Echo Dot Kids Edition panda version

Amazon Reading Sidekick lets Alexa read along with your kids on any Amazon Echo Kids device.


Amazon

It’s easy to forget that the same online storefront where you can now order pickleball sets, Prada sunglasses and Alexa smart speakers started off as a small, independent internet book retailer. Today, though, I’m reminded of Amazon’s humble origin story once again, with the unveiling of Reading Sidekick, a new Alexa-powered reading companion for kids.

Aimed at kids between 6 and 9 years old, Reading Sidekick has a deceptively simple format that lets children (or adult learners) take turns reading with Alexa from an ever-expanding list of both print and ebooks. Amazon’s voice assistant actively listens, evaluating pronunciation and accuracy, then custom-tailors feedback depending on whether or not readers stumble, as well as how much.

Amazon acknowledges that children’s feelings are notoriously easy to hurt. (As the parent of an elementary-aged child, I can confirm.) If any part of Reading Sidekick had to be pitch-perfect at launch, this was it. 

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Alexa will only correct readers if they stray far from the text while reading.


Amazon

I got the chance to test out a sneak peek of Reading Sidekick over the weekend, and I’m here to tell you — the Amazon devs really cinched the feedback feature. If you skip over a word or two, or maybe only slightly mispronounce a few, you wouldn’t know it — Alexa will keep cheering you on like all you do is win.

But Alexa’s infectiously positive attitude only goes so far. If you mangle the English language creatively enough (to the point that comprehension could suffer), Alexa will repeat the section you beefed before moving on to read the next one.

Alexa will even notice if you’re stuck on a single word and give you a little push by pronouncing it for you, to help you keep moving along. Honestly, it’s one of the most natural and, I’d say, useful applications of machine learning I’ve experienced.

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The Echo Show Kids smart display comes with a free one-year subscription to Kids Plus, which includes Reading Sidekick.


Amazon

Reading Sidekick expands Kids Plus offerings

Sidekick won’t arrive on your Amazon Echo free of charge, however — it’s included in the $3-a-month Amazon Kids Plus service, which gives you and your kids access to scores of other activities, educational games and stories as well. Plus, Amazon includes a one-year subscription ($36 value) with the purchase of an Echo Show Kids device.

There’s also a rather odd restriction even if you’re a Kids Plus subscriber: While anyone, young or old, can read along with Reading Sidekick on an Echo Kids device, only actual kids (or, I suppose, adults who sound like kids) can use a non-kids edition Echo for the feature. (Any Amazon Echo can become a kids’ edition device with just the flick of a setting toggle.)

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Amazon says it will keep adding to the growing list of titles that Alexa can read along with. 


Amazon

To get started reading with Sidekick, your child just has to say, “Alexa, let’s read.” From there, Alexa will first ask for a book title, then ask, “Do you want to read a little, read a lot, or take turns?”

Answer, “A little,” and Alexa will read most of it, only having the child read the occasional short page. “A lot” flips the script, with the child reading about four times as much material as Alexa. “Take turns,” divides reading duties roughly in half.


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Another job lost to automation?

Inevitably, a cynic somewhere will claim Amazon is trying to replace parents or teachers with a robot. I asked Amazon Learning and Education Lead Marissa Mierow how she’d respond to such a critic. 

“We certainly don’t see Sidekick as a replacement for cherished time when you’re reading to your kids or with your kids,” Mierow said. “We absolutely see it as a complement to all the other means by which teachers, parents, grandparents are using reading tools.”

As a decidedly pro-technology parent, that’s the answer I was hoping to hear.

Amazon’s Reading Sidekick is available on Amazon Kids Plus starting today.

Amazon’s new Reading Sidekick helps kids learn to read with Alexa

By ariox