“Alexa, how do you spell instrument? i-n-s-t-r- Alexa! Spell instrument. u-m-e-n-t,” my eight year old lays sprawled out on the floor surrounded by colored pencils, Calico Critters and their teeny-tiny musical intruments, and a blank book in which she’s writing a story about those to critters and the concert they’re putting on tonight. Our Amazon Echo Dot is by her side.
“Alexa, how do you spell auditorium?”
I smile and leave the room, knowing that we’ll all be treated to a read-aloud soon.
And a read-aloud from this particular kiddo is extra special. My third child — the 8yo — is a struggling reader. We suspect either dyslexia or a processing disability, but haven’t gone through formal testing at this point. She has been assessed and diagnosed with anxiety and sensory processing disorder.
“Writing is an exploration. You start from nothing and learn as you go.” ~ E. L. Doctorow📝 . I don’t teach writing. There… I said it. I’m a writer and reader who adores the written word above most things. But I don’t teach my kids writing. ✍️ . Despite the fact that I don’t teach writing, most of my kids are writers. They see themselves as people with things to share. They write stories and plays and lists and schedules and reports. They write all day long, and they share their writing with anyone who will listen. ✏️ . They’re funny, clever, and full of cool ideas. And all I do is leave blank books, spiral notebooks, pens, colored pencils, and markers all around and spell an occasional word. 🗒 . And I listen. 👂🏻 . Writers want to share their stories and know that what they have to share is valid and worth it. Don’t stress about the nouns and verbs and conjugations, mamas. Revel in read alouds and shared stories and scribbled on a blank page. You’re raising writers. 💕 . Share your little writers too & join in with the #raisinglifelonglearners January photo challenge. 📝💕📝💕
And Alexa is helping her gain confidence.
I was hesitant to order an Amazon Echo at first. Honestly… the idea of a device waiting for the “wake up word” and listening all the time? It’s just creepy. But, we’ve gotten into listening to audible books more and more as a family, and I was planning to buy a bluetooth speaker to play the books from my library. I decided to get an Echo instead.
And I’m so glad I did.
The truth is, actually, that I ordered the Amazon Echo Dot on Black Friday and handed it to my husband when it came in the mail and told him he could give it to me for my birthday the next week. Cheating perhaps… but it’s a way to make sure I get something I can use instead of more fuzzy sleepy socks and another candle. This is marriage after 20 years…
AlexaSchooling | How We Use Alexa for Learning
It’s funny, really, that I didn’t order the Echo Dot to be used in our homeschool. It was a totally selfish purchase. I wanted to be able to listen to a favorite podcast while doing the dishes or making a(nother!) meal, and I wanted to be able to say, “Alexa, play Wonder from our Audible library” from across the room. SO much easier than handing over my phone and connecting it to a bluetooth speaker.
But I didn’t count on all the great ways my kids would find to use it IN their homeschooling. And, isn’t that the way of it? If we get out of our own way (and theirs) they’ll find amazing ways to learn about everything.
They’re using Alexa for:
- Spelling: All the kids have taken turns asking Alexa to spell words, though if I’m honest, none of them melt my heart as much as that 8yo struggling reader does when she uses it.
- Probability: The kids found that they can ask Alexa to “roll a die” or “pick a card” and have been found charting the results and comparing them over several sessions to see what numbers and cards come up most often. What?! Who says math has to be taught with a text book?
- Weather: I was tired of reminding the kids what the weather would be like each day to help them figure out what they should wear — and they fought me on the clothing choices anyway — so now I send them to Alexa and she reports the weather and they choose their clothes accordingly. It’s kind of fun to hear them ask about weather in other parts of the country, too, and sigh over places they’d rather be.
- Timer: We need timers set many times during the day — when one is on the computer and another one wants to use it, when we need to be loading up the van to go somewhere, to know when to take the cookies out of the oven, to help a certain child know when to end the conversation so mommy can take a break… Alexa makes it easy.
- Math: My younger two use Alexa to help them practice skip counting and to compute simple calculations.
- Dictionary/Thesaurus: Did you know that you can ask Alexa to define words and give you synonyms for them too? My kids use this feature when they’re writing or trying to use new challenge words in sentences throughout the day.
- Music: We use Alexa extensively for music. The kids can ask her to play a sampling of a composer’s work if we’re doing music appreciation. They can play songs they love for an impromptu dance party — It’s Raining Tacos, anyone?
- Research: My kids ask a lot of questions. About everything. And I don’t always know the answers to their questions, much to their frustration. They now have a go-to resource they can sit by and ask all the things they’re dying to know right this minute. The cool thing about that, though, is I’ve seen the kids using those blank books we love so much to write nonfiction books about the animals or topics they’re “researching” through Alexa. When a kiddo is voluntarily writing a report, I call it a win.
- Audio Books: This was my initial reason for getting the Amazon Echo Dot in the first place. We love our Audible subscription. I use the credits each month to buy expensive audio books that I want to have in my library, like the Harry Potter books, and then watch for discounts on other books to add for a few dollars here and there. We all listen, doodle, craft, play a game, etc. each day. It’s relaxing and saves my voice.
- Podcasts: This is a newer addition to our homeschool. I’ve listened to podcasts for awhile, my husband is a huge fan of audio content, and my kids are loving several shows right now. We can ask Alexa to pull up podcasts we love and listen over lunch or snacks.
Pssst! You can grab a cheat sheet with all these ideas ready for you to print and post near your Echo. Just enter your email below and I’ll send it over to you!
AlexaSchooling | Fun Alexa Skills for Kids
I have to admit that the Amazon Echo can do a bunch of cool things through the add-on Alexa Skills users can activate either through the app or just by telling her to open them. Some of our favorites include:
- The Magic Door: This is a choose your own adventure story skill that kids can follow along with. I haven’t loved all the stories, and they definitely need to add more, but it was fun for awhile.
- Spelling Bee: Alexa can challenge kids to a spelling bee and adjust it to their age-level. Super cool — and way better than a spelling book!
- Hangman: Another great way to practice spelling skills without a spelling program.
- Jokes: Alexa tells jokes. You can ask her to tell you a joke, or specify that you’d like a knock knock joke. My kids love this, and it’s great for a little brain break when we need one.
- Cat/Dinosaur/Dog Facts: Alexa has a skill for each of these topics and literally has thousands of different facts related to one of those three animals. “Alexa, enable Dog Facts Skill. Alexa, tell me a dog fact.” And on and on and on… Go! Drink that cup of coffee while the kids are being peppered with facts by Alexa!
- Twenty Questions: Now they can play the game with someone who won’t become numb with the monotony.
- Simon Says: This is another great brain break skill. Break up activities with this classic game.
These are just some of the Alexa Skills we’ve discovered and use during our day. I’m sure there are more and that I’ll add to this list regularly.
As for that super sweet struggling reader? Pop on over one afternoon and you’ll probably find her working on her next story — with her co-writer, Alexa.