Summer is winding down and that means the return to the classroom just around the corner, however, the school supply list isn’t the only way to prep for the upcoming academic year. Outfitting your residence with smart home gadgets can make the busy back-to-school-season easier for the whole family.
Does your student walk home from school? A digital smart lock can be a lifesaver if your child ever loses his or her house keys. Don’t want your child fiddling with the air conditioner after coming home from soccer practice? A smart thermostat lets you adjust the temperature from your office. These simple smart additions to your home can make a world of difference was you and your family get back into the school year groove.
Not sure where to start? We’re here to help. Our editors test products and give recommendations to help you be a more informed shopper. These are our top picks for a more connected home this school year.
1. A smart lock so your kid can be key-free this school year
Got a latchkey kid? Say goodbye to lost house keys during the school year by installing the Schlage Encode Smart WiFi Deadbolt. With the capability to store and remember up to 100 passcodes, the Schlage Encode Smart WiFi Deadbolt is our top pick for the best smart locks. This is a useful feature if you want to set a specific code for your child after school or if a babysitter is on the way to keep watch for a few hours. The smart deadbolt works with Alexa, Google Assistant, Ring, Amazon Key, and, of course, Schlage Home. Forgot to set a code or have an unexpected visitor? That’s no problem because you can lock and unlock your front door from anywhere using your phone.
2. A smart thermostat you can control from anywhere
Setting your thermostat to the right temperature when you’re not home may help you save money on your electric bill, however, that temperature may not be as ideal once your back at the house. If your student is coming home to a warm (or cold) house after school, check out the Emerson Sensi Touch WiFi Thermostat. Per our testing, we think this is the best smart thermostat available. Using the Sensi app, you can adjust the temperature from anywhere, so the house will feel just right when you’re child comes home from a day of learning. This feature is also useful for kids who don’t know how to work the thermostat yet and gives you control over the temperature at home. The smart thermostat also works with Alexa, Google Assistant, and Apple HomeKit.
3. An outdoor smart security camera that can send you alerts
Curious to know who is coming and going when you’re away at work? Keep an eye on the perimeter of your home (and who your child is inviting over) using our favorite outdoor smart security camera: the Google Nest Cam Outdoor. The smart security camera does require a Google Nest Aware paid subscription plan to access useful features like 24/7 continuous recording, intelligent alerts, video history ranging from five to 30 days, and activity zones. You can monitor the live feeds from your web browser, mobile app, or via smart speakers like the Google Nest Hub.
4. An indoor security camera so you can check on your kids after school
If your children are old enough to be home alone, but you still want to check in on them after school, then an indoor smart security camera can deliver you peace of mind when you’re away at work or out running an errand. The Logitech Circle 2 is the best smart indoor security camera we’ve tested. The device is easy to set up, comes with 24-hour complimentary cloud storage, and creates a Daily Brief montage each day that highlights any events you may have missed. The Logitech Circle 2 works with Alexa, Google Assistant, and Apple HomeKit.
5. A smart video doorbell that lets you see, hear, and talk to whoever is at the door
Knee-deep in helping your kid with math homework? Perhaps you’re getting a head start on prepping tomorrow’s lunch and can’t immediately answer the visitor at your front door? With a smart doorbell like the Ring Video Pro 2, you can see, hear, and talk to whomever is waiting on your front porch. Our testing determined that the Ring Video Pro 2 is the best smart doorbell you can get right now. It offers a reliable connection, clear night vision views, and works with Alexa. Ring also has a user-friendly app, so you can answer from anywhere.
6. A smart speaker that can help you tackle your back-to-school to-do list
Children ask a lot of questions, and Alexa has answers. The Amazon Echo (2nd Generation) is the best Amazon Echo smart speaker we’ve tested because of its amazing sound quality. Not only can you use the Echo to control Alexa-enabled devices (like the Ring Video Doorbell 2 and the Schlage Encode Smart WiFi Deadbolt), but you can ask Alexa for recipe ideas, add items to your grocery list, keep track of upcoming events on your calendar, homework help, and more.
If you're looking for a smart speaker just for kids, check out the Echo Dot Kids Edition. It's full of kid-friendly skills like listening to music, hearing stories, calling approved friends and family, and more.
7. A smart lighting kit so you never have to fumble for the light switch when you’re carrying an armful of textbooks
Turning on the lights doesn’t sound like much effort, but try doing it while carrying a heavy backpack, lunch box, binders, books, and other daily school necessities and it can be a real balancing act. To help take the load off after school, try smart bulbs. Our top pick for the best smart bulbs is the Philips Hue White and Color Ambiance Starter Kit, which can be used with Alexa, Smart Things, Apple HomeKit, and Google Assistant. For example, you don’t have to leave a finger to make it happen (which is really helpful when you’ve got your hands full). Just say, “Hey Alexa, turn on the kitchen lights,” and voilà. These smart lights can also be controlled using the Phillips Hue app. The Philips Hue White and Color Ambiance Starter Kit features 16 million colors and shades of white, so you'll earn extra cool points with your kids for the rainbow-colored display.
8. A Bluetooth tracking device so you can find all of your child’s misplaced belongings
Kids inevitably lose backpacks, folders, lunch boxes, and other academic accouterments at some point throughout the year (I know mine do). While you’re at the store stocking up on No. 2 pencils and lined paper notebooks, you may want to pick up a Tile Mate tracker. The small white tracking device can easily be hooked onto your child’s belongings or slipped inside a folder or book. Is your child’s backpack lost in the house? Just open the Tile app to check the backpack’s last known location. If it’s within 150 feet of your phone, it will play a tone (similar to how the Find My iPhone app works). Trust me, it will save you time in the morning when you’re frantically trying to get the kids out the door.
9. A smart garage door opener that you can monitor from the office
Does your son or daughter ride their bike to and from school? A smart garage door can give them easy access to storing it after returning home without having to go through the front door first. The garage door can be controlled via the myQ app, however, the company notes that the product is not attended for children 13 years old and younger. The myQ Smart Garage Door Opener can be controlled remotely using the myQ app, which sends status notifications to your phone when the garage opens and closes. It’s is compatible with Amazon Key, Google Assistant, Wink, and IFTTT.
10. A smart plug so your kids can turn the TV on and off with ease
“Hey Alexa, turn on the TV.” That’s a common phrase my daughter says when she’s ready to watch Netflix for the umpteenth time this summer. And, no, her playroom doesn’t have a fancy smart TV. However, we do use smart plugs, which we control via our Amazon Echo Dot, to power her TV on and off. Our best value smart plug, the Eufy Smart Plug Mini, is an affordable way to make your home smart, so your kids can do the same. The Eufy smart plug can be controlled remotely using the iDevices app and is compatible with Alexa and Google Assistant.
We can’t promise the school year won’t be without a few bumps in the road, but these smart home gadgets can certainly help make the back-to-school season a little less hectic for you and your family.
Prices are accurate at the time this article was published, but may change over time.