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Staying Connected Virtually With Our Little Grandkids


Staying Connected Virtually With Our Little Grandkids – Tips, Activities, and Resources

 

BY JULIE N. HEIFETZ, PH.D

Are you fortunate to be able to visit grandchildren, nieces/nephews, and extended family in person? If the answer is no you are not alone. So many of us live far away from our dearest relatives and virtual communication has become our primary way to connect.

A 2019 AARP survey found that more than half of American families are dealing with distances greater than 200 miles between a grandparent and a grandchild.

For almost a decade I have spent numerous hours online with my grandkids as they traveled in time through their early childhood years to the present. They are now 8 (Susanna) and 11 years old (Kai), and Felix 3.

During the pandemic with endless days and nights at home Zoom and Facetime were my only means to connect and stay in tune with family. I must admit that I have become quite a good online communicator.

Many of my friends and family members confess that they don’t know how to engage with their grandkids virtually. Even with the pandemic behind us the frustration continues and seniors sigh that the younger generation (of varying ages) seem restless on the calls or zooms and want to hang up far too quickly. What to do?

In response, I decided to write up and share my ideas, suggestions, and what works for me when I’m virtually communicating with my grandkids.

HERE ARE SOME APPROACHES (that work for me)

 CHOOSE THE PREFERRED TECHNOLOGY FaceTime or live video calls are great and easiest. You can switch a phone call to Facetime very easily. With Zoom usually a parent has to set up the call. Some parents have preferences for the methods or devices for making calls.

TIME OF DAY MATTERS  When is your child more receptive: first thing in the morning, mid-day, in the car, bedtime?

I have found for little ones that calling while the child is sitting in one place is most beneficial. Playtime, Art time, Bath-time, and riding in the car these have all proven to be ideal times. A key to success is making sure the child is not too tired.

KNOW YOUR CHILD and how they generally respond to being online, on Facetime, or Zoom. Do they have any preferences? What have you noticed when trying to communicate with your little ones? Do they like you to lead or have you led or just watched them?

BE AWARE OF MOODS: Is he/she playful, tired, silly, wanting to share something, or just talking? What mood are you in? Sometimes kids will be very responsive and eager to engage, and other times he/she will not be in the mood or just want to touch base, check-in, and be on their way. Don’t take this personally! Kids live moment to moment and are in constant motion!

BE PRESENT. Our full attention and presence is like candy to our kids. We grown-ups have much to learn from the young – who fully dwell in the present  – not one moment before or after the here and now. So often my grandkids say, to me (when I’m not attentive )“Jah Jah, look at me, watch me. They may even turn my face to look directly into their eyes. Kids are our mindfulness teachers continually reminding us of our distractions and beckoning us to come back to the present. I call my grandkids Mindfulness Gurus. Whenever we cannot be fully present give them a heads-up when you will be back.

THE BEAUTY OF SILENCE I have learned from my daughter who teaches yoga that I try way too hard to fill up precious moments of silence. Why do I feel compelled to constantly talk and engage she asks? On numerous occasions, she will say, “I want to be with you, but I don’t want to talk. “Now the grandkids are making the same request.

I love to be invited into the room online with my grandkids or the family where just being on the call is enough. On many Facetime or Zoom calls I simply watch my grandson building his legos, magnatiles, and playing with his cars and trains. Once relaxed and connected he usually makes comments or explanations about his creations. It’s calming and restorative for us both.

So often what our children (large and small) want most is for us “just to be in the room- to hang out and not say a word. As my daughter suggests “Mom can you try just being a plant, or just hang out and knit.”  I am learning to do this both in person and virtually. So be comfortable with silence, hang out for a while, and allow conversations to emerge out of the silence.

TAKE TURNS BEING THE LEADER OR TEACHER

Depending on the situation give space to let the child lead whenever possible. Our kids are full of ideas and activities that surprise us. Other times you might lead by opening the door and introducing an object, an activity, or providing a prompt.

My grandchildren tend to be proactive and often want to show me something; a new artistic or lego creation, a tour of the latest green pepper in the vegetable garden, or to talk about their new biking adventure).

(My grandson may saunter downstairs in one of a variety of costumes. He can so easily transform into a pirate, magician, professor, ninja, a zombie. He did an online class for his grandparents on everything grown-ups should know about Pokeman). My granddaughter likes me to watch her engage in art projects, making slime or stop motion videos.

MATERIALS AND PROMPTS

Grandparents can supply their own set of materials to use while online. Your tool kit can include duplicates of what the kids have – (art supplies, cuddly animals, puppets, toys, building supplies, cards, and games). Parents can also put out materials for solo or collaborative online collaborative play. Siblings are welcome to participate and may assist and often do.

LESSONS FROM MR. ROGERS is one of the finest models for encouraging curiosity. Watch a few of his shows on YouTube or Prime Video to see how he moves at a gentle and slow pace holding up an object, studying and asking questions about it.

LEARN ABOUT THEIR PREFERRED INTERESTS AND ACTIVITIES. Keeping up with your child’s interests requires staying current as interests can change weekly. You can have a few materials by your side on his/her favorite subjects or a book they may like. You may want to introduce new topics using tangible props or images. (Pokemon, Magic Tricks, Dance Steps)

BABYSITTING– Online conversations with the kids and family members can be an absolute lifesaver for busy parents – in any time of need.

