Title:
Learning sports toy and method
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
The present invention provides a sports toy with multiple instructional modalities which combine auditory, visual, and kinesthetic stimulation to teach and reinforce language skills. In one embodiment, a sports toy comprises a goal defining an aperture and a switch associated with the goal for indicating that a goal has been scored. A memory is operatively associated with the switch. A voice synthesizer is operatively associated with the memory and a speaker is in turn operatively associated with the voice synthesizer. Code stored in the memory causes sounds associated with language to sound from the speaker after the switch is activated. The sounds associated with the language include letter names, letter sounds, words, or phonics. The sports toy may also comprise an electronic visual display operatively associated with the memory for displaying stored images, such as letters or words, after the switch is activated.



Inventors:
Wood, Michael C. (Orinda, CA, US)
Shuler, Eric Thomas (Piedmont, CA, US)
Soto, Jorge Gabriel (Antioch, CA, US)
Application Number:
10/336670
Publication Date:
08/14/2003
Filing Date:
01/02/2003
Assignee:
LeapFrog Enterprises, Inc. (Emeryville, CA)
Primary Class:
International Classes:
A63B63/08; A63F7/20; (IPC1-7): A63B63/08
View Patent Images:
Related US Applications:
20040166967HoopballAugust, 2004Liberfarb
20040005942Baseball home plate for guiding pitchingJanuary, 2004Wang
20020098923Hand mounted ball striking game implementJuly, 2002Reynolds et al.
20100069180TENNIS-GAME SCOREKEEPING SYSTEM AND METHODMarch, 2010Hartmann
20090137352Padded sports ballMay, 2009Ou
20060154756Dart with adjustable weightJuly, 2006Shao
20100099517GOLF BALL COMPRISING A CORE LAYER HAVING A HARDNESS GRADIENT AND TRANS GRADIENTApril, 2010Comeau et al.
20070135225Sport movement analyzer and training deviceJune, 2007Nieminen et al.
20050090336Poolside goal systemApril, 2005Nye et al.
20010031676Racket strung in double diagonal stringing pattern with frame markings and methodOctober, 2001Luskin et al.
20060199659ShotwatchTMSeptember, 2006Caldwell



Primary Examiner:
SAADAT, CAMERON
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton LLP - West Coast (Atlanta, GA, US)
Claims:

What is claimed is:



1. A sports toy comprising: (a) a goal defining an area; (b) a switch associated with the goal for indicating that a goal has been scored; (c) a memory operatively associated with the switch; (d) a voice synthesizer operatively associated with the memory; (d) a speaker operatively associated with the voice synthesizer; and (e) code stored in the memory for causing sounds associated with language to sound from the speaker after the switch is activated.

2. The sports toy of claim 1, wherein the area is an aperture.

3. The sports toy of claim 1, wherein the sounds associated with language include letter names, letter sounds, words, or phonics.

4. The sports toy of claim 1, wherein the sounds associated with language include a letter from the alphabet.

5. The sports toy of claim 1, wherein the sounds associated with language include a three letter word.

6. The sports toy of claim 5, wherein the three letter word is bus, cat, dog, or pig.

7. The sports toy of claim 1, wherein the memory further comprises code for causing sounds associated with numbers to sound from the speaker after the switch is activated.

8. The sports toy of claim 7, wherein the sounds associated with numbers include a number in the range from about 1 to 10.

9. The sports toy of claim 1, wherein the memory further comprises code for causing musical tunes, sound effects, declaratory instruction, or positive feedback statements to sound from the speaker before or after the switch is activated.

10. The sports toy of claim 1, further comprising an electronic visual display operatively associated with the memory for displaying stored images after the switch is activated.

11. The sports toy of claim 10, wherein the displayed image comprises a letter, word, or number.

12. The sports toy of claim 1, further comprising an electronic visual display operatively associated with the memory for displaying geometric shapes or patterns before or after the switch is activated.

