The Best Literacy-Related Skills on Amazon Echo
We’ve had an Amazon Echo in our living room for about five years now. I suppose that in the grand scheme of things, it’s still a relatively new entertainment device in our lives. But it’s funny to look back and realize that it’s basically been around for our 6-year-old son’s entire life. And he’s certainly always been a big fan. Together we’ve definitely discovered some great ways to use Alexa over the years.
We use our Echo in a lot of different ways today - and you can read about all of them in our article about our favorite family Alexa skills. I think it’s fair to say that the way we use the device is constantly evolving too - since new skills are coming out all the time.
But one thing that has been very consistent is that Alexa has always been great for our young readers. With as much as we love sharing books - I suppose it’s no surprise that this is a pretty big selling point for us.
Several years ago we quickly realized that one of the major ways we were going to use Alexa is as a storytelling device. And the interactive, voice-recognition capabilities of the Echo make it a literacy device with tons of potential. That’s because Alexa has much more than the power to merely read you stories - it’s actually quite easy to become a part of the story as well.
Another surprise benefit, speaking of growing up with Alexa, is the pronunciation practice she sneakily offers. The thing about voice recognition software is - it has to recognize your voice. When our son was younger, he would quite often have to repeat himself many times for Alexa to understand him. If you’ve ever been around a toddler and a smart home device, I’m sure you’ve witnessed a similar scene before.
We could usually point out to him which of his letter sounds were confusing Alexa, and eventually he’d get it. Even today as a 6-year-old he has to consciously over-pronounce his words and letters, and I think that can be very useful practice.
But, of course, there are many literacy benefits offered by Alexa that are much more straightforward and plain to see. So we gathered together our 5 favorite skills for young readers. Best of all, just like most of the skills on the Echo, all of the skills on this list can be downloaded and enjoyed for free. So go turn your Echo into an imagination machine. Fire up these fantastic literacy skills today.
Disclosure: Some of the links in this article are affiliate links that will lead you to view the Alexa skill on Amazon.com.
Amazon Storytime is a high-quality collection of audio stories for kids. According to Amazon, the collection holds more than one hundred short stories at the moment, and they’re broken into different categories you can request - like silly stories or bedtime stories.
Most of the stories are performed by multiple professional actors, and the production is really high-quality in my opinion. We’ve even been occasionally surprised by a random picture book from Audible being thrown into the rotation as well.
Hands down, Amazon Storytime is still our go-to skill for lying down and listening to a random story. It almost gives an old-school radio show kind of feeling when the kids and I cuddle in a big chair together and fire this one up.
I’m a big fan of interconnectedness with my media - so I was really excited when I realized that my Audible account would connect completely seamlessly with our Amazon Echo. Audible is the audiobook company owned by Amazon. I was already a member when we purchased our first Echo, and I already had a large collection of audiobooks that I listen to during my commute.
But once I realized how awesome it was that Alexa knew which audiobooks I owned and could play them for me, I went down a rabbit hole of collecting picture books for the kids too. The nice thing is that most picture books on Audible aren’t very expensive at all, and with the membership discount and occasional sales, I was often spending just a few dollars per book.
Just like Amazon Storytime, you could just cuddle up and listen to a story from Audible. But as a bonus, if you own the physical copy of the picture book too, your kids can even follow along with the words and pictures while they listen.
The Magic Door was honestly one of the very first skills we ever activated on our Echo, and it has truly stood the test of time. To this day it’s still one of our favorite skills. Our son had to practice his pronunciation a lot as a little guy while he was playing this game, but he absolutely loved it - and still does honestly.
Basically, The Magic Door is very much like Choose Your Own Adventure stories, but much more soothing in a way. It’s an interactive story, and there are choices to be made, but the main focus is just on the traveling and exploring the environment. I’ve heard people compare it to playing a video game like Myst - traveling around an island trying to figure out what to do.
For my son and I, The Magic Door has been a source of imagination for a long time. And it’s the first literacy-based skill on our list that doesn’t merely tell you a story - it lets you become a part of the story too. Talk about good engagement for little readers.
Speaking of letting you become a part of the story, the ultimate interactive storybooks are officially part of the Alexa family. At the moment there are five of the classic Choose Your Own Adventure books written by R. A. Montgomery available on this skill - Journey Under the Sea, The Abominable Snowman, Space and Beyond, The Magic of the Unicorn, and Mystery of the Maya. And there are about 30 different endings for each one.
I introduced the classic Choose Your Own Adventure stories to our son through Z-Man Games’ amazing board game adaptation of House of Danger - and we played that game for hours and hours. Suffice it to say we were very excited to see this skill added to Alexa. The quality of the stories and the high engagement factor (not to mention the nostalgia) make this skill a huge winner for literacy advocates and young (and old) book fans everywhere.
MasterSwords has the distinct honor of being the only game on our list of literacy-related skills for Alexa. And it makes the list because it hits a lot of the right buttons for us - particularly with its fantasy theme and setting.
In the game, your uncle's master swords have been stolen, and you have to search the four kingdoms to collect them. According to the developers, you'll “battle against grubby gramlins, hideous orcs, wicked-tongued witches, brain-hungry zombies and a horde of other fantastical creatures.”
Honestly, I’m so big on imagination and storytelling that MasterSwords could have made this list with good stories and characters alone. But what makes MasterSwords really stand out as a literacy-related skill is that the battles are spelling battles. Your success in battle actually hinges upon your ability to spell random words - with three levels of difficulty to choose from.
The combination of the engaging fantasy characters and the spelling practice is really quite incredible. I love watching our son play this one - and I’m very impressed with him. He definitely gets a huge kick out of it too. You can really see the rush of pride with each little success. MasterSwords is really a great example of the potential that Alexa has as an educational device.
Does your family have an Amazon Echo? What’s your kids’ favorite skill? Do you like to use it for stories like we do? Let us know in the comments!