 

Here is a list of some ideas and activities for pre-school and elementary kids

Tell Jokes- there are plenty of joke books and online jokes for all ages

Riddles and Poems

Storytime/Live Reading

Meals: a great time to connect.

Pre-Recorded Reading

Take Turns Making up a Story

Take Tours

Enjoy a Walk together, flower walks, city walks

Gardening

 

ART PROJECTS

Find age-appropriate projects online (coloring, collages, masks, dioramas, mobiles, book-making, and more)

Watercolor

Make books together

Play Dough or Slime

Create an Art Gallery

 

Variety Shows:

Both adults and kids can do these

Puppet show – Adults and children can both have hand puppets that can talk to each other.

Jewelry Show or Dress up: Dress up as your favorite character

Dress up: decide on a theme and you have a couple of minutes to run and dress up in that theme

Magic shows 

Special songs, funny songs that you sing with the kids or finger games: Itsy Bitsy Spider, Five Monkeys, Little Bunny Foo Foo, Where is Thumbkin, etc.

Make up silly songs together.

Sing Songs, Play Music

Movement/Dance, Yoga, Stretches, Gymnastics

Cooking

Virtual Restaurant or Store

Tea Parties

Spa Day – facial, nails, hair

 

SCREEN-SHARES:

Watch videos or YouTube together.

Look at Photo books together and family photos or albums. You might even make a family album together or make a family photo collage.

Play with Dolls: or any collection you or they have – rocks, shells, trinkets, toys,

Play with an animal together (real or stuffed animals).

Memory Game:

Play cards:

Hand and finger games, songs, and other games:

Games

White Board drawing On Zoom:

Texting

Interviews

Educational Activities:

Colors, shapes, numbers, letters and words, spelling bees, exploring, taking things apart

  1. Sorting shapes and colors, taking turns building and knocking things down (blocks, boxes, etc.)
  2. Scavenger hunt: give the child a clue (something green and round) and he/she brings something back to show
  3. What’s your Favorite – food, animal, sport? Talk about favorite movies and songs; this will likely lead to an engaging conversation.
  4. Would you rather have x or y a rabbit or a dog, and why?
  5. Guessing games can be fun: Try I’m thinking of (a fruit, a country, a place, a person, a movie
  6. I’m going on a trip – and I will take- (go through the alphabet) or if a child is very young just have fun going on a trip.
  7. I SPY
  8. Teach sign language to the kids or say hello in different languages
  9. What am I – give some hints and they guess who you are
  10. Hide an object in plain site and see if they can find it
  11. Building – Lego projects Magnatiles
  12. Mad Libs – Junior (Fill in the blank stories with silly nouns, adjectives and verbs)
  13. Use the apps on Messenger to turn faces into crazy images: trolls, astronauts, unicorns with hearts coming out of their mouths
  14. Water play is possible if someone else holds the phone

ACTIVITIES WITH A PHONE ONLY (NO CAMERA)

  • Riddles and jokes (knock-knock jokes, Google for your specific age)
  • Educational activities – math questions, spelling bees
  • Guessing games: I’m thinking of (a fruit, a country, a place, a person, a movie…
  • I spy with my little eye…
  • What am I? Give hints for guessing
  • Makeup games together (kids are usually great at making them up)
  • Geography: States and capitals or “What country is Paris in?” (older kids)
  • Mad Libs Jr.
  • Poems
  • My favorite things – food, animals, movies, books
  • Rhyming: make up silly words
  • I’m going on a trip and I’m going to bring (go through the alphabet)
  • Simon Says
  • What would you rather be and rabbit or a dog
  • Taking turns being teachers and present any top
  • Texting: Send Emojis back and forth as texts and words
  • Interview grandparents – What did you do as a little kid?
  • Study a foreign language together. Duo Lingua

RESOURCES

Virtual Grandma- A How to Guide to Virtually Connect with young children 1-6 years by Allison Hillhouse – Caribu – online books and games to share.

Finally, it is important to remember that every adult offers something unique that contributes to the lives of the next generation.  Each of us has our way of interacting and connecting (online and in person) that aligns with our personalities, interests, creativity, and knowledge of our loved ones. You can stay connected and have playful interactions virtually.

 

 

 

Heifetz

About the author

Julie N Heifetz PhD

Julie is an educator, consultant, trainer and coach working in the US and globally with teachers and families to foster social emotional learning (SEL) tools and best practices. Key topics of her SEL work include: promoting well-being, self-management, stress reduction, and resilience and global citizenship. Trained as an anthropologist and educator she currently is a consultant with Families in Schools (Los Angeles) conducting family engagement trainings in public and charter schools. Julie frequently travels to Africa and Asia as a consultant for US Agency for International Development (USAID) working on women/girls/youth empowerment and equity projects that advance educational and livelihood opportunities for underserved communities. She is an active advocate for AARP – the Los Angeles City Advocacy Program which addresses a range of senior issues: housing/homelessness, transportation, livable communities and salient City Council initiatives. Julie has two daughters and 3 grandchildren who call her their “very fun and playful Jah Jah.”

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