Amazon on Monday announced Alexa’s latest feature that is designed to help build fluency and foster a love of reading with developing readers, all while cheering them on.
Called Reading Sidekick, this innovative Alexa feature is aimed to make reading more fun and help kids ages 6 to 9 become strong readers. It makes it easy for kids to read independently by exploring the stories they want to read, when they want to read.
This feature will help kids grow into confident, independent readers, especially as they are still developing their reading skills. It is basically designed to complement the time kids spend reading with grownups.
The Reading Sidekick allows Alexa and the child to take turns while reading. The digital assistant will listen, help if the child struggles, and encourage when they succeed.
How Reading Sidekick Works?
A child with an Amazon Kids+ subscription can pick up a compatible physical book or eBook and say “Alexa, let’s read” to any Amazon Kids-enabled Echo device to get started. The child then tells Alexa the book’s title and Alexa asks how much do they want to read: a little, a lot, or taking turns.
If a child says “a little,” Alexa reads most pages and asks for the child to read one of the shorter pages. If a child says “a lot,” the child takes turns reading four sentences, paragraphs, or pages, depending on the book, and Alexa reads one.
With “taking turns,” the child and Alexa alternate sections, which is a page or paragraph depending on the book.
As the child reads, Alexa offers words of encouragement, like “Amazing job!” and “Way to stick with it!” or even “Woohoo!” If a child reading gets stuck on a word and stops reading, Alexa can provide the next word to help them continue. By reading with Alexa, kids can practice in an environment that helps grow their confidence in reading.
There are over hundreds of books on Reading Sidekick that kids can choose from with hundreds more to be added each month. It includes family favorites such as Chica Chica Boom Boom and Milk and Cookies for new readers, and Books Do Not Have Wings and Around the World Right Now for more confident readers.
Families of the kids too can use the Amazon Kids+ app on any tablet to read one of the hundreds of books in the Reading Sidekick library.
Education Combined With Entertainment
Alexa adapts the reading experience to help a child read as long as they would like. For example, if a child is consistently struggling, Alexa shifts into “read after me” mode, where Alexa reads first and then asks the child to repeat.
Dr. Michelle Martin, a professor for Children and Youth Services at the University of Washington and also a member of the Amazon Kids and Family Advisory Council, said the new Alexa feature combines education with entertainment and relies on thorough research.
“Reading Sidekick offers children excellent reading support in the form of ‘edutainment’—kids learn a gracious plenty, but they’re enjoying the interaction with Alexa so much, they don’t necessarily know they’re learning,” Martin added.
“The Amazon educational team has done due diligence to glean best practices from teachers, reading specialists, and children’s literature scholars to ensure Reading Sidekick is not only engaging but backed by decades of research on literacy development.
“Whether children use it alongside an expert reader or alone, they will gain confidence, reading independence, and greater enthusiasm for story.”
As kids read with Alexa, parents can visit the Amazon Kids+ parent dashboard to see their child’s time reading and books read. Reading Sidekick also offers a screen-free experience for parents and guardians by working with physical books.
Parents can also set daily educational goals—like reading—by enabling Alexa’s Learn First feature, which pauses entertainment content until a child meets their goal.
Besides, the Reading Sidekick feature also coming to Alexa is the new “Alexa Voice Profiles for Kids”, where parents and guardians can create separate voice profiles for up to four children on the Alexa app.
Alexa will apply parental controls, automatically filter explicit music, limit calls and messages based mostly on the profile.
“With the arrival of Reading Sidekick, we are hopeful we can make reading fun for millions of kids to set them up for a lifetime of learning and a love of reading,” said Marissa Mierow, head of Alexa Education & Learning.
“Alexa provides a welcoming, no-judgment zone and is always ready to help and to read.”
Starting June 29th, Amazon’s Reading Sidekick is available for customers with an Amazon Kids+ subscription, costing $2.99 per month. It works with most Alexa-enabled devices like the Echo speaker series. Parents can sign up for an Amazon Kids+ subscription over here at Amazon’s website.