Got a few young ones running around? Or a little tyke who's already tech-curious? Why not start them off on their own smart home routines, if you're into that sort of thing.
Connected devices like smart light bulbs and smart speakers can be of immense help when life becomes too overwhelming around the house. For instance, if you need quick homework help, you can defer to a smart speaker with Alexa or the Google Assistant to help fill in the blanks. Or what about setting up smart bulb as a night light that goes off after the kids fall asleep? It saves a bit of energy and helps your child slowly acclimate to the dark.
If you're curious about getting yourself and the kids started with smart devices, here are a few ideas of where to start. Best of all, you don't have to be a technology expert to set these things up.
1. Bring home a digital friend
If you tell anyone you're venturing into smartening up your home, the first suggestion you're likely to hear is to get a smart speaker. For the most part, the leading options—Amazon Echo and Google Home—serve as helpful home controllers if you're using connected devices all throughout the house. But they're also programmed to help answer questions, making them perfect for kids.
If your child needs homework help, for example, you can ask either Alexa or the Google Assistant for straight facts, like "When did the Civil War start?" and "Who was the fourteenth president of the United States?" (That would be Franklin Pierce, by the way—thanks, Google.) Both assistants can also do simple math—questions about addition, subtraction, multiplication tables, square roots, and integers are all things you can ask Alexa or Google.
Want to have some fun too? Alexa and Google also offer games for all ages, though they're not all educational. Google provides a list of commands you can ask the Google Home if you want to have a little fun or test your knowledge, while Amazon offers skills like Kids Trivia you can integrate with Alexa to keep the kids entertained.
2. Scared of the dark? Try a smart bulb
A night light is typically enough for a kid who needs a bit of comfort as she's attempting to fall asleep in her big, dark room. But you can really help alleviate her fears with a smart bulb, some of which are available in color spectrums and can make the bedtime ritual a little more fun with a blue or green hue projected against the wall.
If you're interested in connected bulbs, but want to keep the costs down, consider buying an individual LiFX or TP-Link bulbs ($25 and $30, respectively). Both connect with WiFi rather than requiring a hub like the Philips Hue Lighting system, making it easy to install a single smart bulb in an existing lamp or light fixture. You can set the light on a schedule so it’s on when your kid falls asleep, but doesn’t stay on all night.
3. See how well your kid is sleeping
From what I understand from my friends with kids, bedtime is usually when communication starts to break down. If the smart bulb idea seems too simple of a solution for a complex problem, the REMI sleep companion from Urban Hello might be a better option.
This seemingly anthropomorphic little gadget helps start off the nap and bedtime routine with alerts, lights, and music. There's a display that serves as a clock, and it works as a nightlight too. REMI also allows you to record the sound of your child's sleep—the way some smartphone apps do—and file it away to a sleep diary of sorts so that you can keep track of his nightly habits. There's also an integrated walkie-talkie feature in case they need you, and it doubles as a Bluetooth speaker for playing soothing tunes.
4. Keep them off the internet and focused on homework
Whether your kid has an iPad of their own or an iPod Touch is floating around the house with a corral of games and social networking apps installed, you might want to consider the Circle by Disney to help monitor internet activity around the house.
In addition to its ability to cut off internet usage during certain hours, the small and discreet Circle integrates with your existing internet connection to keep tabs on who is doing what, how much screen time they're engaging in, and how they're spending that time online. Circle also monitors cellular activity, and you only need to install the app on one device to monitor everything in your home.
5. Make it as easy as pressing a button
A funny thing about the Internet-of-Things is that it's really just as simple as pressing a button to perform an action. That button doesn't have to be on your smartphone either. If you want to start giving your child some independence over their own corner of your smart home, you might want to try something like the Logitech Pop. This device can be used to turn on smart bulbs, execute a function on a smart speaker, or turn on the TV. The starter kit isn't prohibitively expensive either; you can purchase two switches and a hub for $100.
Looking for something a little fancier, and even more high-tech? The Knocki turns any surface into a remote for your connected devices. Pre-order one of these if you're looking for more robust controls to help your child do things like turn on a ceiling fan or trigger a security alarm.
6. Keep visual tabs on your kids
You don't need a full-blown security monitoring system if you're just trying to ensure the kids are doing alright playing outside. One Nest Outdoor security camera should suffice for watching the kids from inside the house—if you have a Google Chromecast plugged into your TV, you can even throw the surveillance footage on there and watch in real time.
Of course, if you'd rather avoid the price tag of the Nest, or maybe you'd rather just surveil the play area indoors, this sub-$40 security camera from Yi will do just as well. We thought it was so great we named it the Best Value indoor camera. It records video in 720p and offers two-way audio with a built-in microphone and speaker. Unlike most smart cameras, there's no monthly subscription fee required with the Yi, and you can store all your footage on a microSD card if you want.
Prices are accurate at the time of publication, but may change over time.