Amazon has announced a new feature for its Kids Plus service on Fire tablets and Echo smart speakers called Reading Sidekick.
Designed to help kids improve their reading skills and ability; the Reading Sidekick allows kids to read either physical or digital books along with Alexa by taking turns at reading the books aloud with the digital assistant.
The Reading Assistant is included in the Kids Plus service that comes with the Kids edition Fire tablets and Echo speakers or as a $2.99 per month ($4.99 without Amazon Prime); or $69 per year ($99 without Prime) subscription plan and is available starting June 29th.
The Reading Sidekick works with most Alexa-enabled devices; including the Echo, Echo Dot, Echo Dot Kids, Echo Plus, and Echo Show.
Once the Amazon Kids mode is enabled on the smart speaker or smart display (through the Alexa smartphone app); a child can then say “Alexa, let’s read” to start the Reading Sidekick.
They will then be prompted to choose a book, either physical or digital on a Fire tablet or in the Kids Plus app on other devices; opt to read a lot, a little, or take turns; and then begin reading the book.
Amazon says that “over 700” books are available in the system now, with more releasing each week.
Once a book is started, Alexa will listen to the child’s reading and automatically assist with pronunciations or other challenges while reading the book.
It will provide encouragement through phrases like “good job!” when a child finishes a book or gets through a particularly tricky section.
In the “read a little” mode, it will take the lion’s share of the reading; expecting the child to follow along in the book and then read one page or paragraph every few pages.
The “read a lot” mode is the opposite: the child will be expected to read four pages consecutively; with Alexa reading one after that.
The “take turns” mode is simple alternation of reading a single page or paragraph between the child and Alexa.
What the Sidekick doesn’t do is follow up with any sort of comprehension questions to see how much the child retained or understood from the book.
There’s no test or quiz component; it’s best to think of this as edutainment than a replacement for a proper learning curriculum.
The Reading Sidekick works with both Alexa smart speakers and smart displays; but it won’t show the text of a book on a smart display’s screen, and instead uses that real estate for book recommendations.
Alexa can also provide recommendations on a basic Echo speaker; so it’s not necessary to use the Reading Sidekick with a screen. Parents can view the books their kids have been reading on the Kids Plus web dashboard.
Amazon says that it is also starting to roll out Alexa Voice Profiles for Kids this week.
This will allow the Echo to recognize the voice of a specific child and then personalize the experience to them; which can be helpful when multiple children are sharing a single Echo device.
If the child is speaking to an Echo that doesn’t have the Kids mode enabled and Alexa recognizes their voice, it will switch into Kids mode and provide age-appropriate answers; filter explicit music, limit calls and messages to approved contacts, and limit access to approved skills.
Parents will be able to set up to four unique voice profiles for their kids in the Alexa app.
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