Sometimes, I'll hear the voice of my four-year-old daughter in the other room, and I'll wonder, who is she talking to? And then I'll realise, oh, it's Google Home, the wifi-connected, voice-controlled smart speaker that has become her little buddy. (Yes, I realise how weird that sentence sounds.)
The future is now, and there are many ways that Google Home can help and entertain kids. They just need to begin any command or question with "Hey Google" or "OK Google."
Here are some ideas to get started. (Note: Look out for similar guides for other smart assistants soon.)
Home can make phone calls, which is handy for kids who don't yet have phones. Also, if they have their own Google account with contacts, you can add it so that when they say, "Hey Google, call Dad," Home will distinguish their voice and ring their dad, not your dad.
Get Homework Help
Google Home is able to ... Google. Kids can ask questions they're stumped on, and it will find answers from trustworthy sources. For instance: Hey Google, how many different shark species are alive today? Hey Google, how far aways is the moon? Hey Google, how do you spell 'extraterrestrial'? It even tackles questions you might not hear every day. Hey Google, what's the gestation period for camels? (It's around 410 days, in case you're curious. Oof.)
We played Mad Libs with Google Home and it was silly fun, resulting in a story about nuns with sticky armpits. There are also other simple games kids can play: Hangman, Ding Dong Coconut (a memory game where you associate words with sounds), the Name Game (you start with a name and then come up with words that rhyme with it), Magic Door (a choose-your-own adventure game), Akinator the Genie (a character guessing game) and Magic 8 Ball.
To further stretch kids' brains, there are loads of quizzes, including ones on American Presidents and maths. The most elaborate game seems to be "I'm Feeling Lucky," a trivia show complete with a buzzer, audience reactions and quippy one-liners from the host. It supports multiple players, making it a fun family night activity.
Saying, "Hey Google, tell me a human story," or "Hey Google, tell me a summer story" will play an interview with a real person from a StoryCorps collection. A great way to introduce kids to those with experiences different from their own. You can also hear an extract from a Harry Potter book.
Settle a Sibling Argument
Kids can't decide who gets to choose the night's movie or test the new scooter first? Flip a virtual coin. Just say, "Hey Google, flip a coin." Done. No more complaining that it was a trick spin or that it bounced off Mum's hand. There's also a virtual dreidel and virtual dice if you want to get fancy.
Home knows how to (mildly) party. It can tell jokes ("What is a sea monster's favourite snack? Ships and dip." Da-dum-bum, chhhhh.) It can also make animal noises, sing songs and beatbox (or, well, it tries.)
Turn on Captions
If your kid is watching a connected TV, say, "Hey Google, turn on subtitles (or captions)." An easy way to help them gain reading skills.
When kids need some down time, ask Home to open Headspace. It will play one of three different free meditation sessions that are only two-minutes long.