(Last Updated on April 17, 2021)
I don’t want to overstate things but… LeapFrog Letter Factory taught my kids to read!
Well, ok, maybe I overstated things.
But in all seriousness, I can’t think of any other single educational DVD that has been so effective or so requested in our household.
Before I continue….
A DISCLAIMER: LeapFrog doesn’t know I exist and I haven’t received any products from them other than ones bought fair and square. So this very positive review is a result of good, old-fashioned consumer satisfaction from a grateful homeschool mom.
When my first son was two and could recognize most of the alphabet, he then began to show an interest in letter sounds. Right around that time I stumbled across LeapFrog Letter Factory and we watched it a few times. No exaggeration – he learned all the basic letter sounds within a week!
At first I was skeptical – I thought he’d only recognize and sing along in the context of watching the show. But he started pointing out letters in books and on signs and saying their sounds…
I thought it might be a fluke but I had a similar experience with my second son, too. Letter Factory took him from ‘just recognizing letters’ to ‘ready-to-blend short words’ in a remarkably short amount of time. Time will tell if it’s effective for my toddler daughter, too.
** Update: My now-three-year-old daughter has loved Letter Factory just as much as her brothers and she picked up most of the letter sounds after just a few weeks with the DVD. We’ve made this DVD part of our toddler/pre-K curriculum pretty much every year now! **
LeapFrog Letter Factory DVD Review
What It Is
LeapFrog Letter Factory is a 35 min. animated cartoon meant to teach young kids beginning phonics. It covers the the 26 English letters, A-Z, and each letter’s most common phonetic sound.
Sibling frog characters, Leap, Lily, and Tad, visit the Letter Factory (where their dad works) but Tad ends up touring the factory with the eccentric Professor Quigley. Each room on the tour is dedicated to a letter of the alphabet where letters are being trained to make their correct sound. For example, the M’s practice saying “mmm, mmm” as they eat tasty treats in their classroom. In each room, Professor Quigley and the letters sing a song – ? “the M says “mmmm”, the M says “mmmm”, every letter makes a sound, the M says “mmmm” ? (to the tune of The Farmer in the Dell) – as they teach Tad the sound that the letter makes.
These are the main things my kids and I love about this phonics video:
- Memorable scenes and animations for each letter really help visual memory. In the “P” room, the P’s are overflowing out of a popcorn popper and the entire room is filled with popcorn. As they say their /p/ sound, the letters themselves pop into puffy P’s so, just by looking at them, it reminds the kids of Popping Popcorn. This makes it super-easy to make visual connections and memorize the sounds.
- The storyline isn’t too contrived. Some kid show plots just make no sense at all. Or it seems like they’re trying too hard to make their storyline work. Letter Factory, while a little silly, makes sense (once you accept the original premise of dad working at a letter factory where letters are trained to make their sounds).
- It focuses on one skill in depth. Some other programs tackle too many steps at once. They introduce letters at the beginning of the show and are reading words by the end of the episode. A kid who’s first learning to recognize letters is not going to be reading words a half hour later. Letter Factory covers just letter sounds but it does it well and covers all 26 in one episode.
- It’s an ideal length. Most kids watching this will be 2-6 years old and might not have the attention span to really stay focused on a learning DVD for very long. So, at 35 min., it’s not too long. But it’s not too short, either. It’s just long enough to keep them engaged and learning but not burnt out or bored.
- It’s inexpensive. In my opinion, this DVD is a great value and totally worth the price. If you’re on a tight budget (and we should ALL have a budget!), look for it used, share it with a friend, or get it free from the library!
- My kids love it. It’s educational but fun and funny so the kids want to watch it just for the sake of the story. Even now, years later, my older kids don’t mind sitting down and watching it with their two-year-old sister (although, in fairness, that might just be when the alternative is chores).
- It’s effective. Like I said before, my kids picked up the letter sounds and were ready to start blending words shortly after watching this video a handful of times. There are a lot of other ways to teach the letter sounds but this has got to be one of the fastest and easiest I’ve ever seen.
- It coordinates with other products. The characters and the little ditty they repeat for each letter matches up with the characters and song LeapFrog uses in some of their other products, like the Magnetic Fridge Phonics set. (Although, see below in the “Cons” section for another point about this).
- There is built-in review. Several times throughout the video they do a partial review of the previously covered letters. Plus, at the end, they do a review of the whole alphabet. The repetition helps kids retain what they’ve heard.
We’ve obviously had a great experience with this DVD but, in the interest of writing a balanced review, I’ve tried to think of its weaknesses.
- Its main focus is on upper case letters. They make a brief mention of lowercase letters at the beginning of the video and both cases are shown on the doors to each factory room, but the main focus is on upper case. I’m guessing they did this to avoid confusing the kids. But it’s something to be aware of if you’ve only introduced lower case letters to your child or if you’re expecting the video to show both equally.
- It doesn’t match up exactly with other products. The songs in the DVD coordinate with LeapFrog’s Fridge Phonics but the magnetic toy includes a few additional sounds for some letters with more than one sound. For example, the DVD song says “the E says /eh/“ (only the short sound of E) while the Fridge Phonics toy sings “the E says /eh/ and /ē/“ (the short and long sounds of E). This never caused a problem for us (and we owned both products) but I could see it irritating some kids if they’ve already learned the other version of the song.
- The pronunciation of letter “A” sound is slightly off. The sound they say for the short vowel “A” sounds more like /ah/ as in father than /a/ in cat. This didn’t seem to cause an issue for my kids but I made a point to emphasize the true short A sound when I worked with them on phonics.
- The “vibrating V room” is bothersome. Each room has a theme and the entire “V” room vibrates throughout the whole one minute scene. It’s my least favorite room in the factory and almost gives me a headache. My kids have never been bothered by it but if you’re prone to migraines, nausea, or seizures look away when when they get to the “V” room!
- The older brother tells a white lie. Near the end of the story the older brother tells a fib in an effort to help his little brother feel included. Depending on your kid’s age and how you feel about it, you may want to use it as a conversation starter to address fibs and truthfulness.
To sum up, I think this would be a great investment for all parents of young kids.
Keep an eye out for your child’s interest in learning the ABC’s and wait for signs of readiness. If they’re asking about letters and words, recognizing most of their letters, and if they seem to understand that letters and words have meaning, then I’d say LeapFrog Letter Factory would be a great next step!
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