Okay, moment of truth. Do you have a smart speaker or Alexa in your house? If you answered yes and live in the United States, then you are one of more than 113 million people in America who use these new smart devices. And, if you answered no, today’s episode may just convince you to get one because there are some really cool things that smart speakers can do to enhance your homeschool.
By the way, at the end of the podcast today, I’m going to share how you can get a FREE printable cheat sheet to help you easily remember everything we talk about as this episode is a doozy. It’s my way of saying “Thank you so much for listening to the Homeschool 5 in 10.”
So back to smart speakers. We were given our first Amazon Echo Show a few years ago by my very techie brother as a way to keep in touch long distance. During the height of the COVID pandemic, it was a lifesaver, allowing us to keep in touch with family literally half-way across the world as well as only a few hours away.
Launched in 2014, the name “Alexa” has quickly taken over many households. As of 2021, nearly 1-in-3 Americans possess smart speakers and of those users, nearly 70% use Amazon Echo devices. That means approximately 94.2 million Alexa devices are currently in use today! And would you know it, as a result, there’s even been over 250,000 marriage proposals given on Alexa.
While I can’t quite wrap my mind around that one yet, there are a lot of creative ways to use Alexa in your homeschool, so let’s talk about a few.
Keep Track of Time
To begin, Alexa is great for keeping track of time.
Probably one of the simplest things to use Alexa for is a timer. “Alexa, set a laundry timer for one hour.” We live in an older house which means our washer and dryer are in the garage. As such, we can’t hear the laundry timer so we set one on Alexa every day. The nice thing about using Alexa for timers is that you can label them. And, if you follow a time block schedule, setting timers on Alexa is a great way to stay on track. We often have several timers going at once throughout the day. We use timers for baking, laundry, piano practice, timed tests, recess, quiet reading time, and more. Since every timer has a label, it makes it easy to know which timer is ending when Alexa says, “Your laundry timer is done.”
Setting alarms on Alexa is also very simple. “Alexa, set an alarm for 7 a.m. every weekday.” I used to get frustrated with those alarm setting buttons on traditional clocks. After figuring out which buttons to push to change the time, if I went too far, I’d have to click all the way through until I got back to the time I wanted. With Alexa, it is super easy to set an alarm in a few words. And yes, you can choose to wake up to music, the news, the weather, a simple beep…you name it. So right from the beginning, Alexa helps get our day started on the right foot.
Similar to both timers and alarms, are reminders. “Alexa, set a reminder for 11 a.m. to pick up my daughter.” You know the life—you get going with school, and you realize you forgot a scheduled event. Alexa can help with that. By setting a reminder, it’s kind of like an alarm, but it’s labeled. I like using these to remind me to pick up my kids from extra-curricular activities or to take them to lessons or to remember to get on a Zoom call. You can even set reminders to go off on a weekly basis like an alarm. “Alexa, set a reminder for every Tuesday at 10 a.m. to take my daughter to piano lessons.” I am not one to watch the clock throughout the day. Once we get going with school, we are usually focused. As such, reminders help me to remember what is important without losing focus on other things in the meantime.
If you have certain things you like to do on a regular basis, you may also want to consider creating a routine. To create a routine, you will need to open the Alexa app on your phone, select more and click the plus sign. From there you will be able to follow the steps in the app to create a routine. Routines basically tell Alexa to complete a whole series of events at once.
For example I’ve created a school starts soon routine which included everything from adjusting the volume on the device to reminding the girls to switch their laundry to playing a 5-minute playlist so that they know exactly how long they have until they need to be seated and ready for school.
Another routine I have frequently used is titled “start my day.” During this routine all I have to say is “Alexa, start my day” and she will read the day’s events on my calendar, play the news and verse of the day via my flash briefing skills (I’ll talk more about this in a minute), report the weather, and start my favorite Christian playlist.
Listen to Music, Podcasts, Audiobooks
In addition to keeping track of time, Alexa is also great for listening to things.
If you have an Amazon Prime Music account, you have access to a HUGE music library. We use this library to create playlists, find educational songs to learn rote facts like the presidents or math facts, and study music by different composers.
When my youngest daughter was completing Encompass Preschool Curriculum I made a playlist that included all the recommended music, and we would often have Alexa shuffle that playlist throughout the day. We have also created playlists to motivate us during our 15-minute end-of-the-day pick-up time, exercise, and even get ready for bed. And, there’s nothing like a fun song to get in a short dance break after a difficult subject.
That said, listening to Amazon Prime Music isn’t the only option. You can also use Alexa as a Bluetooth speaker to listen to music on another Bluetooth enabled device or make videos on another device louder. You can also pair Alexa with Plex, Spotify, Pandora, or other similar music networks to play personal playlists or songs from your computer. Just say “Alexa, connect to Plex. Alexa, ask plex to play my preschool playlist” and the music will begin.
