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Virtual Playdates with Your Grandchildren

September 1, 2020

Missing your grandchildren during social distancing to avoid the spread of COVID-19? Virtual playdates can help dispel the isolation, deliver face-to-face time with your grandchildren, and provide a much-needed respite for parents who are juggling full-time childcare, home schooling, and careers all at the same time.

Photo credit: Maria Symchych-Navrotska/123RF.com

How does it work? Schedule a time to be your grandchild’s virtual playmate so you can watch him or her play, read a book together, play online games, do arts and crafts, and keep your grandchild happily occupied for a set time. Apps such as Zoom, FaceTime, WhatsApp, Skype, Caribu, and Marco Polo provide excellent video-calling platforms for your screen visits. 

Arts and Crafts for Grandkids

Linda Waters of Lunenburg, Massachusetts has been orchestrating weekly arts and crafts playdates with her grandchildren in North Carolina. After Kindergarten was suspended due to the coronavirus, there was no school and no playdates to keep her grandchildren busy. Linda told her son and daughter-in-law, “Let me take an hour to keep them busy.”

The playdate runs for an hour each Sunday at 1pm. Her five-year-old granddaughter calls it her “appointment” and looks forward to it each week. Linda texts the supply list and explicit instructions to her daughter-in-law three to four days in advance. She often sends a photo of the finished project but asks her daughter-in-law not to share it with her grandchildren so as not to spoil the surprise of what they will make together each week.

The “appointment” begins just before nap time for the two-year-old so she can feel a part of it as well. As soon as the younger one goes down for a nap, the snipping, painting, and gluing begins. They complete the project together, step-by-step, and always have a finished product by the end of the playdate.

Linda said it was important to keep the time to an hour so that her granddaughter doesn’t get tired or disinterested. “I set it up for an hour because I want it to be totally quality time,” Linda explained.

Linda, who was in the educational field for forty years, knows it’s important to keep up her relationship with her grandchildren, give their parents a break, and keep up important skills the children would learn at school. “I haven’t been able to see them since January. It’s been hard. This has made it feel like I’ve kept the relationship going,” said Linda. “It keeps you connected.”

Set Realistic Expectations

Always keep in mind your grandchild’s age, temperament and abilities. Expecting a two-year-old to fold origami will be frustrating for both of you. Take the time to provide developmentally appropriate activities. Some children play well independently and may be happy just to have you take an interest in what they’re doing. Others may need a more structured activity. Older children may be more willing to sit and listen to a story or complete an arts and crafts project.

Don’t let the session stretch out too long. You don’t want the playdate to end in tears, meltdowns or frustration. It’s always best to end on a high note!

Linda always keeps her virtual playdates to an hour and ends with a good-bye song. Her granddaughter loves to sing along with her, and the song signals the end of their session without whining or pleading for “just one more minute.”

Kid-Friendly Video-Calling Apps

Caribu is a family-oriented video calling app where each person sees the same screen so they can interact and play in real time. On a Caribu video call, you can read books from an extensive library of popular titles, play games, color or even cook from a recipe together.

Facebook’s Messenger Kids is another free and popular app that allows kids 6 to 12 to video chat and message friends and family, with challenges, drawings and filters. And there are no worries about kids going on social media because parents control the contacts while the kids have the fun. Available on iOS, Android and Amazon tablet download.

Marco Polo is based on the classic backyard game of the same name. With the Marco Polo app, your grandkids can call out “Marco” to see who will answer “Polo” to connect with friends and family. You can chat and play live in a group or, if the person you are connecting with isn’t available, the app records the message for them to view later.

More Ideas for Virtual Fun

There are many fun and creative ways you can structure your virtual playdates. If you get stuck, there are many YouTube videos and articles online about crafts for kids, online games, or any number of inspirations for your playdates. Here are some additional suggestions:

Play Dress-Up: kids can dress up as anything from superheroes to ballerinas to their favorite TV or book characters. You can get in on the fun, too, and become your favorite character. Put on make-up together or have a face painting session. Check out some YouTube tutorials ahead of time, such as How To Do Face Painting.

Put on a Puppet Show: kids can perform with their favorite toys, make sock puppets during your call or make their own puppets in advance. Put on a puppet show and end the activity with a puppet dance party.

Play Virtual Games: there are several apps and platforms to play virtual games together online and you can find their favorites, such as Scrabble, Monopoly and Uno!

Show and Tell: kids can show off their latest projects, crafts, and even their current favorite toys. You can show them your favorite items, too, such as family heirlooms, your latest knitting project or favorite flea market find.

Read a book: kids love reading books together. While they can’t snuggle up in your lap, reading their favorite books or introducing new books is a wonderful bonding experience. Older kids can practice their reading skills by reading to you!

Share a Meal or Snack: have a virtual luncheon or dinner date with your grandkids. You can order food online to be sent to them from a food delivery service or you can send their parents a list of ingredients and cook together before sharing a meal.

Paint Portraits: Paint each other’s portraits by having your grandchildren draw or paint your portrait while you paint theirs. Then make a paper frame and decorate the frame with buttons, glitter or macaroni. For more inspiration, there are many ideas for fun arts and crafts projects online on Pinterest, YouTube or other websites.

Virtual Scavenger Hunts: Grandparents can get involved with this fun activity by calling out household items that the grandkids have to race around the house to find. If you have more than one grandchild, the first one back with the item wins the point.

Watch a Movie: Decide on a movie in advance and start the film at the same time for all participants. “Netflix Party” is an app available on Google Chrome that synchronizes video playback and adds group chat to Netflix shows and movies. You can both make popcorn in advance for a fun movie snack.

Skype with Grandma: this article from “Grandma Ideas” list 17 more ideas for virtual playdates with your grandkids.

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