The 12 best voice assistant hacks for kids
It’s 4:45 p.m. on a rainy Monday afternoon, and I’m pulling dinner ingredients out of the fridge while giving the side-eye to a bottle of wine. My toddler is screeching incoherently while ramming his scooter into the wall, and the dog is scratching at the door to be let out for the 100th time today. I glance at my phone and see a text from my husband: Running late.
I’m about to lose it when I remember that I’m not alone — I have a friend in the room. She’s sitting in the corner, patiently awaiting my command. After asking Alexa to play “Baby Shark”— and witnessing its bizarrely calming effect on my son — I ask her to order a pizza while I place the dinner ingredients back into the fridge (and take out the wine).
Like a lot of parents, I’m what Google calls a “voice-assistance power user.” We’re using voice assistants like Alexa, Siri, Google and Cortana to help us multitask, assist with homework, stay on top of our shopping lists and keep our children entertained.
Despite some real concerns about safety and privacy when using these devices in our homes, the fact is they can make taking care of kids just a little bit easier and more enjoyable. And while these personal assistants are pretty good at starting a dance party and ordering dinner, there’s a lot more they can do, too.
We asked parents and experts to share the best voice assistant hacks they use while caring for kids, and we rounded up some good tricks on our own, too. Check out these 12 brilliant ways to “voice activate” the many tasks that come along with keeping up with kids.
1. Set a timer
This is one of the most basic uses for voice assistants, but one of the most common we heard from parents. Setting timers for homework, cleanup time, playtime, potty training and bus pickups are just a few ways to use voice assistants to keep kids on schedule. Colleen Oakley Tull, a mom of four based in Atlanta, uses her timer as a toy referee.
“We use the timer function for when two (or more) kids want the same toy,” she says. “Usually five minutes or so. When the timer goes off, they willingly give it up to their sibling. It’s like magic.”
2. Get out the door in the morning
Enable Alexa’s Out the Door skill to make getting ready for school feel like an adventure. This skill grants kids with a super power and encourages them to conquer a different beast each day by completing tasks like brushing their teeth, getting their backpack and putting on their shoes.
3. Read a story
When you just can’t read “Dragons Love Tacos” one more time and you don’t want to turn on the TV, ask the voice assistant to read a story to the kids. Amazon Storytime has more than 100 short stories with categories ranging from bedtime and silly to family and friends — all featuring full-cast recordings. Google Home also offers select kids books and will play relevant sound effects and music to bring the stories to life.
4. Get their wiggles out
Whether it’s a rainy day or you just need five minutes of peace, count on the voice assistant to get the kids moving. The Alexa skill Animal Workout invites kids to take on the characteristics of different animals while getting exercise. Freeze Dancers is another Alexa favorite that tells kids to dance in silly ways and freeze when the music stops.
5. Settle a dispute
Take a break from settling arguments and let Alexa, or Judge Lexy, do the judging with the clever Kids Court skill. Kids will be challenged to present their cases coherently, and they’ll learn some basic facts about the U.S. judicial system in the process.
6. Encourage clear speech
Bay Area mom Ramsey Hootman says Alexa has helped encourage her two sons to speak more clearly and loudly, something they’ve struggled with. She also says they have learned “how to ask the right questions to get the answers they want. This will come in handy later not just for using search engines but also understanding how computers work.”
7. Keep your hands free
Sami Cone, a Nashville-based mom and author of “Raising Uncommon Kids,” says her top voice assistant tip is to keep you hands-free while caring for little ones.
“Too many tragedies have proven that taking your eyes off your little one for even a few seconds can result in disaster,” she says. “Instead, being able to set reminder with Siri or Alexa allows you to stay on track with your daily tasks while keeping baby safe.”
You can also use digital assistants to turn on and off lights, send a text or even answer the door (when paired with the relevant smart home devices).
8. Play games
Yep, that humble little device can make for quite a fun playmate. Alexa’s Lego Duplo Stories skill adds a new element to playing with Legos, inviting kids to play out interactive stories with their building blocks. SpongeBob fans will love The SpongeBob Challenge memory game. On Google Home, older kids can put their knowledge to the test by playing several trivia games.
9. Make them brush their teeth
If oral hygiene is a common kid challenge you’re encountering, ask Alexa to start Chompers. This “tooth-brushing show” includes two full minutes of jokes, riddles, songs and trivia to make tooth-brushing time whiz by.
10. Teach manners
Some parents are rightly concerned that barking orders at their devices teaches poor manners to their kids. That’s why some voice assistants have integrated special features to encourage politeness with kids. For Google, it’s the Pretty Please feature, which rewards users who say “please” and “thank you” with “delightful” responses. Alexa’s Magic Word feature works similarly.
11. Help with homework
Donna Bozzo, a Chicago-based parenting expert and mom to three teenage girls, loves the educational potential of voice assistants.
“When reading together, stop and ask Alexa the proper definition and pronunciation of new words discovered,” she says. “When doing science experiments together at the breakfast table or perhaps on a weekend day at home, ask Alexa what happens when you mix baking soda with vinegar. Or why a pickled egg will bounce like a super ball.”
12. Save your voice
When there are multiple devices around the home, you can also use some voice assistants as an intercom system. For instance, if you have an Amazon Echo in the kitchen with an Echo Dot located in the playroom upstairs, you can “drop in” to let the kids know dinner is ready without having to leave the stove (or strain your vocal chords). Google’s Broadcast feature works similarly.
Bethany Goldszer, mom of two and director of College Counseling at Stand Out College Prep, says, “Once I tried that feature to call the kids and my husband for dinner, I was hooked. Even when leaving for work, I can use the Alexa app to page into the living room to let my husband know I am on my way home. It’s more reliable than calling by phone in the event he doesn’t hear it ringing. When Alexa is being paged, she makes a loud sound.”
Kids today are growing up in a time when technology rules — and that can be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on how we spin it.
“I am concerned that my children are inheriting a world that devalues authentic human relationships,” Goldszer says. “Yet I strive to teach them that modern technologies are tools that can make our lives easier. Alexa is not a substitute for mom, but she helps me do my job better.”