Q: My mother-in-law just bought a Tag Junior for my two and a half year old. It feels unnecessary for my son, who already loves books and is learning the alphabet at his own pace through puzzles and songs, etc. Is there any support (beyond that promoted by Leap Frog) for this as a useful tool for children's literacy? I hate to seem ungrateful but I feel like it's a gateway to more gadgets down the line rather than a real educational device.
-Timid about TAG, USA
A: Dear Timid,
I don’t know of research that looks at the effectiveness of this kind of program, but I can offer the same advice I might offer for any electronic media: Think of it as a tool, and ask yourself whether it can help accomplish something you’d like to accomplish.
In this case, you’re right that your son doesn’t need a system like this—an electronic stylus that reads letters, words, and sentences aloud from Tag-specific books—in order to learn to read. He is already building important preliteracy skills by having positive experiences with reading, especially when they involve parents. But if you’re looking for a way to engage him in reading for the times when you aren’t able to, for example, this might be a useful tool to help accomplish that goal.
My younger boys used this tool as an extension of (not a replacement for) reading with us—as a way to further explore books they already loved. My kids had a Tag version of The Cat in the Hat, which was already a favorite, and they would use the wand to start making connections between whole words and the way they looked and sounded. They seemed to use it to help with the transition from sounding out to reading whole words, but once they could read on their own, they lost interest in it and moved on to standard books and eBooks.
Even though it can help engage him in reading when you aren’t able to, though, this tool will be far more effective when it is used with you, under your supervision, and with your ongoing dialogue and guidance—so if you do have him use it, make sure to use it with him at times. And remember, of course, that no electronic reading system for kids can take the place of you physically reading and interacting with your son. My advice is to just keep reading with him, with or without this kind of system, and to help him to learn how to read on his own. However he gets there, his sense of mastery will help foster a love of reading that he can carry throughout his life.
Enjoy your media and use them wisely,