You can even listen to podcasts on Alexa. To listen to the Homeschool 5 in 10 just say, “Alexa, play the Homeschool 5 in 10 podcast.” Your family may also enjoy listening to a fun kid podcast during breakfast like “Stuff You Missed in History Class” or “But Why? A Podcast for Curious Kids.” Alexa makes that easy.
If you have an Audible subscription you can listen to audiobooks directly on Alexa. Or, if you prefer to listen audiobooks from your local library using Overdrive, connect Alexa via Bluetooth to your phone for easier listening. You can still play and pause your audiobook from Alexa once connected.
Watch Movies and Documentaries
For those that have Echo Show devices, you can also watch movies on Alexa. Although I find the screen size a bit small most of the time, you can also stream movies from Amazon Prime, Reuters, NBC, and YouTube. So if you are getting ready for breakfast or needing to show a short documentary during school, you might find that Alexa is an easier way to view something.
Besides all that, Alexa is just smart. If you are having a discussion in history and forget who the president was at that time, just ask Alexa. “Alexa, who was the president of the United States in 1875?” Or, if you are reading a book and don’t the meaning of a word, just say, “Alexa, what is the meaning of flabbergasted?” She can also spell words, find synonyms, and serve as a calculator. If your child is doing probably problems in math, you can ask Alexa to pick a number, roll a dice, flip a coin, or pick a card.
As the leader in voice-operated personal assistants, Alexa also has over 100,000 skills available that you can enable on your devices. Skills are basically apps for smart speakers. With skills you can play games, hear the news, learn interesting trivia, and more. A few of our favorite educational skills are Queen’s Mathematician which turns math facts into a fun rescue game for early elementary students, This Day in History which shares information about historical events happening on the same day in history, and Mad Libs which is an auditory version of the original game.
You can also group news skills to play on a single command with “flash briefings.” Currently I have Daily Bible Quote and Fox News included in my flash briefing. This is then incorporate into my “start my day” routine, as mentioned earlier, but you can also start your flash briefing with the command, “Alexa, what’s my flash briefing?” To set up a flash briefing, go to settings>Alexa Preferences>News>Household Preferences>Flash Briefing.
Skills don’t have to be all brain. They can also be fun . It would take me too long to go into a complete list of skills that my kids have found over the last few years so be sure to download that FREE cheat sheet at the end of today’s podcast which includes a super-long list of Homeschool 5 in 10 approved skills. That said, a few of our favorites include Lemonade Stand, where children learn about managing a business through the management of an imaginary lemonade stand, Escape the Room which is basically a virtual escape room, and Animal Workout where kids get a little exercise in as they act out certain animals.
Just from the titles of those skills you can see that Alexa offers a variety of options for a variety of ages. My 13-year-old enjoys Escape the Room while my 4-year-old likes Animal Workout. You can use these fun Alexa skills as an incentive for when your children finish their work, as brain breaks, or to occupy little ones for short bit while you help older children. Keep in mind that younger children are not always understood by Alexa so you may want to set a few rules up front regarding her use.
A Few Final Thoughts
While it may sound like I’ve talked a lot about what Alexa can do, believe it or not, we’ve only graced the tip of the iceberg. You can also use Alexa to make phone calls, make video calls, shop for school supplies, groceries, and other Amazon products, create shopping and to-do lists, control other smart devices like a Roomba, TV, or lights. You can even use Alexa to find recipes and help you cook step-by-step. If you have an Echo Show in a baby’s bedroom, you can “drop in” to watch your baby in a similar way to a video baby monitor.
If you have multiple devices around the house, you can use them to call everyone to a meal, make announcements, or even chat from room-to-room like a home speaker system. There’s no longer a need to yell up the stairs to announce that supper is ready.
And, if life is starting to get stressful, you may just need to ask Alexa to tell you a kid-friendly joke to break up the tension.
If you don’t have an Alexa device yet, there are several different types—Dots are the cheapest, and what I recommend for bedrooms as they do not have the video feature. These little devices only run $29.99—and you can often catch them cheaper when on sale. Personally, we really like the dots with the clock feature as they include an LED time display, but these cost a little more. There are also Echo Shows which are video-enabled devices. These are helpful when using skills with visual elements such as video calls, looking up the weekly weather, researching a topic, and watching videos. These come in a variety of sizes from 5 to 10 inches and cost anywhere from around $50 to $250 depending on the size.
Alexa Cheat Sheet
Make it simple. Get a FREE printable Alexa cheat sheet listing everything we talked about in today’s episode and more!