13. The sports toy of claim 1, further comprising at least one flashing light operatively associated with the memory that flashes after the switch is activated.

14. The sports toy of claim 1, where the goal comprises a basketball hoop.

15. A toy basketball apparatus comprising: (a) abase; (b) a basketball hoop coupled to the base; and (c) a cup disposed on the base, wherein the cup receives a toy basketball passing through the basketball hoop.

16. The toy basketball apparatus of claim 15, wherein the cup is capable of rotating about an axis.

17. The toy basketball apparatus of claim 15, wherein the cup is rotatable in a range from about 1° to 180°.

18. The toy basketball apparatus of claim 15, wherein the cup is rotatable to a closed position to receive and retain the toy basketball after a child throws the basketball through the basketball hoop.

19. The toy basketball apparatus of claim 18, wherein a lip on the base is in engagement with the cup in the closed position.

20. The toy basketball apparatus of claim 15, wherein the cup is rotatable to an open position to (i) receive the toy basketball after a child throws the basketball through the basketball hoop, and (ii) automatically release the toy basketball back towards the child.

21. The toy basketball apparatus of claim 15, wherein the cup is rotatable to an open position to (i) receive the toy basketball after a child throws the basketball through the basketball hoop, and (ii) automatically release the toy basketball away from the base.

22. The toy basketball apparatus of claim 15, wherein the cup has a half funnel shape and a sloping floor.

23. The toy basketball apparatus of claim 15, further comprising a support coupled between the base and the basketball hoop.

24. The toy basketball apparatus of claim 23, wherein the support is adjustable along a vertical direction.

25. A toy basketball apparatus comprising: (a) abase; (b) a support coupled to the base; (c) a basketball hoop coupled to the support; (d) a switch associated with the basketball hoop for indicating that a basket has been scored; (e) a memory operatively associated with the switch; (f) a voice synthesizer operatively associated with the memory; (g) a speaker operatively associated with the voice synthesizer; (h) code stored in the memory for causing sounds associated with language to sound from the speaker after the switch is activated; (i) an electronic visual display operatively associated with the memory for displaying stored images of a letter or word after the switch is activated; and (j) a cup disposed in the base, wherein the cup receives a toy basketball passing through the basketball hoop.

26. A method for teaching letters, spelling, or phonetics to a child comprising the steps of: (a) providing a toy having a goal defining an area and a switch associated with the goal; (b) receiving input from the switch that a goal has been scored; and (c) causing sounds associated with language to sound from a speaker after the switch has been activated.

27. The method of claim 26, wherein the sounds associated with language include letter names, letter sounds, words, or phonics.

28. The method of claim 26, further comprising teaching counting by causing sounds associated with numbers to sound from the speaker after the switch is activated.

29. The method of claim 26, further comprising displaying stored images of letters, words, or numbers after the switch is activated.

30. The method of claim 26, further comprising automatically turning the toy off after a predetermined period of inactivity.

31. The method of claim 26, wherein the receiving and causing sound steps are carried out by a microprocessor.

32. A method for providing play with a toy basketball apparatus comprising the steps of: (a) providing a toy having a base, a basketball hoop coupled to the base, and a cup disposed on the base; and (b) receiving in the cup a toy basketball passing through the basketball hoop.

33. The method of claim 32, further comprising retaining the basketball in the cup.

34. The method of claim 32, further comprising automatically releasing the toy basketball from the cup and back towards the child.

35. The method of claim 32, further comprising automatically releasing the toy basketball from the cup and away from the base.

Description:

CROSS-REFERENCES TO RELATED APPLICATIONS

[0001] This application claims the benefit of priority of U.S. Provisional Patent Application No. 60/346,323, filed on Jan. 5, 2002, under 37 C.F.R. §1.78(a)(5), the full disclosure of which is incorporated herein by reference.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

[0002] Embodiments of the invention relate generally to early stage learning skills and more particularly to learning letters, spelling, phonetics, and counting while developing motor and sensory skills. Other embodiments are directed to sports toys generally.

