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Get Your Kids to School on Time with Buttrock

Problem: Wrangling my kids out the door, on time, every morning without losing my soul.

Solution: The song “The Final Countdown,” by buttrock band Europe plus an Alexa-style smart speaker.

Explanation: Every morning at 7:35am, our house is filled with the soothing sounds of buttrock. This is the final warning and notice for my kids to get ready and be standing by the door by the time the song is over. We have an Alexa routine that plays this song every weekday at the same time and it feeds my soul every single day.


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How to get your kids out the door every morning

A few months ago I was bugging Chris to help me with our morning routines. At the time, our kids had to be out the door at 7:25am, and it was causing some issues getting everyone ready on time.

Chris mentioned that in his old classes, sometimes he’d just start counting down, really loud and really slowly, so that everyone would know it was time to prepare and make the transition to a new event. I loved the idea and took it up a notch.

So, I set up our Alexa with one alarm and one routine.

The alarm goes off 10 minutes before we have to be out the door. Alexa interrupts whatever we’re doing and announces, “Good morning Roman and Calvin. You’re doing great getting ready. This is your 10-minute warning. You should maybe go brush your teeth.” (I change this all the time, it’s fun to catch your kids off guard when they hear Alexa calling them by name and telling them to do something)

When Alexa says that out loud, it’s a house-wide reminder of what time it is and that we only have 10 minutes to get ready.

When we’re 5 minutes away from leaving Alexa starts a routine that turns off any already-playing music, resets the volume to 5, and then starts playing “The Final Countdown.”

At the end of the song, my kids know to be at the door, shoes on, teeth brushed, and water bottles and lunches in their backpacks. If they do, they get a marble (which is a form of currency in our house). If they don’t, they have to push the golf cart to school and won’t be spoken to until the following day.

I kid.

Anyway, it’s awesome. I highly encourage you to do something similar. It takes so much stress off the mornings and it’s helped a ton. The only thing that sucks is it’s not super intuitive to figure out how to make Alexa do this, so I created an exhaustive walk-through that you can follow along with screenshots and everything. It’ll take you about 3 minutes and isn’t hard.

How to set up Routines and Alarms in Alexa

Routine: This is a walk through on setting up your Echo to play “The Final Countdown” by Europe every school day 5 minutes before you have to leave the house.

  1. To set your first routine, open the Alexa app on your phone and click the navigation icon. Select Routines from the sidebar navigation; then press the + button in the top right to create a new routine.
  2. Then choose the trigger for the routine to start. We’ll be using a schedule. Set the time using the At Time setting, then choose your repeat intervals and days. The song is almost exactly 5 minutes long, so I chose 5 minutes before our time that we have to be walking out the door. You do you.
  3. Next, add whatever actions you want your routine to do. In our case, we’re going to stop any existing music that may be playing. Set the volume to 5 (our volume gets changed all the time, this ensures it’s always at a specific volume when this routine is executed). Then we have Alexa play “The Final Countdown by Europe.” You don’t get to actually choose a song, instead you write what you want it to play and you’re not able to verify it. So I am extremely precise with what I write, as if I was asking Alexa with my words. Note: My Alexa uses Spotify, but whatever music service you have installed will work, I think you can even get this song via Amazon Prime Music.
  4. Lastly, if you have multiple devices, make sure you’ve selected the correct speaker so that you hear it where you expect it.

Alarms: This is a walkthrough on setting up your Echo to announce the 10-minute warning.

  1. To set your first alarm, open the Alexa app on your phone and click the navigation icon. Select Reminders and Alarms from the sidebar navigation; then press the + button in the middle to create a new reminder.
  2. At the top, type in whatever text you want Alexa to announce. Choose repeat, then select weekdays, choose the time (when you’re finished, click the above the time wheel. It’s not intuitive how to close it). Then make sure it announces from the correct device. That’s it!

The differences between Alarms, Timers, Routines, and Reminders

Alexa offers four different tools to help you not forget or lose track of time or to set off automations around your house. It’s somewhat intuitive, but I was slightly annoyed that I couldn’t set a custom announcement in alarms. Or that you can’t use location-based alarms to make announcements on an Echo device (location-based triggers only allow push notifications to your phone, not announcements to a speaker).

Alarms:

Alarms are really straightforward. You set a time, date, whether it’s repeating or not, and a sound. The sounds are limited to Alexa-specific options (from simple wave sounds to Tara Reid doing a Sharknado alarm. There’s even Alec Baldwin saying, “Wake up sunshine. Let me tell you something. I’ve been up since the crack of dawn. If the early bird gets the worm you know what Alec Baldwin gets? The early bird.” There are lots of sounds, but you can only choose from what they offer. 

Timers:

Timers are simple countdowns that play a simple notification sound. You can’t set one from the app, only from asking your Echo to set a timer.

Reminders: 

Reminders are much more flexible and can do quite a bit. The app asks what you’d like to be reminded of and it speaks whatever you enter out loud on an Echo and/or sends a push notification to your phone.

You can choose to be reminded at a time or location (if you have location tracking enabled on your phone). There are options for it to repeat, and where the reminder will be announced from (if you have multiple Echos you can choose one, and you will get a push notification to your phone but your phone will not announce the notification out loud). 

If you use a location-based reminders you can only have it send a notification to your phone. Which is a bummer because I wish I could have my living room Echo announce “AHH SHIT! DAD IS HOME!” whenever I pull into the driveway. But you can’t do that. 

Alexa Routines

This is where the real magic happens. With Routines you can set up multiple steps and control all sorts of things. I’m sure lots of people use it to dim their lights and turn off the toaster or whatever, but I use it strictly for managing my kids. 

Routines are very capable. You can multiple actions performed whenever a single routine is ran. Those actions are broken into the following category:

  • Alexa Says: Alexa will use speech-to-text to announce whatever you tell it to, or sing you a song, or tell you a joke, or any number of random skills
  • Calendar: Alexa will read events from your calendar
  • Device Settings: Stop Audio, Set Volume, enable/disable Do Not Disturb
  • Messaging: Send a notification to the Alexa app or announce a custom message
  • Music: Presumably plays music, but for some reason, it’s grayed out on my device ¯\(ツ)
  • News : Alexa will play news from your flash briefing
  • Smart Home: Control a device that is paired to Alexa
  • Traffic: Alexa will report traffic (this will presumably be managed by your home address and work address if you set those in the app)
  • Wait: Wait a period of time before any other actions are run within this routine (useful for things like, “Hey Alexa, start bedtime.” Then 5 minutes later it can ask you if you’ve finished brushing your teeth)
  • Weather: Alexa will report the weather
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