and I credit it with being part of the reason why my recently-turned-two year old can already identify quite a few letters of the alphabet by sight. I'm really pleased! I highly recommend it to any Blue's Clues loving child.
For a small image of my son playing with his Learning Letters Mailbox, check out my profile page here
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