Raise your hand if this sounds familiar: It’s five minutes until your third grade distance learning class, but just as you’re about to make sure she’s called in her Zoom call, something comes up with your own work.
Thirty minutes later, you finally go over to your daughter’s room, only to find her scattered on the floor and looking at her iPad. At the same time, her Chromebook – the one she uses for zoom calls – is securely closed. Yes, she just missed another class, and you (bad parent!) Let that happen.
Keeping your children on track when juggling your own responsibilities must be one of the biggest challenges with distance learning, distance learning, virtual learning or whatever you want to call it. We have put together some smart home solutions that can help your classroom leaders ̵1; or at least, help you help them – manage their schedules during what will probably be many more months of learning at home.
Google Family Bell
There is nothing like the pretty translucent ringing of a school bell to keep young students on track during the day, and unfortunately, a beeping alarm clock does not completely cut it. Go to Google, which recently unveiled a new assistant feature that does the next best thing.
With Family Bell, you can create clocks – or at least Google Assistant’s expressed clock versions – that ring on your various Google smart speakers and screens. You can use the Google Assistant app on your phone to set up daily or weekly notifications, and you can pick and choose which of your Google devices you want the message to appear on.
To get started, open the Google Assistant app, click on your icon in the upper right corner and press Assistant, then scroll down and tap family Clock. Another option: Just say “Hello Google, create a family watch” to one of your Google speakers, and Google Assistant will send a shortcut from Family Bell to your phone.
While Alexa does not have a Family Bell function per se, the reminder function does basically the same thing. Just create a reminder for Alexa to read a reminder to any or all of your Amazon Echo speakers or screens at a specific time, which can be repeated daily or weekly. Even before the pandemic meeting, I regularly used Alexa’s reminders to remind my daughter that it was time to get ready for school (yes, personal school) or that iPad time (a sacred ritual in my eight-year-old’s life) was over for the afternoon.
To set an Alexa reminder, just tap the Alexa app, tap More> Reminders & Alarms, Press reminders , then press “+” to create the reminder.
Remember that Alexa will say what’s in the “title” field, so I used to have Alexa address my daughter directly, as in “Hey Claire, time to turn off the iPad and put on your shoes.”
I would advise against setting too many Alexa reminders. I made that mistake myself, and pretty soon I found my daughter’s Echo Dot banished to a corner of her room, with the power cord disconnected.
Smart light timers and schedules
A blaring alarm is not the only way to keep your children engaged. If you have smart lights in your home, you can (probably depending on the brand) have them turned on, off, change colors or increase their brightness to signal a new class, lunchtime or recess. You can (again, very likely) also trigger disposable timers that make your lights flash when time is up.
Daily and weekly schedules are staples when it comes to smart lighting, and most smart lamp brands let you set schedules within their respective apps, or (for the lights that support it) you can create Alexa and Google Assistant routines that control your lights automatically .
For example, you can set schedules on Philips Hue lights by pressing Routines> Other routines in the Hue app. You can then choose which lights to check (including individual light bulbs, rooms and lighting zones), choose start and end times and decide what happens when the scheduled time arrives – say at lunch you can set the lights in your child’s room to switch from a cool “concentrate” scene to a more playful shade of green (provided the smart bulbs in the room can change colors).
You can also use Alexa and Google Assistant to take care of compatible smart lights. For Alexa, press More> routines to get started, or press routines on the Google Home Google Assistant app. One of the benefits of using Alexa or Google Assistant to set lighting routines is that you can let them trigger other events at the same time – for example, they can play music or even the sound of a school bell to coincide with the lights. Alexa users may also want to consider Amazon Echo Glow, a $ 30 globe-shaped smart light designed specifically for children.
Finally, occasional smart light hours can be effective if you say you want to give your child another five minutes of iPad time. With the Philips Hue app, just tap the Routines tab and then Timers> Create hours. You can then name your new timer, choose which rooms or lighting zones you want the timer to control, set a time limit and then decide what happens when the timer ends. Among the options: Make the selected lights flash, turn them off or switch to a new lighting scene.
If your distance learning children need a message from the principal’s office to get their attention, both Alexa and Google Assistant can help.
You can use Alexa to instantly announce all Echo speakers and screens – perfect for calling everyone to lunch or demanding the presence of any students who have gone fake. Just open the Alexa app, press Communicate> Announce, say or write your message and then press the big blue arrow to send.
For Google Assistant, open the Google Home app, press seconded button, then say whatever you want to announce. You can send the announcement to all your Google smart speakers or screens, or specifically to a device or room.
This story, “Distance Learning: 4 Smart Technical Solutions to Keep Kids on Track” was originally published by