5 Ways to Be Alerted If Your Kids Are Home From School

My son isn’t old enough to wander around on his own, thankfully, so I have yet to experience the stress of worrying where he is at all times. But when he is old enough, I’ll probably want to keep track of his every move.

Technology has brought about many ways to do this – some more cheaply and easily than others. Here’s 5 ways you can set up alerts that let you know your kids have gotten home safe and sound.

Geofencing with the IFTTT Mobile App

If This Then That (IFTTT) is a favorite of geeks everywhere for its sheer power to connect disparate services together in new and wonderful ways – but the mobile app is a secret weapon in the automation arsenal.

Specifically, you can use the geofencing feature to trigger actions when your (or your child’s) mobile device enters or exits the range of a specified GPS location. After installing the mobile app, just create a new recipe and search for “iOS Location” or “Android Location”, depending on your platform. From there, choose from the endless list of actions: a simple email notification when that mobile device enters the area; change the color of your Hue bulb; make a relaxing cup of tea from your Internet connected hot beverage device; or … honestly, the possibilities are endless.

I’d recommend setting up a separate account for your loved ones so you can continue to use the location channel for your own automation needs; and if you want to keep it simple, here’s a recipe that DMs you on Twitter. Obviously, this requires each family member you want to track to have a smartphone with data connection and GPS – so if you’re not comfortable giving your child a phone, scroll down to the other solutions.

IFTTT Recipe: Nearly home? Direct Message the person who should know connects ios-location to twitter

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GPS Tracking Wearables

There’s now a range of GPS equipped wearables, primarily designed for keeping tabs on children and elderly, though none of the devices stand out as a clear market leader. Most of these wearable devices give you a pinpoint map position at any time, but the one major downside to a GPS wearable is that it requires a mobile data connection, so there’s always a recurring cost just like a mobile phone.



Here’s a few options to get an idea of cost: PocketFinder is $130 upfront, with a monthly service fee of $12.50, which comes in a variety of designs depending on the intended use. AmberAlert comes in at a similar price, and although it offers emergency voice calls, is quite bulky for children and styled more like a pager of yesteryear. The TBS3203 is a slightly cheaper upfront cost with a  more child friendly design that also acts as an actual watch (remember those?) – and includes emergency calls to up to 3 guardian numbers. The tracking features are reportedly a little complex to use with most interactions requiring a text message to be sent.

Of course, if your child owns an iPhone, there’s no need for an additional tracking device, as the phone’s services already include a reliable way of tracking the device in real time via the Find My iPhone app. It’s primarily designed to find a lost or stolen device, but can be also be used for general tracking purposes if you share account logins.

Life360 Check In

If you’d like a more family oriented tracking ability that doesn’t involve sharing iCloud passwords, I was also impressed by the Life360 app and its range of safety features – definitely more appropriate for older children with active social lives who don’t want to be embarrassed by having to call mom, and not as intrusive as knowing their GPS whereabouts at all times.


The app serves as both a family message and emergency alert system, as well as offering more gentle ways to check in or request a status update. It’s not an automatic alert, but in my opinion, it straddles the balance delicately between privacy and safety, and is a must have tool for large families often on the go.

SmartThings Arrival Sensor

The SmartThings Arrival Sensor is a small, inexpensive ($30) keyfob that you can give to all members of the family – the SmartThings hub will then detect when this tag arrives at home and perform any action or notification you configure.  This does of course require a SmartThings hub, which will set you back an additional $100, but this would form a solid beginner-friendly basis for your entire smart home. phones-on-phones-898x1024

Even better news: version 2 of the hub has recently launched, offering a 10 hour backup battery in case your power goes out, support for Bluetooth 4.0, and an easier to use software interface.

The DIY Solution, with a Raspberry Pi

I already showed you how to make a DIY smart lock that detects the presence of an individual user by the Bluetooth signal given off from their smartphone – that same code can be very easily adapted to send an email instead, or fire off your IFTTT Maker Channel – or if you’re running OpenHAB (here’s our guide to getting started with OpenHAB on the Raspberry Pi), to do pretty much anything. It needn’t be a smartphone either: any Bluetooth device, such as a low cost tracking beacon, can be used instead.

You’ll need a Raspberry Pi with Bluetooth adapter to get started – follow the original guide, then replace the Python code for detect.py with the following code snippet instead to trigger the IFTTT Maker Channel (and don’t forget to update the Blueooth address to your device!):

  #!/usr/bin/python    import bluetooth  import time  import requests  from requests.exceptions import ConnectionError    state ='OUT'    while True:      print "Checking " + time.strftime("%a, %d %b %Y %H:%M:%S", time.gmtime())      result = bluetooth.lookup_name('YOUR:BLUETOOTH:ADDRESS:HERE:51:1B', timeout=5)  	      if (result != None and state!='IN'):          print "User present"  	state ='IN'          payload = '{ "value1" : "My Kid", "value2" : "Home" }'  	try:  		r = requests.put("https://maker.ifttt.com/trigger/presence/with/key/YOURKEYHERE",data=payload)  	except ConnectionError as e:  		print e  		r = "No Response"                  state = 'OUT'      elif (state != 'OUT' and result == None):          print "User out of range"  	state ='OUT'      time.sleep(10)  

You’ll also need to configure the IFTTT side of things. Create a new recipe using the Maker channel “Receive a web request” trigger and your choice of action – I set mine up to send an email like this. Notice that in the Python script, we’ve defined the event name as “presence”, Value1 as the person, and Value2 as the location. You can of course change these in the code, and duplicate the entire block to check for other people too by simply changing the Bluetooth address.

ifttt send email

If you’re going to look at incorporating other smart home DIY integrations and not just a simple IFTTT recipe, OpenHAB is definitely the way to go: our beginner’s guide will have you up and running in no time at all. Just use the existing Python presence sensor instructions contained there – then connect with My.OpenHAB to set up IFTTT integration and more.

Is It Going Too Far?

Sometimes I wonder if our children will ever know what privacy means – the same level of privacy and freedom that we grew up, at least. Then I see something horrible on the news, and go back to scheming up ever more inventive ways to spy on them.

Whatever your thoughts are on tracking your children, let’s talk in the comments. What solution works for you?


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