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    This Toy Makes My Kids Super Excited About Reading, And I've Already Bought Three

    The LeapFrog LeapReader teaches reading skills and will actually entertain your kid for a hot minute.

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    Every parent I talk to seems to be dealing with the same issue: Their kids would rather be inside staring at a screen than playing outside (or doing literally anything else).

    Nickelodeon / Via Giphy

    Growing up in the ’80s and '90s, my childhood consisted of listening to NKOTB on my Walkman, winning Skip-It, rocking a mean side-pony (with or without a scrunchie, depending on my mood), and spending hours riding bikes around the neighborhood and climbing trees.

    Now? If there’s a kid at the playground with a phone or tablet, the kids flock to them. My 7-year-old continually asks how old he has to be before he has his own phone. While there are absolutely benefits to having our kids play with all kinds of technologies — I think screen time is a lifesaver when used in moderation (how else do parents take showers?!) — I have found myself looking for a screen-less alternative that is both educationally stimulating and piques the kids' interest and imagination.

    Enter: the LeapFrog LeapReader system.

    Rhianon Hoffman / BuzzFeed

    Do you remember books on tape? This is kind of like that, only cooler. It's a pen that basically teaches kids how to read and write using LeapReader-compatible books. (We'll get into the specifics in a minute.)

    My recommendation is to start off with this bundled LeapFrog LeapReader system, which includes the pen and 10 books, though we've also bought our kids additional books that feature their favorite characters (they love the Cars, Paw Patrol, and Monsters University ones, along with many of the other Disney books). You just download the stories onto the pen, and then when you tap the pen to the pages, it reads the story aloud. It's as simple as that!

    This toy (slash learning tool) is amazing for preschoolers because once they’re shown how to use it, from my experience, they can typically pretty much use the pen independently.

    Amazon / Via, Via

    It’s something they can play with to entertain themselves for long stints, and it's also helped my kids gain the confidence and desire to read “like a big kid.” It's a fantastic learning system for children in early elementary-school years too, because as well as reading the story page by page, the pen can also read word by word and sound out words letter by letter if you place the pen on a letter or drag it along a word (as if you were highlighting it). It teaches word and letter recognition, sounds, and other basic building blocks of reading comprehension.

    There's also a compatible workbook that helps young children learn how to write by tracing letters, and tbh, I really think this pen is one of the reasons why my oldest was so eager to write at such a young age! There are also *tons* of other cool LeapReader products, like this interactive solar system discovery set.

    A lot of the books also come with games — so you can play “I spy” or different matching games using elements on the pages.

    Rhianon Hoffman / BuzzFeed

    For example, after you touch the pen to the game icon in a book, it says, “Let’s find things that have the ‘at’ sound” — so kids then might touch the pen to the cat, the bat, and the rat. In a different book it'll say, “On these two pages, touch the long 'E' words”, so they'd touch the pen to the words “sees” and “meets.” (Sometimes I wish the pen would say things like, “Quit hitting your brother” or “Please share me nicely!” but I guess you can’t have it all.)

    You only have to be minimally tech-savvy to set it up. (I’m pretty confident that if I can do it, you can too.)

    Rhianon Hoffman / BuzzFeed

    All it involves is downloading an app, and then using the app to add the individual stories onto the pen. My advice? Set it up after the kids have gone to bed, and then let it charge overnight (no batteries required). It'll then be ready to be used all day long!

    These books have been an absolute lifesaver during naptime/quiet time, on flights, and on long car trips. (And with nearly 1,000 Amazon reviews, the system seems to be adored by plenty of other parents as well.) Our oldest started using them when he was about 3 years old, and even though he can read now, he still loves them. They've been so valuable to us that we own three! If that's not a testament to how much the entire family adores this system is, I don't know what is.

    Get the reading and writing system from Amazon, Jet, or Walmart for $34.99.

    Compatible books are also available at Barnes & Noble.

    Rhianon Hoffman is a stay-at-home mom of four young boys based in Brooklyn, New York, who blogs regularly on her site Brooklyn Boy Mom.

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    Alison Krausman / BuzzFeed

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