[0003] It is desirable for children to develop basic letter, spelling, phonetic, and number skills at an early age. To teach a child effectively, learning must be made interesting and fun. There are a large number of educational toys that attempt to engage a child's interest and to teach the child any of a variety of concepts by virtue of the child's play with the toy. At the same time, it is further important for children to simultaneously develop both motor and sensory skills through playing and cognitive learning.

[0004] Learning theorists classify children into three basic types: auditory learners, visual learners, and kinesthetic learners. Some children are primarily auditory learners. Auditory learners respond best to sounds, music, and speech. Some children are primarily visual learners. Visual learners learn best by having visual cues, such as written text or symbols. Some children are primarily kinesthetic learners. Kinesthetic learners respond best to motion, movement, and action-oriented learning. Although children usually have a primary learning modality, most children learn best when instructed with a combination of all three of these modalities. Learning is also facilitated by interactive learning and providing an environment of emotional support and encouragement.

[0005] As such, learning is best achieved when at least three physical or instructional modalities are logically connected and engaged: audio, visual, and kinesthetic. Many sports toys available on the market, such as play basketball toys that comprise a base, a pole coupled to the base, a backboard coupled to the pole, and a basket coupled to the backboard, allow for hand and eye coordination and motor skill development through playing but lack any educational stimulation. For example, such play basketball toys might provide cheering in response to making a basket or may keep score, but they donot provide any language or phonic learning. Moreover, infants and toddlers may easily tire from such basketball toy structures, as described above, as they may require too much energy to retrieve the ball after a basket has been made.

[0006] Hence, there is a need for alternate sports toys that provide language skills, particularly ones that teach letters, spelling, or phonetics, in an audio, visual, and kinesthetic modality. It would be desirable that such an interactive learning toy provide a sensory experience in an encouraging and emotionally supportive environment. It would further be desirable to have a sports toy that improves gross and fine motor skill development without over exhausting a child, particularly infants. At least some of these objectives are addressed in the present invention.

BRIEF SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

[0007] Embodiments of the present invention provides a sports toy with multiple instructional modalities which combine auditory, visual, and kinesthetic stimulation to teach letters, spelling, or phonetics to children in an early stage of development. In one embodiment of the present invention, a sports toy comprises a goal defining an area, such as an aperture, and a switch associated with the goal for indicating that a goal has been scored. A memory is operatively associated with the switch. A voice synthesizer is operatively associated with the memory and a speaker is in turn operatively associated with the voice synthesizer. Code stored in the memory causes sounds associated with language to sound from the speaker after the switch is activated. The sounds associated with the language include letter names, letter sounds, words, or phonics. Hence, kinesthetic involvement of a child throwing a toy ball through the goal facilitates cognitive development of letters, words, or phonics in an auditory manner. This interactive learning toy may further be operated in a numbers mode to further teach counting. Moreover, the sports toy may also comprise an electronic visual display operatively associated with the memory for displaying stored images, such as letters, words, or numbers, after the switch is activated to provide visual reinforcement. Such an interactive learning toy further provides a sensory experience in an encouraging and emotionally positive environment.

[0008] In another embodiment of the present invention, a toy basketball apparatus comprises a base, a basketball hoop coupled to the base, and a cup disposed on the base. The cup receives a toy basketball passing through the basketball hoop. Such a cup is rotatable to a closed position to receive and retain the toy basketball after a child throws the basketball through the basketball hoop. This cup is further rotatable to an open position to receive the toy basketball after the child throws the basketball through the basketball hoop and automatically release the toy basketball back towards the child. This cup is particularly advantageous as it promotes gross and fine motor skills without over exhausting a child.

[0009] In yet another embodiment of the present invention, a toy basketball apparatus comprises a base, a support coupled to the base, a basketball hoop coupled to the support, and a switch associated with the basketball hoop for indicating that a basket has been scored. A memory is operatively associated with the switch. A voice synthesizer is operatively associated with the memory and a speaker is in turn is operatively associated with the voice synthesizer. Code stored in the memory causes sounds associated with language to sound from the speaker after the switch is activated and an electronic visual display operatively associated with the memory displays stored images of a letter or word after the switch is activated. A cup is further disposed in the base, wherein the cup receives a toy basketball passing through the basketball hoop.

