We recently added a Google Home to our household. We’ve all been having alot of fun with it and I think it’s very useful for families with children. The device is relatively family friendly, and my kids love having it–so do I.
Ways we use Google Home with Kids in our house
- Timers: I think the timer feature is one of the “killer app” aspects of the Google Home. You simply say something like “Ok Google, set a timer for 30 minutes for Piano,” and it will start running a timer. The cool thing is that you can have as many timers going at the same time as needed. So cooking timers and music practice timers for two kids can all be going together. The time left can be checked by asking “Ok Google, how much time is left on the piano timer.” The convenience of using this feature, combined with the legitimacy of a computer dutifully timing something means less fudging of practice time. The rule in our house is that if it isn’t timed, the practice didn’t happen.
- Games and jokes: There are lots of fun games to be played on the Google Home. For example, Mad Libs. The Google Home will walk you through the Mad Libs interview process and then read back your mad lib. We’ve been having a great time playing Mad Libs as a family. There are plenty of other games it can play as well.
My favorite is trivia. “Where was Andy Warhol born?” Not exactly a kid’s question, but fun, nonetheless.There are other kinds of games too–including the “Crystal Ball,” the online version of the 8 ball. You ask a question and get blythe answers like “all signs point to yes.”…and the jokes. So many jokes. Just ask Google Home to tell you a joke, and you get one of hundreds of jokes, not so funny sometimes, but others, pretty good. An example just handed down from Google is “Why can’t you trust an Atom?” “Because they make up literally everything.”It will also be happy to sing you a ditty if you ask “Do you know the muffin man?”There are plenty of other games provided by third parties. One of my girls’ favorites is called “Akinator.”
When you give the command to “talk to Akinator,” Google Home connects you with a service that guesses which literary character you’re thinking of by asking you a series of questions until it is able to narrow it down. There are also plenty of academic games such as mental math and spelling quizzes.
- Stories. Google Home can tell fiction and non-fiction stories, and recite poems. Some of them are pretty good–occasionally my kids will even listen to them 🙂
- Controlling Lights – We have two sets of controllable devices for our lights: a few Philips Hue light bulbs and a Wemo dimmer switch from Belkin that controls our basement lights.
In both cases, they are a bit expensive, but the cool and convenience factor is worth it. At the basic level, you can control the lights from an app on your mobile phone. You can turn them on and off, slowly bring up the lights over time…if you have a Google Home, you can just ask Google’s assistant to turn them on for you. Commands like “Turn on the light in Mary’s room” or “set the light in the living room to 50%” are fun to use.
For even more fun, you can connect IFTTT to your Home device to add additional commands. For example, Philips Hue bulbs come in white or colors. The colored bulbs can be any one of thousands of colors that you set via the app or Google Home. You can use IFTTT to flash the colors of your favorite professional sports team when they score a touchdown, run, or goal.
You can also write your own commands and the responses. So when my daughter whines I say “Ok Google, my daughter is whining!” Google responds with my daughter’s name and says “stop whining. You are 8 years old. I am only a few months old, and I don’t whine…” and then it blinks the lights for added effect. If you have the colored Philips Hue bulbs you can ask Google to do things such as “Ok Google, set the living room lights to Christmas colors…”
- By the way, you can do some really useful things with IFTTT and Google Home, for instance it can log things into a Google Spreadsheet for you such as keeping track of work hours. By the way again, IFTTT can also control smart outlets such as Wemo. Follow the link to see that it’s just a gadget that plugs into your existing wall outlets, but it can be controlled via your mobile phone, Google Home, and in fact, IFTTT.
- Controlling a TV. That’s right, it’s great for controlling Netflix and chromecast compatible televisions for that matter. If you have a TV near the Google Home, it’s most useful. You can ask Google Home to put a certain video or photograph on the TV screen for you.
- Getting facts. Google’s search engine has lots of facts and information. Things come up at dinner. Google knows the answers. “How far away is the moon from Earth?” “What’s the fastest land animal?” “What sound does a horse make?” (It answers that one with a sound!) Its also great for homework help. It can answer questions, but also help kids practice math problems, spelling words, and more.
- Music. It is fantastic for music. I am amazed at how quickly it can pull up any song or type of music I can think of…and that my kids can think of. We’ve subscribed to YouTube Red (Google Home came with a six month free subscription) and so we’re getting tons of advertisement-free music. You may be wondering if there is any way to restrict the content on the Google Home so that the kids don’t hear anything “adult” on YouTube. In fact, there is a setting in Google Home called “YouTube Restricted Mode” which allows you to “Hide songs and videos that may contain inappropriate content.”
- Relaxation. Google Home has a library of relaxing sounds such as forest sounds and beaches. We turn this on during dinner or homework sometimes.
- Recipes. Google Home has access to a huge library of recipes that it will walk you through step-by-step. This is fun for the kids, and sometimes can be quite helpful in general.
- Alarm Clock. This is the most flexible, easy-to-use alarm clock your kids will will ever have. “Ok Google. Set an alarm for 8:30am with School of Fish on YouTube.”
- Calendars and reminders. Maybe this isn’t so helpful for kids, especially younger kids who aren’t as concerned with future events, however this feature certainly does help parents. Google Home allows you to set up calendar events and reminders for a future date. Busy parents will appreciate not having to stop what they’re doing to update the family calendar.
Looking for ways to control your kid’s screen time? See my post about parental controls for kid’s devices it includes a small review of the Google WiFi device.