If all you want during your Skype, FaceTime, Google Duo, or Facebook Portal time is to talk with your young grandchild, chances are they’ll get bored fairly quickly and wander away. Instead, make your visit fun and that’ll keep ’em entertained — and they’ll want to “visit” with you longer and more often.
Reading books is great entertainment, of course. (Check out my picture book reading tips.) But wait –there’s more! Let your creativity come out and try some play activities. Consider doing on video chat some things you might do if you were in the same room as your grandchildren.
Some ideas you’ll try will work — some will be “misses.” But young children are very forgiving so we can feel free to experiment.
Let me share some activities that I’ve tried and have worked. Some are even great for toddlers! Most involve “flipping” the camera on your device, so the child isn’t seeing your face but rather sees what you want to show them.
Some of these activities are easier if two grandparents are doing it, so one can hold the device and the other conducts the activity. But all can be done by just one person.
Let’s get started!
Truly, I thought it’d be impossible to play a game during a video chat. We bought a classic children’s game — Hi Ho Cherry-O — but had no idea if we could play this with the grandkids during FaceTime. Would they like playing when all they can do is watch the game? They did!
Just as with the child “in person,” we first explained how the game worked. Since we’re playing it long-distance, we spin the wheel for each player and pick the fruit off the trees and bushes, having the grandkids count out the right number. I move the iPad to show either an overview or a close up of the area of the game, as determined by what we’re doing at the time. The game progresses as it would in person, with lessons about winning and losing.
By the way, we resist the urge to buy the game for our grandchildren to have at their house. Instead, we keep it as a special activity for during a video chat with us.
“Old McDonald Had a Farm.”
Sometimes we don’t just sing a song to our toddler on FaceTime — we have pictures to go along with it!
I bought a used book for a dollar at a garage sale and I cut out colorful pictures of animals.
Then on a video chat, my husband and I sing Old McDonald. When we come to the part that says, “And on that farm he had a DOG, ee-ii-ee-ii-oo!” we hold our iPad close to the picture of the dog for that section of the song (see below). Then it’s on to another animal.
To include an older child in the fun, we ask big sis or big brother to select which animals will be in this particular rendition of the song. We spread the available animal pictures on the table and he or she picks five or so animals to use while singing to little brother or sister.
Other songs and poems.
We don’t have the best voices but, happily, our grandchildren don’t notice. So we often include singing as part of a video chat. (Because the timing between the two devices is a tad off, singing with them doesn’t work well.)
This whole first year of Sebastian’s life we’re singing Red Red Robin during every video chat session. When we start the song, he grins from ear to ear and often starts bouncing along. We also sing the same song when we’re actually visiting at his house, to help him connect the real grandparents with the “flat people” (us!) he sees on the iPad.
If there are two grandparents for a video chat session, try singing a round song such as Row Row Row Your Boat. Little ones are fascinated with rounds.
We also recite poems and nursery rhymes, and sometimes add a twist. Example: with the camera view on my face, I recite “Five little monkeys jumping on the bed, One fell off and bonked his head! Mama called the doctor and the doctor said –“ Then I turn the iPad camera so it’s a close-up of Grandpa’s face, saying very seriously, “No more monkeys jumping on the bed!” Then I position my device so the camera goes back to Gram for the next part. Grandpa does only the doctor’s voice. The kids grin from ear to ear waiting for Grandpa’s stern warning! (If I’m doing it alone, I take off my glasses to say the doctor’s line, making a face.)
Finding the stuffy.
Before a video session, sometimes we hide stuffed animals around the main rooms of our house. Then when FaceTiming, we ask the grandchildren to help us find them. They love doing this!
We turn the iPad around so the kids can see the room and then we slowly scan all around. When a child spots Muffy Vanderbear or the squirrel or the horse, he or she will invariably point to their own screen and say, “There! There!” We’ll tell the child to use their words so we know where the stuffy is … and they announce with glee, “On the couch! Behind the pillow!!!” We fuss over their brilliant use of words and give the stuffy a big hug.
Exploring your house.
With my trusty iPad, I often walk around the house to answer the grandkids’ requests to see things. Anderson loves to check out Grandpa’s model airplanes. Charlotte enjoys helping me select which wrapping paper to use to wrap a girlfriend’s birthday gift. Fiona wants to visit with two little dolls I had when I was young. Everyone loves to see when Grandpa has a messy desk in his office.
Your home has great appeal to your grandkids and it’s fun to have regular things they like to see. I think they enjoy the power of giving direction! Plus when our grandchildren come to our house once a year, they’re very familiar with it.
Who says you have to be with a child to have a tea party? Occasionally during a FaceTime session, I’ll announce it’s Owl’s birthday and let’s have a party! I let my grandchildren select which other stuffed animals can come to the party, and they watch as I set everyone in a circle on top of the dining room table. Then they help me select plates and cups and they choose which snack the “guests” will have. I do the voices for the animals and make them move (such as pretend eating). The kids really laugh when one of the animals has very bad table manners!
Looking at photos.
I store our family photos on my computer. During a video chat, I’ll show the kids some of these photos, say from our last visit or from Christmas or a vacation. I hold the iPad to my computer screen and we talk about the photos as we step through them.
What works for you as you try to entertain your grandchildren? Please share with us in the Comments section below.
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