[0010] The present invention further provides methods for teaching letters, spelling, or phonetics to a child. One method comprises the steps of providing a toy having a goal defining an area and a switch associated with the goal. Input is received from the switch that a goal has been scored. Sounds associated with language are sounded from a speaker after the switch has been activated. Stored images of letters or words are also displayed after the switch has been activated.

[0011] In another embodiment of the present invention, a method for providing play with a toy basketball apparatus is provided. One method comprises the steps of providing a toy having a base, a basketball hoop coupled to the base, and a cup disposed on the base, and receiving in the cup a toy basketball passing through the basketball hoop. The cup either retains the toy basketball or automatically releases the toy basketball back towards the child in a “pitch back” motion.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

[0012] A further understanding of the nature and advantages of the present invention may be realized by reference to the detailed description and claims when considered in connection with the drawings, wherein like reference numerals are used throughout the several drawings to refer to similar components.

[0013] FIGS. 1A through 1D illustrate front, side, back, and top views of a preferred embodiment of the present invention.

[0014] FIG. 2 is a block diagram of the electronic function of the physical apparatus of the present invention.

[0015] FIGS. 3A and 3B illustrate an example of a circuit schematic which implements the electronic function of the present invention.

[0016] FIG. 4A through 4C illustrate a method of assembly of the present invention.

[0017] FIGS. 5A through 5D are a summary of script commands used to program an embodiment of the present invention used to teach letters, spelling, and numbers, respectively.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE INVENTION

[0018] Embodiments of the present invention provide a sports toy with multiple instructional modalities which combine auditory, visual, and kinesthetic stimulation to teach letters, spelling, or phonetics to children in an early stage of development, typically six months and older. In embodiments of the invention, a child can use the sports toy when the child is an infant and when the child is a toddler. Older children or even adults could use the sports toy as well.

[0019] Embodiments of the invention can be used to teach a child (e.g., an infant or a toddler) any suitable subject. Exemplary subjects include counting, numbers, colors, shapes, fun facts, spelling, math, geography, history, language (generally), phonics, and foreign languages. Preferred embodiments teach about one or more of letters, numbers, shapes, and colors (e.g., sounds, recognition, and/or usage).

[0020] As used in this application, an instructional modality refers to different ways of teaching a child. A modality can correspond to instructions which occur between consecutive user inputs. It can correspond to one or more lines of script code, such as shown in FIGS. 5A through 5C. For example, an instructional modality may comprise an auditory declarative statement of instruction (e.g., “Lets learn letters! Take a shot!”) in combination with a visual flashing geometric shape display. As another example, after a goal has been scored by a child, an instructional modality may comprise sounds associated with language (e.g., “DOG”) in combination with sound effects (e.g., woof, woof) and a visual display of each letter name associated with the language sound (e.g., “D”, “O”, “G”). Another modality may also comprise emotionally supportive or encouraging sound effects or statements (e.g., crowd cheering, clapping, “Great Job!”).

[0021] A preferred embodiment of the present invention is illustrated in FIGS. 1A through 1D. Referring to FIGS. 1A and 1D, a sports toy 10 comprises a goal 12 defining an area, such as an aperture 14, and a mechanical switch 16 associated with the goal 12 for indicating that a goal has been scored. The goal 12 preferably comprises a basketball hoop as shown. It will be appreciated that the goal 12 may alternatively comprise a soccer goal, a football goal, and like sporting goals. Moreover, the goal area may alternatively comprise a surface area, perimeter area, or the like. As such, the figures described herein only provide illustrative examples and the inventive figure is not limited to basketball hoops. The basketball hoop 12 is coupled to a support 18 comprising a backboard 20 and a post or pole 22. The post 22 in turn is coupled to a base 24. A cup 26, which is described in more detail below, is further disposed in the base 24, wherein the cup 26 a capable of receiving a toy basketball 28 passing through the basketball hoop 12. The terms “coupled to” and “associated with” include connected to, attached to, adjacent to, mounted to, and like configurations. It will further be appreciated that the following depictions are for illustration purposes only and does not necessarily reflect the actual shape, size, or distribution of the toy basketball apparatus 10. This applies to all depictions hereinafter.

