Young children love to color, especially with other kids. It's a simple activity that fosters creativity, encourages collaboration, and builds friendships. Because the pandemic has isolated us, kids aren't free to be kids nor allowed to engage with the world like they once did.

Smarticles is a team of women passionate about using emerging technologies to improve children's social and emotional well-being. We believe we can help give kids a creative and calming experience through an activity they really enjoy, coloring.

What it does

Color Together is a fun and engaging coloring companion for kids. After choosing and printing a picture, each child can have a back-and-forth conversation on what to color each part of the image. Along the way, Alexa shares funny poems and entertaining music while they color together. When each part has been colored, we cheerfully reveal the artful masterpiece shared by Alexa and the child. The child can color as much as they want and as often as they wish because Color Together is always available.

How I built it

Color Together was developed using the new Alexa Conversations feature. We gather the picture a child wants to color, the part, and color to generate a final image that looks very similar to theirs through back-and-forth dialog. We've woven into the dialog poems and songs administered through APLA and incorporated screens displayed by using APL.

Challenges I ran into

The release of Alexa Conversations (AXC) was our team's introduction to the world of developing Alexa Skills in the Alexa Development Console. The basic functionality of AXC is great; it lets the child change their mind about which parts and colors to tackle without making our coding work cumbersome. But AXC has not integrated all of APL benefits. Our goals for this contest were to add more engaging content through APLA and make our Skill more accessible for kids with limitations using APL. We created visuals that fit our content, but we couldn't speak the text on our visuals or pass on values because AXC can't access the datasource. Unfortunately, enough time wasn't available to explore options outside of AXC to make this feature work.

Accomplishments that I'm proud of

In creating Color Together, we didn't think about the technical aspects of our Skill first. We thought about the impact on children. Coloring builds confidence, fosters creativity, and improves focus. It calms and regulates the nervous system to help to reduce anxiety. The reciprocal dialogue between Alexa and the child helps improve language skills, and our content choice opens the door to educational opportunities. Lastly, coloring increases the child's grip strength and motor skills foundational for handwriting and drawing skills.

We are proud to have built a fun-filled engagement with Alexa that transforms the simple act of coloring pixels on a digital image into an educational and entertaining opportunity for kids.

What I learned

We've only scratched the surface of what APL and APLA can do for our Skill and those who use it. Even as we implemented changes to our Skill for this contest, we found more features we'd like to use. Creating the best experience for our subscribers has become more of a possibility now that we can incorporate these features.

What's next for Color Together

Beta Testing: Following this contest, Smarticles is inviting users to beta test Color Together. We are deeply curious about how children experience our Skill. Which aspects cause unexpected joy? What causes unintended frustration?

More Time: After coloring with young family members and students, we realize kids like to take their time, sometimes wanting to color "all of the white parts." This research helped us understand we need to change our logic to allow the child to say they're not done, prompting Alexa to tell another story or play another song while they finish their masterpiece.

Print Function: Most parents and kids will be introduced to Color Together through our website. This path gives parents access to print the pictures their child can color. Unfortunately, those who discover us through the Skill store won't know where to get these images. So, adding the print function will give every child a chance to color along with Alexa.

Content: We plan to add more coloring pages and engaging content. One goal is to connect with authors of children's books to develop coloring pages and audio content to match their story.

Accessibility: We want our Skill to be accessible to children at all ability levels. We plan to re-evaluate our current technical strategy to use more APL features, making our Skill enjoyable for all, regardless of reading level and physical capabilities.

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