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Fisher Price Laugh, Smile, and Learn Computer Learning System -- A Product Review: Keyboard Toy for Kids
My son loves to do everything I do like most young children; this usually includes all the normal stuff like putting on clothes (whether in the appropriate place or not), reading books, putting stuff away in the cupboards, and of course playing with the computer. This last is a grave offense and one he hasn't quite learned he's not supposed to do, it looks like so much fun with Mommy up there tapping away on the keys and making interesting sounds and making different things pop up on the screen. Every two minutes he feels like he's alone he'll pull himself up on the computer chair and type away. While out shopping for Christmas and my son's birthday, my dad's girlfriend came across the Laugh Smile & Learn Computer Learning System by Fisher Price and decided it'd be a perfect solution.
She was right. We celebrated his birthday and Christmas with them early so he's had a while to play with this new toy and he is completely hooked. The box says that it is for 9-36 months and has three different stages for 9+-24+ months. My two-year-old has a blast playing all three stages. So what exactly is this toy?
The Laugh Smile and Learn is essentially a large brightly-colored plastic keyboard with three colored shape keys, a little roller with a fish on one half and a smiley on the other, nine letter keys, a big spacebar, ten number keys, and a button on a molded plastic cell phone in the top of the keyboard. When each key is pressed a small plastic piece on the bottom is pushed out to hit a key on the real keyboard. The toy keyboard has a little bracket on the back that has to be fitted in between the `/~ key and the 1/! key, there are stickers on the back to help with proper fitting. The only assembly required is the attachment of the two leg pieces on either side of the toy and a single screw put in each to hold them in place. Now you're almost ready!
Next you have to install the learning disk. This is a normal CD-ROM that should pop up an install message when it's inserted into the drive and will give you the option of putting a shortcut to the game on your desktop. Overall it took me less than five minutes to completely install the game and install my son on my lap so he could play the games. The graphics in this game are all fairly simple and bright-colored for infants and toddlers to enjoy; if the child stops playing for too long a puppy, kitten, or mouse will pop up and suggest a key to press to keep play going. Now for the games...
Stage 1: This stage is the simplest and meant for 9 months on up. Each key that is pressed here will result in a picture popping up with some association to the key pressed whether it be something that starts with one of the letters on the letter key that was pressed or contains the shape of one of the shape keys. Each picture is accompanied by a fun noise.
Stage 2: Recommended for 18 months on up, this stage says what letter or number the child just pressed, shows that letter or number on the screen and is accompanied by a cute picture or series of pictures (in the case of the numbers). The little cell phone button pops up a cell phone and one of the little critter guides on the screen will "answer" the phone. The colored shape keys will pop up that shape on the screen which then changed to show a baby face in the center of the shape and says "peek-a-boo!".
Stage 3: The stage recommended for 24+ months and the first one I noted extra animals including a rabbit, penguin, lamb, and bear to help baby along with his explorations. The base for this stage is a picture of a room with a chair and a stand with a drawer in it. The shapes on the keys are contained around the room and for every letter you push the drawer opens with something starting with that letter and a request for the child to push another specific letter (i.e. "R is for Radio. Press the O key to turn On the Radio"). The number keys show up that number of little pictures on the screen and encourages your child to count along.
Each stage is accompanied by fun music in the background to the tune of well-known children's songs so you can sing along to them while your child plays. So far my son absolutely loves this toy and each of the games accompanying it. From the start of setting up the disk the first time he heard the sounds coming out of those speakers and had to investigate...the music and pictures obviously appeal to him as his new favorite pastime is sitting on my lap swaying to the music while he punches the keys with a big grin on his face. He'd play this game for hours on end if I gave him a chance but we never play for more than an hour at a time (and more often closer to a half hour) so he still gets plenty of "get up and run" kind of playing in.
About the only problem I've had with this toy so far is that the toy keyboard is quite bulky and doesn't fit on a standard roll-out keyboard tray on most computer desks. I have to sit the entire time holding one of the legs of the toy keyboard's stand up to make sure it stays over the correct keys and doesn't press any it's not supposed to. Luckily I'm getting a new laptop for Christmas so we plan on putting a USB keyboard on it for the purpose of playtime so he can lay on the living room floor or something to play and have a solid platform for the toy keyboard.
As noted on the box you do not want to leave your child unsupervised while playing with this toy because they have access to your computer and could easily get into something they're not supposed to. Perhaps the makers of the game thought that putting all the "parental controls" (anything that takes you outside the current game) on the mouse, but my son knows exactly how to make that mouse work and can get back to the desktop from his game if given half a chance. Besides that there's always a chance your child could fall off the computer chair if not closely supervised and none of us would enjoy that very much.
Overall my son loves this toy very much and would play with it all day every day if I gave him half a chance. As is when his turn is over and Mommy has to get back to work he tries repeatedly to put the toy keyboard back on the real one so he can continue playing. This can be frustrating for some work-at-home parents especially when I have no place to put it completely out of his reach and a large portion of my daily work is done on the computer. I think with some time he'll learn about taking turns with the computer but until then it'll be a little bit of a chore. However, even with the difficulties of his new feelings of ownership over the computer, I think this is an excellent game that he can get a lot of enjoyment out of while actually learning something.