[0022] Referring now to FIG. 2, a block diagram of the electronics in a sports learning toy according to an embodiment of the present invention is illustrated. A memory unit, illustrated as block 30, is operatively associated with the switch, shown as block 16. The memory unit 30 is typically part of a larger processor or circuit (i.e., microprocessor), as indicated by block 32, and further comprises code, as indicated by block 34. Alternatively, the memory unit 30 may be one or more separate memory chips and may comprise one or more of a read only memory, a flash memory, or a random access memory. The processor 32 may be a microprocessor that is located within an interior of the hoop 12, support 18, or base 24 of the basketball toy 10. A voice synthesizer, depicted as block 36, is operatively associated with the memory unit 30 and a speaker, depicted as block 38, is in turn operatively associated with the voice synthesizer 36. The voice synthesizer 36 can be a separate voice chip or could be voice synthesizing circuitry in a microprocessor that also controls the function of the toy. Many processors, memory units, and voice synthesizer chips are commercially available and any of such commercially available electronic components can be used in embodiments of the invention.

[0023] The voice synthesizer 36 and speaker 38 may be located within a variety of locations including the hoop 12, support 18, or base 24 of the basketball toy 10. Preferably the speaker 38 is located within a rear portion of the base 24, wherein the base 24 may be reinforced and supplied with appropriate sounds holes 39 for speaker 38 as shown in FIGS. 1B and 1C. Code 34 stored in the memory 30 causes sounds associated with language to sound from the speaker 38 after the switch 16 is activated by ball pressure as it passes through the hoop 12. The sounds associated with the language include letter names, letter sounds, words, or phonics. Hence, kinesthetic involvement of a child throwing the toy basketball 28 through the goal 12, 14 and scoring a basket facilitates cognitive development of letters, words, or phonics in an auditory manner. This interactive learning toy may further comprise code 34 for causing sounds associated with numbers to sound from the speaker 38 after the switch 16 is activated to teach counting. The memory 30 may still further comprise code for causing a variety of musical tunes (e.g., basketball theme music), sounds effects (e.g., cheering crowds, clapping, animal sounds (e.g., oink, oink or meow), declaratory instruction (e.g., “First words! Lets spell dog! Take a shot!”), positive feedback statements (e.g., “You're awesome!”, “Great job!”, “Great shot!”, “Wow!”) to sound from the speaker 38 before or after the switch 16 is activated.

[0024] As illustrated in FIGS. 1A, 1D, and 2, an electronic visual display, indicated at block 40, is operatively associated with the memory 30 for displaying stored images after the switch 16 is activated to provide visual reinforcement. The displayed image may comprise a letter 41 (e.g., “A” as shown), word, or number. The visual display 40 may further display a variety of flashing geometric shapes or patterns (e.g., circles, squares, triangles) before or after the switch 16 is activated. The electronic visual display 40 may comprise a variety of commonly used electronic displays, such as light emitting diode screens (LED) or liquid crystal displays (LCD). Typically, the display 40 comprises a LED screen having a five by seven matrix of LED lights. The visual display 40 may be located on the base 24, support 18, or basketball hoop 12, preferably located on the center of the backboard 20. An off/mode select indicia, in this case an “Off/123/ABC/CAT” control knob, is illustrated at block 42 and may be located on the base 24, support 18, or basketball hoop 12, preferably located on a right side of the backboard 20. The sports toy 10 may further comprise at least one flashing circular light, shown as block 44, operatively associated with the memory 30 that flashes after the switch 16 is activated. Preferably, the basketball toy 10 includes three flashing LED lights 44, each light having a protruding orange sculpted basketball lens or cover. The lights 44 flash right to left, left to right, or alternately flash after the switch 16 is activated to simulate ball throwing action to an infant or toddler. The flashing lights 44 may be located on a variety of locations including the hoop 12, support 18, or base 24 of the basketball toy 10. Preferably, the flashing lights 44 are located above the visual display 40 on the support backboard 20.

