You’ve been creating some pretty incredible voice experiences for kids. Because of you, Alexa is becoming way more fun for the whole family. And we’re just getting started.
Last year, in preparation for the Alexa Skills Challenge: Kids developer competition, we shared a few resources to create kid skills for Alexa that are educational, entertaining, and engaging for young minds. The 6 Tips for Building Stellar Kid Skills guide detailed several key tips including: building experiences for the right age range, fostering curiosity and exploration, including memorable moments and fresh content, and ensuring an end-to-end experience that’s simple and natural for kids.
Since then, we’ve personally engaged with hundreds of skills built for children under the age of 13, and learned a lot from the judges who determined the winners of the Alexa Skills Challenge: Kids. Alexa now supports kid skills in the UK and Germany too. We also announced all-new Alexa experiences for kids and parents and worked with experts like Disney, Nickelodeon, National Geographic, Cartoon Network, and Earplay to create premium Alexa skills for Amazon FreeTime Unlimited subscribers in the US. Here are a few more best practices we’ve gathered to help you build incredible Alexa skills for kids.
Even if your skill is modeled after a common children’s game or show, it’s likely that not everyone will be familiar with it. Help kids get off to a great start by setting expectations about how to use the skill from the very beginning. If your skill requires kids to do an activity, or perform math calculations, ask them to get a pen and paper handy. If your voice-first skill can be enhanced with an Echo device with a screen, like Echo Show or Echo Spot, let them know. A brief introduction when a player starts your skill should be enough, but keep it short so that you keep their attention.
Kids enjoy collecting points, badges, and rewards, or even climbing a leaderboard. Your skill can celebrate progress over time, and maybe even that of multiple children in the household. Measuring progress over time can raise the repeatability factor of your skill, and give the child a reason to come back.
By keeping track of where the player is in the skill experience and saving their progress, you can let them stop when they need to and jump right back in where they left off. When the player invokes your skill again, ask if they want to restart or resume. Returning players shouldn’t have to start over each time. And new users should have the opportunity to begin with a clean slate. Remember, skills intended for children under the age of 13 cannot collect personal information. But you can track the progress of different players in the household by allowing them to use fun nicknames or audible avatars.
Alexa skills can help kids learn important subjects, practice listening comprehension, and more. But if a child gets an answer to a question wrong—or even all of the answers wrong—don’t be too harsh with the response or the sound effect. Use positive reinforcement to encourage them to keep trying, and commend them when they practice regularly. You may want to give them a specific number of tries to get the right answer, or allow them to change their answer. For example, if the child says, “I think it’s ten, no nine, ummm eight!” Alexa could respond, “Is eight your final answer?” Also, don’t forget to let them know what the right answer is so they can learn from it. You can even add more context around the answer to help reinforce their learning.
If your skill requires kids to do something complex—such as understand instructions or solve lengthy math equations—slow down the pace. For example, you can play background music when you give them time to think, and use a chime sound to let them know Alexa is ready for their answer. If the activity or story is one that a child and parent can engage in together, it’s helpful to give them time to discuss. Mutual engagement between the child and parent can further enrich the learning experience.
Don’t underestimate the importance of good help. At any time, players should be able to say, “Alexa, help” and learn how to get unstuck. But kids don’t always ask for help, so your skill will need to be more proactive to solve problems in the moment to help kids move along. For example, instead of simply responding, “Sorry, that is not a valid command,” your skill could reply, “Sorry, I didn’t understand that. Here are few things you can say…”
We’ve seen some great skills that help support a child’s daily routine and encourage good habits around brushing their teeth, bedtime, and getting ready for school. Parents have noted that some of these skills would be even better if they were customizable, as different children have different routines. When getting ready for school, one may like to wash up first, while another prefers to get dressed first. By enabling them to set their routine the way they like it, your skill could be even more useful and effective. You can also encourage polite behavior when engaging with your skill by providing extra special responses when they say “please” and “thank you” at cherry-picked moments in the experience.
Kids can really connect with Alexa’s voice. But if your skill needs to read large swaths of text, or convey emotion beyond a one-word speechcon, a different voice might create a more natural, engaging experience. You can also add variety by turning your text into life-like speech with Amazon Polly, and choose from more than 50 international voices and a variety of languages.
When I first tried Panda Rescue, I was using my Echo device. I already thought it was pretty clever. But when I resumed my game on Echo Show, it was even more engaging. The visuals created a stronger connection to my mission in the game—raise the orphaned baby panda. Just keep in mind that your skill should always be designed voice first. Visuals displayed on a screen should enhance—not detract from—the natural conversation between the customer and Alexa. And speaking of screens, kids shouldn’t be required to use the Alexa app in order to see their rewards, badges, or engage with your skill. Requiring access to their parent’s smartphone is not an ideal, voice-first experience.
This is perhaps the most important point. Whether you’re learning math or getting ready for school—inject some personality. Consider telling a joke while they’re brushing their teeth. Make science fun. “What do you get when you mix glue and saltwater?” The answer? “Slime.” You can use the Alexa Skills Kit sound library to add any of the hundreds of different sound effects to help paint the mental picture of your story.
We recently announced that the Amazon FreeTime Unlimited content subscription service is expanding to Echo, Echo Dot, and Echo Plus devices in the US on May 9. Along with parental controls and family-friendly features available through FreeTime on compatible Echo devices, FreeTime Unlimited enables kids to access hundreds of hours of fun and educational content, including ad‑free radio stations and playlists, more than 300 Audible books, and a growing list of premium Alexa skills for kids. Plus, FreeTime Unlimited provides automatic access to a curated selection of kid skills available in the Alexa Skills Store. Not all kid skills are included in the FreeTime Unlimited experience, though parents may add any skill they’d like via the Parent Dashboard. If your skill is distributed in the US and you’re interested in having it included in FreeTime Unlimited, please contact freetime‑email@example.com.