Back to School: 7 Ways a Smart Home Can Help

August 5, 2014

It’s that time of year. Shopping for new clothes, buying new backpacks and school supplies, registering for classes, getting the first-day jitters. And for a lot of parents (like me), it’s time to figure out how to manage kids before and after school. Here are a few of my favorite ways to use my Control4 home automation system to “school” my family.
1.      GET UP! The kids certainly got used to sleeping in late during the summer break. Now they have to get up at the crack of dawn in order to get dressed and ready for school. No easy process. Personally, I hate starting a bright new day screaming like a banshee at my kids to get them out of bed. So we set our Control4 smart home system up to do a few things to help them wake up on their own. The bus leaves at 8:18 (give or take 5 minutes) so at 7am, the lights in both kids’ bedrooms come on automatically. Both kids have their own special soundtrack that starts to play in their rooms, gradually becoming louder to ease them out of bed. They each have a checklist by their door with their morning to-dos: get dressed, make bed, brush teeth, brush hair, get backpack, go down to breakfast. If the kids are not seated at the kitchen table by 7:30, I just grab my phone and hit the “GET UP!” button. This flashes the lights in their bedrooms and bathroom while broadcasting “You need to be downstairs in 5-4-3-2-1” over the speakers. Works like a charm.
2.      I’M HOME. I swear by this one. When the kids get home from school in the afternoon, they use their own special code on the Yale smart lock on the front door to let themselves into the house. A text is automatically sent to my smartphone reading “Noah is home” with a time stamp. If the code on the smart lock has not been entered during the 30-minute window the kids should have been home after school, I also get a text so I can track down my errant child. (No, you were not allowed to go to Bobby’s house after school without asking me.) Brilliant.
3.      HOMEWORK. It’s borderline impossible to keep kids focused on homework and chores when there are so many electronic distractions around, right? And if you’re a working parent, forget about it. You may not know this, but…kids lie. Sure their homework was done in 5 minutes, dishes put away and chores completed. Or they’re just playing Xbox and you’ll end up doing all of this at 10pm or 7am in a crabby rush. I have our electronics set up so that we can shut them down from our iPhones. No TV, no gaming until homework and chores are complete. Once the kids have proven that they are, in fact, compliant with the rules, I can turn all the fun stuff on – right from my phone. (This is also great when kids are grounded.) And if they try to sneak one past me, I get an alert from my Control4 system that the Xbox was turned on – busted!
4.      DINNER TIME: Once I get home from work and dinner is finally ready to be served, rounding up the kids can be an issue—one I don’t usually have the energy to deal with. So, again, I enlist the help of my Control4 home automation system. A broadcast message goes out over all the speakers in the house announcing “Dinner Time,” while the lights flash in the kids’ rooms and the electronics shut down. I can even use my phone or the touch screen in the kitchen to check the security cameras in the game room and outside to see if the kids are on their way in to eat.
5.      BEDTIME: Once chores are done, homework is finished, dinner is complete and cleaned up, lunches are packed, and all of the after-school-activity equipment is loaded into the car, the kids and I get to relax and have some fun. Well, for about eight minutes. Then it’s bedtime. The worst time of the day for most kids. Personally, I can’t wait to curl up in my bed and get some shut-eye, but my kids have no such need. So it’s a fight. I have my system set up to flash the lights at 8:30pm, signaling that bedtime is coming. They have 30 minutes to get pajamas on, teeth brushed, showered, and get to bed. At 9pm sharp, the lights go off along with all the electronics in their rooms. It’s really slick. All I have to do is read a book and give goodnight hugs and kisses.
6.      BABYSITTER: Occasionally, I get to have a night out. Or go to a Zumba class after work. Or I just have to work late. On those days, I have a nanny who comes to sit with the kids after school. I have asked her to limit the kids’ TV and game time but sometimes I think it slips through the cracks. I get the same text messages letting me know she’s using the “electronic babysitter” instead of actually engaging with the kids. This has been a great way to make sure my kids are in good hands when I can’t be at home with them.
7.      FUN STUFF: Sometimes getting back to school can be a real grind. Not just for the kids, but for mom too. It feels like every day is a race with nothing but schedules, calendars, to-do lists and homework. So sometimes it’s nice to just take a break and have some fun. That’s when we hit the “Play” button and the whole entertainment center kicks on so we can play Black Ops or watch the latest Transformers movie with some popcorn. That’s when my kids think I’m the world’s coolest mom. And I’m pretty okay with that.