[0025] An example of a circuit used to implement the electronic function, both audio and visual, of the present invention is shown in FIGS. 3A and 3B. Those of ordinary skill in the art of electronic toys are presumed familiar with a variety of processors or other logic circuitry which implement the electronic functions of the present invention as schematically depicted in FIG. 2. FIG. 3B, in particular, shows an LED array that is used in a visual display to display letters, shapes, or words.

[0026] Referring now to FIGS. 4A through 4C, a method of assembly of the present invention is illustrated. The basketball hoop 12 attaches to the support backboard 20 and snaps into place. The hoop 12 further has a break-away feature to allow for safe play. The support post 22 in turn is inserted into the base 24 and snaps into place. As shown in FIG. 4B, the support post 22 is adjustable along a vertical direction to extend to at least three different height positions of 15 inches, 18 inches, 20 inches from the base 24. Such an adjustable, grow-with-me backboard 20 is advantageous as it allows for both sitting and standing play. For example, shorter and less mobile infants may prefer sitting play to taller and more mobile toddlers who may prefer standing play. To raise the backboard 20, simply hold the base 24 and pull up on the backboard, as indicated by arrow 46. To lower the back board 20, simply depress two buttons 48 on a backside of the backboard while lowering the post 22 height, as indicated by arrow 46. A two position high/low volume control 50 is further located on the backside of the backboard 20 to adjust the auditory modalities of the present invention.

[0027] In some embodiments, a cup 26 disposed on the base 24 for receiving a toy basketball 28 passing through the basketball hoop 12. Such a swivel cup 26 is manually rotatable about an axis, typically in a range from about 1° to about 180°. The cup 26 is rotatable to a closed position, as illustrated in FIGS. 4C and 1A, to receive and retain the basketball 28 after a child throws the basketball 28 through the basketball hoop 12. A lip 52 on the base 24 is in engagement with the cup 26 to securely retain the basketball 28 in this closed position. Such a closed cup position is of particular benefit for infants and young toddlers who may be less mobile or less coordinated. For example, an infant who is sitting can simply drop the basketball 28 in the hoop 12 where the ball 28 will be retained in the cup 26. This encourages further sitting play as the basketball 28 will not disappear to a remote corner of a room. In addition, the retaining cup 26 is advantageous to parents who may not want to retrieve a ball for an infant each time that the infant makes a basket. Hence, the closed cup position that receives and retains the ball encourages gross and fine motor skill development of placing a ball through the hoop.

[0028] The cup 26 is also rotatable to an open position, as illustrated in FIG. 4A, to receive the toy basketball 28 after a child throws the basketball 28 through the basketball hoop 12 and automatically release the toy basketball 28 back towards the child so that he/she may catch the ball 28. This open position is also advantageous as it allows the ball to be “pitched back” thereby providing further interaction with the child, particularly toddlers. This open cup position also promotes gross and fine motor skill development of throwing a ball through the hoop without over exhausting a toddler, who may easily tire from retrieving the ball each time a basket has been made. In addition, the pitch back feature is advantageous to parents who may not want to retrieve a ball for a toddler each time that the toddler makes a basket. The cup 26 has a half funnel shape and a sloping floor to help retain the ball in the closed position as well as help direct and release the toy basketball back towards the child in the open position. Still further, the cup 26 may simply receive the toy basketball 28 after a child throws the basketball 28 through the basketball hoop 12 and automatically release the toy basketball 28 away from the base 24. In some embodiments, this “pitch back” feature is performed with a cup 26 that is made of molded plastic and does not have any moving parts or electronics.

