Pros: Kinda cute; "introduces letter names, letter sounds, colors and musical awareness."
Cons: ANNOYING; a few design flaws; doesn't capture or hold child's attention (ie. BORING).
With the Christmas season fast approaching, I'm finding myself wondering what to buy for my daughter. Oh, there are plenty of things that I'd love to give her - what parent doesn't have that problem? The trouble is attempting to decide on a reasonable number of toys, with a balance between fun and educational. It's more daunting than I'd imagined it would be.
Oh, for the simplicity of last Christmas, when she was less than a year old and more interested in the twinkling lights on the Christmas tree than the packages underneath. She could've gotten nothing but socks and been thrilled. Yes, last Christmas it was very easy for us - and for the rest of the family - to surprise her with tiny trinkets. Except for one sister-in-law, who managed to mess up big time.
~* The Curse of the Caterpillar *~
Fresh from the wrapping paper, the LeapFrog Alphabet Pal Caterpillar looked innocent enough. He (I shall call him 'he', although I do not know his actual gender, because he looks more masculine to me) is approximately 12" long, 6" tall from head to feet, and a garishly grape shade of purple. He has 26 feet, 13 on each side of his body, each outfitted in a brightly colored boot with one letter of the alphabet on top. He has a green collar molded around his neck with a short yellow cord attached, and the words 'Alphabet Pal' stenciled in yellow on his rump.
The little guy is smiling, and his eyes are rolled eerily upward - presumably so he's looking at his owner when they're standing above him. (Or the owner's parent, attempting to squash him. Whatever.) Two yellow plastic antennae protrude from the top of his head, and a smaller purple bug relaxes on a yellow leaf on the caterpillar's back. More about this freeloader in a bit.
According to LeapFrog's website, "the silly giggle, flashing antennae and wobbly walk of this musical pull-toy tickle a toddler's funny bone - and keep children's attention as they learn." Or does it?!
This toy retails for about $20, and is recommended for children ages 12 months and up.
~* What It Does *~
This toy has four different play settings, determined by a switch on the collar that slides to one of four picture emblems: ABCs, letter sounds (pictured by sound waves emitting from a tiny frog head), colors (a crayon) and music (a musical note.) In any mode, pressing any one of the legs will result in a mode-appropriate reaction. You want the gory details? Fine.
ABC: The caterpillar pronounces each letter of the alphabet as that letter-foot is pressed, in a manner so perky as to rival any professional cheerleader. His antennae light up in red as each foot is pressed. Like most electronic speaking toys, he will stutter if one button is pressed rapid-fire - and it'll more than likely be a childless adult rather than your child that will discover this. Especially fun on Christmas morning is the joker that sets it to ABC mode and insists on pressing the O foot repeatedly.
Letter Sounds: Once again, the caterpillar sounds out each letter as it is pressed. This, of course, is not without it's flaws - especially where vowels are concerned, as it only pronounces the short sound (a as in apple, not as in harm or aviary, and so forth.) I suppose that this mode could be an effective teaching tool for older children when learning to spell - by pressing the letters quickly in succession, you can easily sound out short words such as bed and cat. However, your child may deduce that egg is actually spelled eg, as pressing the letters e-g-g results in "eh-guh-guh".
No, you cannot sound out profanities with this toy. If you try, the caterpillar giggles and says "that tickles!" One of the words you can't sound out is a-s-s, so pressing a and s in succession results in a giggle. So much for sounding out words like as, task, etc. It will sound out f and u before stopping at c, and don't think you can skip the u and press f-c either - nuh-uh! Not that we've experimented with these or anything. It actually doesn't 'censor' the S word, although it comes out more like "sss-huh-i-t". If you do it fast enough, you can pretend. I hope your toddler won't know to do this. Mine doesn't, but my husband enjoyed it immensely for a few minutes, before losing interest.
Colors: Guess what? Yep, it tells you what color boot you've just pressed. And if you press them fast, it stutters. No huge surprises in this mode.
Music: Each foot plays a different short melody. Joy of joys. They are::
A - Frere Jacques
B - Billy Boy
C - Oh My Darlin' Clementine
D - Did You Ever See Lassie
E - East Side, West Side
F - The Farmer in the Dell
G - Greensleeves
H - Hey Diddle, Diddle
I - I've Been Working on the Railroad
J - Jimmy Crack Corn
K - Camptown Races (Should that perhaps be Kamptown Races?)
