Get ready to make technology your household parenting ally with these storytime, bedtime, and please-child-give-me-some-alone-time tips.

By Libby Ryan
Photo illustration by Sarina Finkelstein; (products) Courtesy of Google and Amazon

When you need to get dinner on the table or fold some laundry or even just make yourself a cup of coffee without your little ones begging you for today’s millionth rendition of “Baby Shark” or little hands reaching for your beverage, then it’s time to use your smart home technology for the hack that years of innovation have been building up to: Momentary babysitter.

If you're a smart tech family, your home is probably set up with either Amazon Alexa on an Echo or the Google Assistant on a Home or Nest. For those without a firm brand loyalty to one or the other, the Wink Hub or Samsung’s Smart Things Hub can connect all sorts of devices so you don’t have to stick to strictly Amazon or Google across the board. Once you’ve chosen which device to talk to throughout your home, try out these tricks to keep your households running smoothly—including keeping those kiddos entertained.

1. Have storytime

You can ask either Google or Alexa to tell a bedtime story (or an anytime story!). Amazon Audible has access to essentially any childhood favorite book, you can get read-aloud time going for any bookworm's tastes. Google’s Read Along program adds sound effects and music to its library of books.

2. Get some homework help

If a child needs a bit of structure to work on their flashcards for Spanish class, you can ask your smart tech to set a timer for a certain amount of study time. You can also ask Alexa to spellcheck tough vocabulary words—Alexa, how do you spell “technology”?—or have Google put on a motivating study playlist—Hey Google, play "Deep Focus" on Spotify.

3. Broadcast to the fam

You know in old movies about what life would be like in the year 2000 and all homes had an intercom system so family members could to talk to each other from room to room? You can have that and it's even better than it was in the Disney Channel Original Movie Smart House (you know you loved that movie, too!). On Google and Amazon devices, you can use your phone or another tech device to broadcast a message to the entire family that will play on all your Amazon or Google assistant-enabled speakers throughout the house. "It's bedtime, y'all."

4. Make a family routine

If your whole house connects to your smart devices, you can create commands around your family routines. For instance, you can dim smart lights and turn on a white noise machine when it's time to start gearing the kids toward bedtime. Amazon Alexa also has a function called "Chompers" that walks kids through the toothbrushing process, with tips, reminders, and even a timer to make sure they hit that ideal two-minute brushing length.

5. Break out some games

For big kids who are budding pop-culture know-it-alls, there are trivia games on both Amazon and Google, including Google’s original trivia creation “I’m Feeling Lucky” that can take multiple players. There are also thousands of games on Alexa available for family game time. Or either assistant’s games are perfect for the siblings who don’t feel like sharing—they can compete instead. Loser takes out the trash.

6. Keep chores on task

Alexa’s Blueprint function allows families to create an entire chore chart. You can make a list of your family members and the tasks that need to be done, and then assign them to the right member of the household. As chores are completed, the chore doer can tell Alexa to “log a chore” to check the job off their chore assignment list.

And Google’s new Assignable Reminders function means you can assign chores to one of your kids: they'll get a notification when you assign the chore and also when the chore needs to be done. AKA, it'll ping them before the trash starts getting near smelly territory.

7. Let tech answer the questions

Sometimes, you just can’t answer any more of your child’s “but why’s?” And that’s okay! One of the hidden joys of a smart device is that kids can turn to it to ask “Alexa, why is the sky blue?” or “Hey Google, what’s 457 times 396?” It’s endless fun and endless information. That’s basically extra credit education right there.

Now, if you’re worried about the content of the infinite information out there, don’t be. You can tailor parental controls on both the Amazon and Google assistants to be age-appropriate for your curious child.

Google's Family Link and Amazon's FreeTime allow parents to set screentime limits, block certain websites, and keep any audiobooks or storytime tales kid-friendly. And if things get dire, parents can lock a kid's screen from their own devices or lock access after a certain time each day. P.S. Both smart systems have ways to shut off auto-pay or require a special password to make any in-app purchases so your child won't accidentally bankrupt you by asking Alexa or Google to buy them unlimited games or Disney movies.

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