[0029] In general, the basketball goal 12, backboard 20, post 22, and base 24 may be formed from a variety of materials including plastic, polymer, graphite, wood, metal, rubber, and the like, and have approximate dimensions respectively as follows: goal 4.25″ width (W)×1.25″ height (H)×4.25″ depth (D); backboard 8.25″W×7.5″H×2.5″D; post 3.5″W×5″H ×2″D; base: 9″W×2.75″H×12.5″D. The two orange mini-basketballs 28 may also be formed from a variety of material including plastic, rubber, and the like, have approximately a 2.5″ diameter, and be textured to provide an easy-grip. Moreover, the base 24 can have two circular recesses 54 to conveniently and neatly store the basketballs 28 when the sports toy 10 is not in use.

[0030] To begin instructive play of the present invention, the basketball sports toy 10 is turned on by moving the “Off/123/ABC/CAT” select indicia 42 from “Off” to a language skills mode (“ABC” or “CAT”) or to a counting skills mode (“123”). For example, turning the mode select indicia 42 to the “ABC” letters mode causes musical tunes as well as crowd cheers and clapping sound effects to be emitted from the speaker 38 in combination with declaratory instruction (e.g., “Lets learn letters! Take a shot!”) in a realistic basketball announcer fashion. Moreover, geometric flashing shapes are simultaneously displayed on the visual display 40. After a child throws the basketball 28 through the basketball hoop 12, input is received from the mechanical switch 16 that a goal has been scored and sounds associated with language are emitted from the speaker 38 and stored images are displayed 40 after the switch 16 has been activated. As described above, such receiving, causing audio sounds, and visual displaying processes are carried out by the microprocessor 32. In the present example, the sounds associated with language skills include a letter name from the alphabet starting from “A” sequentially all the way through “Z” being emitted from the speaker 38 in combination with that particular letter name being displayed on the visual display 40 for each basket being scored. Moreover, musical tunes and positive feedback statements (e.g., “Slam dunk!”) may further be emitted after the switch 16 is activated. The basketball lights 44 may also flash from right to left or vice versa.

[0031] Hence, the present invention teaches and reinforces cognitive language skills by employing auditory, visual, and kinesthetic modalities. Moreover, a multi-sensory experience is provided by the flashing basketball lights and geometric shapes on the display as well as the musical tunes and tactile feel from gripping the basketball and scoring a goal. An encouraging and emotionally supportive environment is further fostered by the cheering crowds and clapping sound effects before a goal has been scored as well as the positive feedback statements after a goal has been scored.

[0032] Alternatively, turning the mode select indicia 42 to the “CAT” spelling mode causes musical tunes as well as crowd cheers and clapping sound effects to be emitted from the speaker 38 in combination with declaratory instruction (e.g., “First Words!. Lets spell cat! Take a shot!”). Moreover, geometric flashing shapes are simultaneously displayed on the visual display 40. After a child throws the basketball 28 through the basketball hoop 12, input is received from the switch 16 that a goal has been scored and sounds associated with language are emitted from the speaker 38 and stored images are displayed 40 after the switch 16 has been activated. In the present example, the sounds associated with language skills include three letter words, typically first words such as bus, cat, dog, or pig, in which the letter sound and letter name of each word are phonetically being emitted from the speaker 38 in combination with each letter name of that particular word being displayed on the visual display 40 for each basket being scored. Moreover, further musical tunes and sound effects (e.g., honk, honk) may further be emitted after the switch 16 is activated. The basketball lights 44 may also flash.

