I didn’t think that we were going to be one of those houses that was going to get an Alexa. I was wrong. We now have one in almost every room of the house. The voice-controlled speaker provides more than just a place to stream music or ask ridiculous questions. Over the course of virtual learning, we discovered that this simple Internet-enabled AI was indispensable in helping our kids (and us) with our executive functioning skills.
Executive functioning is how your brain manages its resources. In a busy family, our executive functioning as parents is frequently maxed out. There are so many details to remember. Each kid has a different pick-up schedule after school. Meetings that we need to remember to log into. Or even just keeping track of what we need at the grocery store.
Having a house with smart speakers scattered all over it, we’re able to offload some of our executive functioning to Alexa. This frees up cognitive resources to think about other things, like what should we have for dinner tonight or are the kids enjoying their after-school activities?
While this post focuses on Alexa, many of these ideas are probably transferable to Google Home or even Siri. The power of the smart speaker is that it doesn’t rely on having a personal smartphone. Instead, it’s room-based since each device needs to be plugged in.
Alarms and Routines
In our smart home, every Echo Dot or Echo Show doubles as an alarm clock. This helps us keep smartphones out of bedrooms and allows us to centralize the alarms for everyone. Need extra help getting out of bed? It’s easy for us to adjust alarms earlier or later or even add additional alarms for a specific child in her room.
The routines feature in the Echo takes the alarms to a higher level. Lights attached to smart switches can be programmed to turn on at the same time or just after an alarm goes off. One child even has her dimmer lights gradually getting brighter over a 15 minute period. This is just scraping the surface of what you can do with routines. Think of them as simple if/then statements that you can use with a variety of triggers.
This feature was instrumental for us during virtual learning. Naturally, transitions for the kids, particularly the younger ones who couldn’t read, always happened when the adults were in meetings that were difficult to excuse themselves from. We used the reminders as a way to nudge each child to get on to Zoom for class. The reminders can be set through an Echo or directly in the app. Unlike an alarm, reminders include a message like, “log into your reading class.” Now, we use them to nudge the kids to put their phones back in our central charging area before bedtime, take medications in the morning or evening, and even take out the trash.
One of the parenting habits that I hate is yelling in the house for the kids. Invariably, the yelling increases my anger and irritability as I shout over and over for someone to come into the kitchen. And, because I’m yelling, it’s likely that the target of my yelling will come downstairs shouting also.
The Echo has two features that are allowing us to reduce how much yelling is going on in the house. The first, “dropping in,” allows you to call from one Echo to another or from the Alexa app to an Echo. We use this when we need to get the attention of a single child, often when we want to check in on someone who seems to have vanished for a while.
The other feature that has cut down on yelling is announcements. Announcements are heard on all the devices in the house (including any Kindles). This is great for announcing that it’s dinner time or that we’re having a family meeting.
Alexa, Please Call Mommy
We were a little nervous when we got rid of our home phone line. With multiple cell phones in the house, though, it seemed like an unnecessary expense. Plus, no one was actually calling it. Yet, with young kids at home, we wanted them to be able to communicate outside the house. Thankfully, you can use the Echo to call a cellphone or even 911. It’s not a perfect home phone replacement, but it’s pretty close.
Shopping and Taks Lists
Not surprisingly, you can use an Echo to keep track of your shopping list. This handy feature allows us to just ask Alex to add something to the list. The kids have figured this out and add things all the time to the shopping list. Not of all of it gets purchased, of course!
You can also use the Echo to keep track of tasks or to-dos that you need to get done. Just ask Alexa to add a task to your list or remind you what’s on the list. Plus, you can even ask it to create a sticky note to see on an Echo Show or in the phone app.
The Echo is more than just the built-in features from Amazon. There are plenty of third-party skills that you can add. For example, we can control our robot vacuum from the Echo. The kids use the Echo to help them with spelling tricky words when writing or looking up facts that they have questions about.
Have you added a smart speaker to your home? How is it helping you and your family?
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