Kids have emotions too and it’s important to help them identify what those are. Whether happy, sad, or anxious, we need to equip them with tools to deal with how they’re feeling, especially at a time like this. Smarticles is a team of women passionate about using emerging technologies to improve children's social and emotional well-being. We were inspired by the resiliency of kids and wanted to play a part in their wellbeing.
What it does
Kids Feel Too is an interactive journey through the challenges that a character named Ivy Rose faces as she encounters events related to COVID, quarantining, and all of the big emotions she feels. She learns to understand her emotions and process them with the help of stuffed animals she calls her Feeling Friends. The skill presents a storyline for each feeling, which includes the main story with Ivy Rose and her Feeling Friend, coping strategies, crafts and exercises, book read-alongs and more. By interacting with Alexa, kids can learn to recognize their own feelings and apply strategies they learn from Scared Skunk, Cranky Cat, and Happy Hippo along with all the other Feeling Friends.
How I built it
Kids Feel Too was developed using the Voiceflow application which provides a graphical interface for creating interactive Alexa Skills. The Voiceflow GUI makes it easy for our content developers to interact with the storyline as they are developing it. They can play with the different elements of tone, speed, inflection, and volume that make up SSML. They can adjust wording and pacing and play with different interactive elements without needing a deep technical knowledge. Voiceflow also makes it easy for our content developers to implement APL without having to understand a technical tool like the Alexa Developer Console.
Challenges I ran into
We learned about what elements are not allowed in kids Skills by trial and error through the submission process. It would be helpful if there was more transparency for Skill developers so that we can understand up front what criteria are used to assess kids skills. Additionally, the turn-around time for skill approval was roughly one month. We began developing a more technical product as we waited, and while that experience has been invaluable, we lost some momentum on developing Kids Feel Too.
While we were able to apply SSML extensively in order to create automated voices for our narrator and Feeling Friends, but ultimately we needed to use audio recordings from a child reading from a script for Ivy Rose’s voice. No amount of SSML could make the automated voices for children sound authentic enough to convey the emotions that Ivy Rose needs to convey.
Accomplishments that I'm proud of
With the increasing COVID infection rates across the country and the winter holidays, we are thrilled to be able to publish Kids Feel Too so kids have more coping tools for the challenging months ahead. We are enormously proud that we’re able to produce content that is enjoyable and engaging thanks to the platform that Alexa Skills provides.
What I learned
Kids Feel Too was created prior to this contest, and we built it to center around Ivy Rose. We’ve been introduced to APL through this contest and may revise our approach to focus on her furry friends. We can imagine having an initial screen displaying our furry characters and allowing the child to decide which social story they want to hear. In developing Kids Feel Too, we learned how to effectively use SSML to alter the delivery for automated voices. And finally, we learned several healthy strategies for managing our own emotions, which helped us build a team who are comfortable talking through challenging topics together.
What's next for Kids Feel Too
Content: We are creating additional storylines to address more feelings. Our content production pipeline includes storylines for Cranky Cat, Sleepy Sloth, and Happy Hippo.
Increased Reciprocal Content: Reciprocal conversation is critical for developing kids emotional intelligence. They feel validated and heard when they are asked deep, reflective questions. While it is challenging to incorporate these conversations and still meet the requirements for Skills for children, it is critical to our mission that we engage kids in conversations around feelings.
Author relationships: There are many authors who write books addressing social and emotional skills for children. We want to bring their voices, experience, and content into Kids Feel Too so that kids have a wide range of materials to help kids learn self-regulation and coping skills.