L - London Bridge
M - Mary Had A Little Lamb
N - That Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze
O - Old McDonald Had A Farm
P - Pop Goes the Weasel
Q - Chopsticks
R - Row, Row, Row Your Boat
S - She'll Be Comin' Round the Mountain
T - This Old Man
U - Upside Down World
V - Froggy Went A-Courtin'
W - The Wheels on the Bus
X - Yellow Rose of Texas
Y - Yankee Doodle
Z - Wait for the Wagon
Yes, Alphabet Pal is versatile indeed. His head even locks into three different positions so he can stare up at you from whichever side you happen to be pushing his buttons - or pulling him around, as the case may be. Which leads to yet another function - pull toy. He's actually kinda cute when he's pulled along the floor - a round trackball-like wheel under his front makes him wobble along as a real caterpillar would. That is, IF you can pull him to start with - you see, in order to do away with choking hazards relating to giving small children long pull cords, the cord on this toy is insanely short. Like, 12" short. Of course, that didn't matter when my daughter first received this toy - she wasn't walking yet anyway. But she's a tall little girl, and by the time she was mobile enough to think of pulling something behind her, she was much too tall to comfortably use this tiny little cord. It's almost painful to watch her hunch over to try and grasp the cord without yanking Alphabet Pal off the ground - and I don't think she enjoys it much either, as she rarely even bothers.
Now, what about the freeloading bug on the caterpillar's back, hmm? Well, when pressed for the first time, he says "Hi, I'm Edison! Let's sing along with Alphabet Pal!" After which a musical rendition of the alphabet song plays each time he is pressed. Not very thrilling, eh? The most interesting part of this feature, for us, was debating the little bug's name when Alphabet Pal first came to live in our house. Sometimes it sounded as though he said Edison, other times it sounded just like Oedipus. Although Oedipus would've been funnier, over time we've reached the general consensus that it is, indeed, Edison. So, that's what Edison does. Really, I'm not sure why they bothered.
~* What It REALLY Does *~
What this toy really does, unfortunately, is drive any parent clinging to one last precious thread of sanity to jump right over the edge. Thankfully, this phase doesn't last long as even those on the lower end of the 12 months and up range quickly grow bored with this toy and abandon it for more interesting pursuits. Ours has been lying quite peacefully in the bottom of the toybox until only recently, when my daughter dragged it out once again to play her new favorite game, "Torture Mommy". It has been played with so little, in fact, that the three AAA batteries are still good from nearly a year ago. You'll need a Phillips screwdriver to change the batteries if yours ever wear out, and to me, that's a darn good excuse to put it off for a while.
The only two redeeming qualities of Alphabet Pal, from a frazzled parent's perspective, are the volume control (located just behind his head) and a blessedly quick automatic shut-off feature.
~* I'll Teach You, Bug! *~
The LeapFrog website claims that Alphabet Pal introduces letter names, letter sounds, colors and musical awareness, and falls under the categories Music & Creativity and Reading & Language. Well, no arguments there. The toy certainly does introduce these things, if sometimes flawed and never in a very interesting manner. So yes, put a big fat check beside "educational".
~* Overall *~
I wanted to like Alphabet Pal very much. I embraced him because he was made by LeapFrog and, as a new parent, I believed them to be the alpha and omega of children's educational toys. But, no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn't warm up to the perky purple worm. Even on the lower volume setting, he's loud and annoying, and none of the four modes hold my daughter's interest for more than a few minutes. I feel bad for not liking him - he's kinda cute, after all - but he's just not a favorite in my house, and I can't foresee that status changing in the near future. Save your $20 for a toy that your child will enjoy, and wont' drive you crazy...and maybe warn your family against Alphabet Pal this Christmas as well.
~* Contact Info *~
Visit LeapFrog online at www.leapfrog.com, or call Customer Service at 1-800-701-LEAP (5327). LeapFrog toys are available at Toys R Us, Wal-Mart, K-Mart, and most everywhere toys are sold.
~* Also By LeapFrog *~
Roll & Rhyme Melody Block