Smart Home For The Little Ones

Back when my baby (no longer a baby) was gestating, I had grand “Mommy Blogger” gadget plans for this site. Alas, parenting can be exhausting. Plus, as with all my solutions, her technology is constantly in flux. e.g. we’ve gone from a Bose speaker for lullabies (with IR remote that conflicted with her Fisher Price mobile) to Sonos (until it failed) to various iterations of Alexa the years. So, I thought it might be fun to document her current setup as she hits the 7 year mark.

First, introducing children to tech in their spaces is clearly a personal decision, including a variety of privacy implications. What’s comfortable for me may be totally inappropriate in your household. I get that. And when my daughter was tiny, we did dabble in Internet-connected cameras. Given our experiences way back when and current security concerns, if you absolutely require video monitoring (which you probably don’t), I advise utilizing a baby cam that only broadcasts locally. In the end, we rarely utilized video. Instead, we leaned on a simple audio monitor (seen in this pic) so we’d know when we’re needed from further reaches of the home.

Lighting has been and remains a huge part of our kid’s smart home. Until a few weeks ago and for many years, a Philips Hue Go has been my daughter’s primary bedroom light, augmented by a height-appropriate Hue Dimmer switch. Hue Go is relatively low-lumen, but because our daughter mostly used her room for sleeping it had been fine. And, more than fine, lower lumens also means its been able to serve double duty as a nightlight — it can get much dimmer than our standard connected color bulbs. Back in the day, we also had the light automatically flip to pink in the AM so she’d know when it’s morning and can get out of bed.

Beyond the Hue Go, I tucked an inexpensive (at the time) LED strip along her closet trim … which remains out of sight, until powered on (via voice or app) for fun effects and for reading, as it gets incredibly bright. However, given that increased bedroom reading, I recently swapped out her Hue Go for a torch lamp containing a white Philips Hue bulb. Of course, I remapped her Hue Dimmer switch to the new light and I also briefly toyed with using her 4th gen Echo Dot Clock as a motion trigger to turn the light off when she forgets, timeboxed between 8AM-7PM. However, the Echo would fire slowly and unpredictably, so I repurposed an unused Hue Motion sensor to achieve similar. Yes, there’s a lot of Hue here. It’s not inexpensive, but for mission critical lighting its reliable, local control can’t be beat.

Back to the Echo Dot Clock, our home is largely an Alexa-based ecosystem and the glue that ties most things together. Similar could be achieved via Google Home and Apple HomeKit (which I also run, periodically confusing the family). Such as the aforementioned early morning, automated lighting routine. Or “Alexa, good night” that turns off the appropriate lighting and plays about 30 minutes of Disney Piano Lullabies. In fact, I recently brought an old Echo Button out of storage so my daughter could silently retrigger the soothing music overnight when she’s having a rough time. Of course, she also interacts with Alexa all the time (and I’ve successfully neutered those ‘by the way’ responses although her replies are still not always appropriate). On the smart home front, she largely controls lighting and plays her music. She’s also been known to abuse its intercom function.

In the living room, we’ve carved out a little desk area for her that features Hue lighting (once again), Echo Wall Clock, and Echo Flex. I had thought the Wall Clock would be useful for timers and help her read analog time, but it’s generally been a bust. Including hands that periodically fall off (or are removed, hm) and a penchant for eating batteries. However, the space-saving Echo Flex gets ton of good use — particularly in toggling room lights on/off (her desk lamp bulb is linked the a living room torch bulb) and asking Alexa for help as she’s learned to spell. She also recently swiped my Alexa-integrated temp sensor for her desk, which features a clock she can actually read.

We had moved into this home when my daughter was much younger and, having heard heard horror stories of kids busting out of the house and running down the street, I employed Ring Alarm contact sensors on the garage and front doors so we’d hear an audible chime should they unexpectedly open. But they never did… and it’s time to figure out how to remove these without damaging the finish.

Anyhow, this isn’t a comprehensive list of all we do, but perhaps will inspire (or disuade) various technologies and routines in your home. Please feel free to share your approaches and concerns in the comments below.

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