School’s out for the foreseeable future, nannies are isolating at home, daycare centers have shut down, and play dates have been canceled. Your children now depend on you for 24-hour care, education, and amusement. So what can you do to make your days — and theirs — better?
We asked the parents of Vox Media what they’ve been using to help them care for, teach, and entertain their kids at home. Here are some of the answers we got.
(Note: if you plan to use a Nest Cam or other internet-connected camera as a child monitor, you may want to check out this article on how to secure Nest and other devices.)
Caring for little ones
I love the Baby Connect app for keeping track of baby schedules and health things. It supports multiple kids (perfect for those with twins / multiples) and allows multiple users / parents / nannies / sitters / doctors to be added as users to add logs.
Engineering manager, revenue experience
[I agree] on the Baby Connect app. It has many features we don’t use, but we have always used it for tracking height / weight / head size, and it immediately shows percentile and growth charts.
Senior product manager, Chorus
Sprout lets you track feedings, medications, and more. It’s especially helpful in that newborn period where you lose all short-term memory and concept of time. With Sprout, I could mark down when I fed the baby, and I didn’t have to rely on my foggy brain to remember. My husband and I still sometimes use it to remember when we gave our son, now almost two, Tylenol or other medicine. You can share it with multiple family members so everyone has the info.
Senior reporter, Vox.com
Monitor the kids
I loved using our Dropcam as a baby monitor (eventually having two for both our children). It’s easy to use, and multiple people can simultaneously view, play back, and video capture. There were several organic moments I was able to save to video that are priceless (like my son first saying, “Mama” and my daughter comforting and singing to my son at night).
Senior full-stack engineer, data
(Note: The Dropcam cameras have been replaced by Nest Cams.)
The Cloud Baby Monitor app has saved us a few times when our regular camera / monitor setup did not have the range we needed. It can send push notifications when it detects sound in the room, which is very useful.
I have the Infant Optics DXR-8 in both of my kids’ rooms and one at my in-laws’ place. It’s an awesome video monitor and you can also talk through it, so if I’m two floors away and my son is up and fussing, I can tell him I’m coming and he calms down.
SVP, people & culture
Alexa / Echo
Our favorite tech for babies is Alexa — we used this nonstop! With my first baby, I was terrible at logging all the things I needed to. So with this baby, I used Alexa. As in: “Alexa, log that I am feeding the baby 6 ozs.” “Alexa, log that the baby pooped.” “Alexa, set an alarm for three hours for bottle one” (since after three hours, the bottle is bad). I didn’t have to write anything down — it was so easy! Then we’d use Alexa’s “sounds of the ocean” for when she slept.
[I agree] on Alexa / Echo. We use it as a timeout timer. Taught our kids to say “Alexa STOP” really fast. Also, you can use the Echo as a monitor if you want. You can use your phone to tap into it as a listening device.
Years from now, I may regret letting my kids grow up with Alexa in their lives. But as long as I’m still putting babes to bed, I’m grateful for hands-free, voice-dimmable lights. They’ve allowed us to carry our daughters upstairs and change diapers in the middle of the night, without tripping over toys or the fear of waking them up with a sudden burst of light to the face. “Alexa, set the lights to 1 percent” might be the most uttered phrase in our house these days.
Senior news editor, The Verge
I love my VTech non-video baby monitor. It’s about $30 and works amazingly well without any of the static that many monitors have — and it’s nice to have something that is just audio. We also have a Nest Cam functioning as a video monitor when we want to see what is happening, but we have found that the audio serves our notification purposes and keeps a check on that new parent panic that you might develop from being able to watch your baby / kid sleep all the time.
Assistant general counsel
[I can vouch] for the VTech monitor! For video, we use the Lollipop baby monitor, which is totally fine but dependent on Wi-Fi, so we figured it’d be good to have a backup just in case.
Executive producer, Polygon
Activities for kids
For ages five to 12
We’re a big fan of Osmo games for preschool-plus. Playing Osmo is a much-loved activity for my three kids, aged three, five, and seven. The physical pieces allow for a much more interactive and tactile experience. The games are entertaining and educational. From exploring physics, making pizzas and calculating change, and coding, the kids are occupied for hours.
For ages seven and up
My son has had a lot of fun with this set. Great concept in using a toy with which kids are already familiar (Lego) and introducing them to programming and robots. I love how my son will follow the step-by-step instructions to the end, and then modify the suggested programming to do something different. It’s both directed and open-ended.
ABCmouse.com Early Learning Academy
For ages two to eight
We recently got on board the ABCmouse train for our five-year-old and it’s surprisingly great! The graphics are very 2002, but it is keeping her entertained for about an hour a day.
Director, brand strategy
I love the Google Chromecast because we try to minimize handheld screentime in our home, and that basically lets me cast whatever they want to watch or do on my phone onto the TV screen.
Social media manager, The Verge
On paper, there are a lot of things that make the Kids Edition Fire tablets attractive to parents. They all come with a bulky rubber case that makes it easy to hold and hard to break. Should your kid break it, Amazon provides two years of worry-free protection. And each Kids Edition tablet comes with a subscription to Amazon’s FreeTime service, which lets parents control what content is available on it and set time limits for how long kids can use the tablet each day.
In practice, the tablets are objectively terrible. The interface is confusing, the performance is slow and laggy, and the battery life leaves a lot to be desired. Those things all matter to me, a professional product reviewer, but for my five-year-old and eight-year-old, the Fire Tablets we got them a couple holidays back are their favorite toys. They use them to play games, watch Spongebob Squarepants, and maybe occasionally read a book. On road trips, back when we used to take those, they were indispensable to keep them happy and occupied and let me worry about merging onto the interstate.
While we’re stuck at home for the foreseeable future, we have to aggressively dole out access to the tablets, lest the kids spend all of their waking moments staring at them. I do wish they were more useful for helping with schoolwork — these are still primarily playtime and entertainment machines — but my kids don’t seem to mind that they aren’t.
Deputy editor, The Verge
Getting to sleep
The Hatch Rest+ is basically the world’s fanciest white noise machine. I love it because you can control it through your phone; it can be a monitor, it has programmable settings so it comes on automatically for bedtime and nap times, and you can create a wake-up setting with different noises or lights. It has a chargeable battery so you can unplug it and move it around the house if you need to.
I have one in both of my kids’ rooms. When my son is being loud while the baby is taking a nap, we’ll turn up her white noise in the app. It’s really convenient! Oh, and the speaker is two-way so you can talk through it from your phone.
SVP & editor-in-chief, Vox & Recode
I also used the Hatch Rest. It’s programmable from your phone with schedules, and can be used as a nursery night light, an okay to wake light, a sound machine, etc.
Dohm is great because it is natural noise. We still use it today. White noise is a must when you’re living in a city, have a creaky house, or have siblings sharing a room.
Huckleberry was really helpful in getting our kids sleep trained. It has a simple user interface that lets you log bedtimes, naps, and feedings. It then calculates their “SweetSpot” for when their next nap will be or when their bedtime should be. It’s usually spot on and has made putting the kids down a breeze. If you like charts and graphs, it shows a visual history of their sleep patterns so you can see when and how much sleep your kids are getting over time.
Director, IT infrastructure