Amazon Alexa, how can you help my kid with learning at home?04.05.2019, 11:41
A.I. ‘smart speaker’ assistance in the home is a growing trend, and anyone with an Amazon Alexa may tell you that it still needs work, while in some areas it’s beginning to prove very useful. Firstly, a lot can depend on where you position your speaker, the size of the room and how well the microphone can hear your voice.
Amazon Alexa may not be anywhere near a replacement for real, dynamic human interaction, but there are ways that it can help out, or be put to use that is both fun and educational. It’s quite productive watching your kid think about his/her words and then attempt to articulate clearly towards the device. It’s good communication practice, that’s for sure. However, it’s also interesting (and a bit spooky) to see how kids immediately try to ‘humanise’ the Alexa voice, without understanding that ‘he’ or ‘she’ (depending on your choice) is in no way biological. It’s important to remind them that it’s only just a computer, or robot, at least at this stage(!) Even then, they probably won’t understand this idea. No matter, Alexa etc. when used intelligently, can save time and be put to good use. Already, there are many ‘skills’ that can be downloaded via the mobile app companion.
IS IT CHEATING?
Asking questions and getting immediate responses in the realm of mathematics, spelling, general knowledge, etc: this may feel like cheating but only if it becomes a habit; only if it replaces the mental exercise involved with using formulae or memory to work things out or simply build up knowledge. As ever, balance in life (and especially with kids) is vital to maintain. Let’s look at what’s currently great about Alexa, besides simply laughing at some of its bizarre responses, that can be a quick way to bond or change the subject, and also form a nice source of amusement.
JOKES, ‘THINGS TO TRY’ AND FUN FACTS
Above the age of five, kids will start discovering jokes. Just saying ‘Alexa, tell me a joke’ will provide some mental stimulus, and sometimes actually be funny(!) In fact, there are many little phrases to try out, and these are sent out to Alexa owners via a regular email that includes ‘Things to Try’. Further examples include, “Alexa, give me a tip to reduce my carbon footprint,” or “Alexa, open Riddle of the Day,” or “Give me a nature fact.”
Alexa has a lot of quizzes. This is good news if it ties in with some test that your kids might be preparing for, or if there are related facts on a certain subject they need to brush up on. Amazon Math and 1-2-3 Math offer grade-level-related quizzes. It might help them improve their skills, as long as it doesn’t frustrate them too much.
Let’s also say that your child is into computers. Check out the Computer Fundamentals skill. For budding scientists, there’s the Science Quiz, Chemical Elements to the less intense Kids Quiz. Of course, there’s also everything from Harry Potter to Star Wars.
Try and encourage your kid to write down spellings of words, as Alexa reads out the answer via the command, “Alexa, how do you spell…?” This can be a better way for some kids than using computer-based spell-check or a traditional book-based one because listening and writing skills are employed to achieve an answer. Looking at the result on paper is pretty vital for learning the correct spelling. More simple words (maybe three letters long) could be read out for younger kids.
For learning the meanings of words, Alexa can also be very handy. For example, let’s say your kid stumbles across a new word. Simply asking “Alexa, what does ‘new word’ mean?” and generally a relevant answer emerges. Trouble comes when your kid can’t pronounce this new word, so a completely different answer may emerge.
A related skill is ‘Smart Dictionary’, which actually tries to help kids learn new words. To promote an interest in vocabulary, the Mad Libs skills might show that words can be a lot of fun.
When it comes to new language-learning, Alexa has a lot of potential indeed. It’s possible to see full-blown language courses, daily doses skills and more complex conversation practice emerging. For now, SayHi Language Learning, Lingo Trip (for travel phrases in Europe) and News in Slow (eg. French, for learning comprehension) are good places to start. Any bi-lingual person will tell you how long it can take to pick out the meaning of spoken language when it’s spoken quickly and natively. It’s important to experiment with Alexa Skills to try and find the one that’s right for you, the age of your child, or level of learning. There are other skills like Cleo, which is more quiz-based, that can teach language in alternative (more fun) but still very effective ways.
What about when you have foreign guests visiting? Using an Alexa device might be intrusive, but it can also help break the ice and create a fun ‘intermediary’ for discussion that at least comes to the rescue if communication breaks down!
Alexa is always primed for a discussion on science. This can really enhance what a textbook might struggle to explain for some kids, or in some cases. Listening to a short explanation may help to bring extra clarity to a scientific practice or process. You could try getting them to ask “Alexa, what is the water cycle?” to get an alternative overview. If you have an Echo with a screen, it might even display visuals to make it even clearer.
This is just a direct way, because Alexa can help in many others via Skills. Try Busy Hands or Science Kid Radio. The first is geared towards activities and making experiments (including potato-based batteries!) while the latter promotes more general interest in science. Experimenting with new Alexa Skills could be an experiment in itself, where your kid could help review them.
Don’t forget that Alexa accesses the large library of Amazon Audible books, and Kindle. It might also come to the rescue if your (older) kid is having trouble reading, understanding or just finishing a - perhaps more onerous - text. Suddenly listening to a famous actor reading ‘Treasure Island’ in a salty voice (or even by some actual authors themselves) might work better or to read along to. It could help students catch up on at least understanding a text. Just bear in mind that, for younger kids particularly, it won’t teach them to read on their own, unless some special Skill is focused on this task. There might also be short ‘companion guides’ they could listen to, that helps them to understand or interpret texts.
OTHER SKILLS TO TRY
Super Nanny - activity ideas
The Magic Door - imaginative adventure
Setting aside some ‘Alexa time’ is recommended. There will be many new apps or skills emerging, with some of them well worth the money, because they can be fun, save time and enhance learning. However, Amazon Alexa is not yet a substitute for teaching or parenting, but it can already be a handy companion or diversion. It’s much better if parents remain present at all times because kids just don’t have the patience to ask the right questions, or use technology effectively, until they’re much older and will, as ever, get easily distracted.
For more info, check out the Amazon Alexa Guide...