Distance learning: 4 smart tech solutions for keeping kids on track

Raise your hand if this sounds familiar: It’s five minutes until your third-grader’s distance learning class, but just as you’re about to make sure she’s dialed into her Zoom call, something comes up with your own work.

Thirty minutes later, you finally head over to your daughter’s room, only to find her sprawled on the floor watching her iPad. Meanwhile, her Chromebook—the one she uses for Zoom calls—is securely shut. Yes, she just missed another class, and you (bad parent!) let it happen.

Keeping your kids on track while juggling your own obligations has to be one of the biggest challenges of distance learning, remote learning, virtual learning or whatever you want to call it. We’ve rounded up a few smart home solutions that can help your grade-schoolers—or at least, help you help them—to manage their schedules during what’s likely to be many more months of learning at home.

Google’s Family Bell

There’s nothing like quite the piercing ring of a school bell to keep young students on track during the day, and unfortunately, a beeping alarm clock doesn’t quite cut it. Enter Google, which recently unveiled a new feature for Assistant that does the next best thing.

Family Bell lets you create bells—or at least, Google Assistant’s voiced version of bells—that sound on your various Google smart speakers and displays. You can use the Google Assistant app on your phone to set up daily or weekly announcements, and you can pick and choose which of your Google devices you want the announcement to play on.

To get started, open the Google Assistant app, tap your icon in the top-right corner, tap Assistant, then scroll down and tap Family Bell. Another option: Just say “Hey Google, create a Family Bell” to one of your Google speakers, and Google Assistant will send a Family Bell shortcut to your phone.

Alexa reminders

While Alexa doesn’t have a Family Bell feature per se, its Reminders feature essentially does the same thing. Just create a reminder to make Alexa read out a reminder to any or all of your Amazon Echo speakers or displays at a given time, repeatable on a daily or weekly basis. Even before the pandemic hit, I regularly used Alexa’s reminders to remind my daughter that it was time to get ready for school (yes, in-person school) or that iPad time (a sacred ritual in my eight-year-old’s life) was over for the afternoon.

To set an Alexa reminder, just fire up the Alexa app, tap More > Reminders & Alarms, tap the Reminders tab, then tap “+” to create the reminder.