For kids, there’s something a little magical about smart technology. When they ask Siri a question, she appears like a genie in a bottle — ready and waiting with the right answer every time. Many parents are concerned, however, that artificially intelligent assistants like Siri and Alexa just aren’t kid friendly enough to be used as toys, let alone without parental supervision. In response, companies like Elemental Path have created Internet-connected toys — playtime friends that take advantage of the latest in smart technology. So what’s the difference between these technologies, and what do they mean in the context of your household?
Kids learn in a very hands-on way. In order to feel connected to their toys, they need to touch them, carry them around, dress them up as pirates or princesses. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, this kind of play helps to develop physical, cognitive, and emotional strength. With a smartphone, tablet, or AI gadget, there’s a disconnect that makes this crucial part of playtime obsolete. As great as Siri and Alexa may be as personal assistants, they do very little to inspire young imaginations. In contrast, smart technology in toy form combines the best of both worlds — offering the fun of learning along with the delight of the traditional play experience.
Siri and Alexa don’t disappoint when it comes to avoiding blatantly inappropriate content. They don’t swear, talk about adult topics, or ask for many personal details. But that doesn’t mean they know how to talk to children. If you ask Siri, for example, “What is a dog?” She’ll tell you:
This kind of answer is far from kid-friendly, and doesn’t do much to make learning fun. If you ask the CogniToys Dino the same question, it will say:
By answering in a way that encourages further questions, the Dino incorporates inquiry-based learning, one of the most fundamental values of teaching. In fact, according to the National Institute of Health, virtually all educators agree that teaching science should involve more of this kind of learning and less fact-based memorization.
The educational value of the automated responses provided by Siri and Alexa is surprisingly low. Although there aren’t many facts that these home accessories can’t tell you, their machine-like delivery of information does very little to light up the brain’s memory center — especially in children. As every parent knows, kids learn best when learning is fun. With smart toys, little learners can play memory-based games, laugh at entertaining facts, and gain knowledge in a way that works for them.
Many people worry, with good reason, that smart devices hear too much. For example, Alexa has been criticized for having a microphone that is always on. So if you say something that sounds like “Alexa,” she springs to life. Smart toys designed for kids, on the other hand, should have a microphone that can only listen when a child actively engages with it.
At the end of the day, it all comes down to the kind of playtime experience that you want for your child. While there may be no harm in kids experimenting with technology that is designed for adults, they’ll always gain more from a pal like the CogniToys Dino, that adheres stringently to child privacy regulations while offering limitless opportunities for interactive learning.