Amazon’s latest venture is an awesome new feature for its Kids Plus service called Reading Sidekick. The feature is designed to assist kids in building their reading skills, either by reading aloud to them or by listening to them read to ensure they pronounce words correctly.
Reading Sidekick is included in Amazon’s Kids Plus service, which is included with the Kids Edition Fire tablets and Echo Speakers, or for $2.99 a month (or $69 a year). It is compatible with most Alexa-enabled devices like the Echo speaker series. All you’ll need to do from there is enable Amazon Kids mode through the Alexa smartphone phone app. Then, your child can say “Alexa, let’s read” and get started.
Once Reading Sidekick is initiated, it’ll prompt your child to choose a book. They can opt for a physical book or a digital title on a Fire tablet or in the Kids Plus app; over 700 books are currently available in the Sidekick system, and more are being added every week. From there, Alexa will listen to your child read and help them out with tricky pronunciations and other challenges along the way.
Your child can opt to “read a little” or “read a lot.” In “read a little” mode, Alexa will do most of the work, reading the book aloud while your child follows along and occasionally having your child read a paragraph or page. In “read a lot” mode, your child will do more, reading four consecutive pages before Alexa jumps in and reads one. There’s also a “take turns” mode that allows your child and Alexa to take turns reading a single paragraph or page.
Alexa offers up encouragement like “good job!” when your child finishes a book or figures out how to work through a tricky section. However, Reading Sidekick does not offer up any follow-up quizzes or tests for comprehension or material retention, so it won’t replace school or a tutor or anything. However, Amazon does hope that the tool will help kids maintain their reading skills over the long summer break and that it can help boost their confidence and help them grow to become independent readers.
Marissa Mierow, Amazon’s head of Alexa learning and education, stated that Reading Sidekick is “meant to build fluency and a love of reading. The company is also rolling out Alexa Voice Profiles for Kids this week, which will allow Echo devices to recognize the voice of a specific child, just like it can for adult users. This way, it can personalize the experience for up to four kids using a single device by blocking inappropriate content, limiting contact to approved contacts, and provide age-appropriate answers to questions.
Amazon said that it took roughly an entire year to build out Reading Sidekick. To get it just right, it had to adjust Alexa’s patience, understand kids’ pronunciations, and be able to tell when a child was attempting to sound out an extra tough word. It also relied on a team of teachers, curriculum experts, and scientific researchers to guide the feature’s development process. The tool is aimed at readers aged six to nine, but there are more advanced books that the service can read along with if older kids want to use it.
via The Verge