The magic of reading happens when kids transition from learning to read to reading for fun. To help kids take that first step, Alexa is introducing a new feature that encourages kids to read a little bit every day—and cheers them on.
Reading Sidekick is a new Alexa learning experience designed to make reading more fun and help kids ages 6 to 9 become strong readers. Reading Sidekick makes it easy for kids to read independently by exploring the stories they want to read, when they want to read.
With a physical or digital-supported book in hand, and a nearby Amazon Kids-enabled Echo device, kids with an Amazon Kids+ subscription say “Alexa, let’s read.” They can then begin taking turns reading with Alexa. Their families can also use the Amazon Kids+ app on any tablet to read one of hundreds of books in the Reading Sidekick library.
“I love reading with my daughter every night before bedtime, but don’t always spend time reading together at other times,” said Jon Lyon, an Amazon employee and Dad whose 7-year old daughter tried an early preview of the Reading Sidekick experience, and an Amazon employee. “With Reading Sidekick, my daughter is reading more challenging books on her own with Alexa, and if she gets stuck on a word or gets an entire sentence wrong, Alexa is there to help. She’s having so much fun exploring new stories and figuring out tough words.”
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.
Kids can choose from hundreds of books on Reading Sidekick, and hundreds more will be added each month. Family favorites like 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, are just a few of the stories ready for discovery.
The science of kids’ voices
During the development of Reading Sidekick, Alexa learned new ways to support young readers. The team designing the experience made sure Alexa provided more time for new readers to sound out a word or a series of words.
Alexa has also learned how to understand kids’ pronunciation, which can vary geographically, culturally, and by the developmental stage of each reader. Alexa will not ask a reader to repeat a word a particular way.
These features were completed by fine-tuning Echo’s far-field mics and adapting to young readers who may be farther away from their Echo device, reading behind a physical book, or speaking with varying levels of confidence.
Addressing the "summer slide"
Now that summer's here, families are looking for ways to continue building on their child’s learning from the school year. Alexa’s Reading Sidekick can do that, too. Alexa adapts the reading experience to help a child read as long as they'd 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, 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,” said Martin, also a member of the Amazon Kids and Family Advisory Council.
“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,” she added. “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.
In addition, with the new Alexa Voice Profiles for Kids, parents and guardians can create a voice profile for each child in their family (up to four kids) on the Alexa app, bringing the Reading Sidekick experience to any Echo device in the house.
Reading fans since Day 1
Books and reading have been part of Amazon’s DNA from the beginning. Starting with the launch of Kindle in 2007, and continuing with the Kindle Kids introduction in 2019, Amazon has been creating new products and features with literacy top-of-mind. We’ve been aiming to do the same for kids’ products knowing that Alexa’s existing relationship with families was a natural place to innovate.
We challenged ourselves to develop a way to help make reading fun and educational. In our early conversations with kids’ parents, guardians, and teachers, we discovered that one of the best ways to help a child improve reading is to read aloud—but most kids don’t like doing it alone. Knowing kids already loved talking with Alexa, we had an opportunity to create something to motivate children to want to read, to practice reading independently, and become fluent readers.
“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.”