[0033] Optionally, turning the mode select indicia 42 to the “123” counting mode causes musical tunes as well as crowd cheers and clapping sound effects to be emitted from the speaker 38 in combination with declaratory instruction (e.g., “Lets count! Take a shot!”). Moreover, geometric flashing circular shapes are simultaneously displayed on the visual display 40. After a child throws the basketball 28 through the basketball hoop 12, input is received from the switch 16 that a goal has been scored and sounds associated with numbers are emitted from the speaker 38 and stored images are displayed 40 after the switch 16 has been activated. In the present example, the sounds associated with numbers include a number in the range from about 1 to about 10 to be consecutively emitted from the speaker 38 in combination with that number being displayed on the visual display 40 for each basket being scored. Moreover, further musical tunes and positive feedback statements (e.g., “You're an all star counter!”) may further be emitted after the switch 16 is activated. The basketball lights 44 may also flash. Hence, the present invention also teaches and reinforces number identification and recognition by employing auditory, visual, and kinesthetic modalities.

[0034] FIGS. 5A through 5C are example lists of audio and visual script commands used to program the present invention to teach letters, spelling, and numbers, respectively. The script commands of FIGS. 5A through 5C describe a preferred embodiment of a learning sports toy in which visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learning modalities mutually reinforce one another in a synergistic fashion. Many variations of the script commands are within the scope of the present invention and as such the script may be substantially varied. For example, the auditory and visual commands may be altered to spell four letter words instead of three letter words or alternatively the three letter word script may be altered to include words such as hat, bat, fox, etc. Further, the musical tunes, sound effects, declaratory instruction, and positive feedback may further be varied.

[0035] At the end of play, the toy may be turned off by moving the mode select indicia 42 to the “Off” position. Otherwise, as shown in FIG. 5D, the sports toy may automatically turn off after a predetermined period of inactivity for energy savings after giving a few prompts to keep playing. The period of inactivity time is typically within a range of 30 seconds to one minute, preferably 40 seconds. When the toy is automatically turned off it is placed in a sleep mode and may easily be woken up from sleep mode by placing the basketball 28 into the hoop 12 to activate the mechanical switch 16 back into a language skills or counting mode.

[0036] The interactive learning sports apparatus 10 according to the present invention can optionally include a slot (not shown) for a transferable information storage medium (not shown) that is operatively coupled to the processor 32 and memory unit 30. The slot can be cooperatively structured to receive the transferable storage medium in a removable manner. Any suitable transferable storage medium can be employed in the interactive learning sports apparatus including, but not limited to, a data cartridge (e.g., a flash memory cartridge), a disk, a tape or a memory stick. The transferable information storage medium can be used to provide code for new operating modes or new audio data (e.g., new songs) to the interactive learning sports apparatus. The transferable information storage medium may be purchased at a store, or may be created at the user's site by downloading new content from a personal computer or from the Internet.

[0037] The interactive learning sports apparatus 10 can also form part of a system that provides the interactive learning sports apparatus with new content if desired. For example, in some embodiments, a linker device can be used to transfer data (e.g., new audio data or code for new operating modes) between the interactive learning sports apparatus and a computer (e.g., an Internet-enabled personal computer or server computer). The linker device can be any suitable linker device known to one skilled in the art, such as a wireless transceiver (e.g., a radio frequency [RF] transceiver or an infra-red [IR] transceiver) or a data port (e.g., a Universal Serial Bus [USB] data port). Such a data port enables a user to transfer data to, and from, the interactive learning apparatus through a physical connection (e.g., a data cable) among the interactive learning sports apparatus and a client PC or the Internet. The inclusion of a linker device in the interactive learning sports apparatus results in an Internet-enabled interactive learning sports apparatus. Additional details regarding such Internet-enabled embodiments can be found in U.S. patent application Ser. No. 09/632,424, filed on Aug. 4, 2000. This U.S. Patent Application is herein incorporated by reference in its entirety for all purposes.

[0038] Although certain preferred embodiments and methods have been disclosed herein, it will be apparent from the foregoing disclosure to those skilled in the art that variations, modifications, alternative constructions, and equivalents of such embodiments and methods may be made without departing from the true spirit and scope of the invention. Therefore, the above description should not be taken as limiting the scope of the invention which is defined by the appended claims.