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Tech check-ins: Connecting with grandparents during COVID-19

Rylan Gosbee, three, of Beaver Bank, NS, enjoys video messaging with his grandmother. It’s a great way for him to still visit and connect with her while staying at home due to COVID-19.
Rylan Gosbee, three, of Beaver Bank, NS, enjoys video messaging with his grandmother. It’s a great way for him to still visit and connect with her while staying at home due to COVID-19. - Contributed


It’s not only difficult for families with children at home during these times of isolation, it’s also a struggle for grandparents who are missing their grandchildren.

“It is most difficult to not be able to hug our grandchildren, family members and friends and see them face-to-face,” says Nancy McBay, who is used to frequently seeing her six grandchildren, who all live less than an hour from her home in Gaspereau, N.S.

McBay is not alone. Grandparents everywhere are looking for ways to connect with their grandchildren. Although many have the basics down, others like McBay say it’s challenging to find engaging activities that work well with technology.

How to connect

The first step is getting the right technology. Both parties must have the same app or program. Do your own research to find which programs works best for your family and devices depending on the security feature and ease of use.

The most popular app is Facebook Messenger for Kids. Geared towards children with strict safety standards, it’s managed and set up through the parents’ own Facebook accounts. According to its website, parents also control their child's contact list. If a grandparent already has a Facebook account, the parent can connect you with the child’s account. If you don’t have Facebook, consider getting the Kids Messenger version to connect with grandchildren.

Katie Keddy, from the Annapolis Valley, says Kids Messenger has been awesome for her family.

“My kids are five and seven, so even if they don’t feel like carrying a conversation, they’ll use the filters and make those on the other end laugh.”

Best apps or programs for video messaging include:

Online activities

Once grandparents and grandchildren are connected online, there are a lot of things they can do together. Many children are too young for a full-fledged conversation, so it is often better to have a purpose to the call.

There are many online games that can be played across the generations. With some, you sit and play the entire game, while others you take your turn and check in later to see if the other player has taken their turn yet.

Some popular online games and apps include:

When playing games together, Elinor Cameron from Kentville, N.S., says it is a lot more fun to use a second device, preferably with video, to talk while playing. Even if you don’t have a second device, you can use a landline and put the phone on speaker, or just use the messaging app for voice-only in the background.

Even without a game app or website, you can still play family board games by using a video platform like Zoom, where one of the devices shows the game board. Games like Trivia Pursuit, or ones that don’t have a lot of board movement, work best for this set up. Traditional pen and paper games like hangman or Wheel of Fortune work as well.

Options for younger kids

Children who are too young for online games can enjoy a variety of other activities with their grandparents. Three-year-old Finn Holloway, from Lower Sackville, N.S., has family members take turns to read him bedtime stories.

“Finn gets the iPad and snuggles down into bed, and the grandparents will turn their camera around so Finn can see the pictures as the story is being read, and the grandparents can see the top of Finn’s forehead, because, well, he hasn’t mastered making sure his face is in the frame,” says Amy Holloway.

Other grandparents, like Lynn Pulsifer, says her granddaughter will often get one of her favourite books and the Kentville, N.S., woman reads it to her as she turns the pages.

Other activities for small children include playing a game of “Guess what I’m holding,” where the child has to describe an item without outright telling what she has in her hand. Other families play hide-and-seek, where the parent takes the phone, on video, around the house to help find the hiding child.

Doing creative activities can be turned into a chance for interaction. Abby MacPhee, five, of Port Williams, N.S., does a craft every day with her mother, Alana, who then sends a daily photo to her grandparents Leslie and Grace Dean in St. John’s, N.L., who then guess what it is.

Pulsifer has done online baking with her 11-year-old grandson.

“I supervised while he whipped up a chocolate cake,” she says. “I was there for mostly moral support and to make sure he had the right sized pan and that the oven was the right temperature. We had fun and the cake was a great success.”

Five-year-old Abby MacPhee of Port Williams, N.S., does a daily craft and sends the images to her grandparents, Leslie and Grace Dean, in St. John’s, NL. They must try to guess what she has made. Next, they will be trying a video baking session together.
Five-year-old Abby MacPhee of Port Williams, N.S., does a daily craft and sends the images to her grandparents, Leslie and Grace Dean, in St. John’s, NL. They must try to guess what she has made. Next, they will be trying a video baking session together.

Helping with school

Some grandparents send challenges to their grandchildren by providing them with learning problems, and later follow up for answers. Others help their grandchildren complete their school or homeschool assignments.

Try having kids do weekly projects where they call up all their family members and ask survey questions or interview them, or have a child email a different family member each day of the week.

Linda MacKay, from Brackley, P.E.I., is keeping in touch with her grandchildren through a family history project. Each grandchild has been assigned a different grandparent to interview over video messaging, with the task of collecting a story from each decade of life.

“This is such a great chance to get to know them, and them us,” says MacKay.

Pat Davis, from Port Williams, N.S., says most of her 13 grandchildren live a distance from her, so she’s used to connecting online, and that they are always up for creating family challenges.

“For example, we each learned to sing Happy Birthday in another language and then had to show a video of ourselves singing it twice while washing our hands. It was hilarious,” she says.

Even grandparents who cannot access apps and websites can still find ways to connect with their grandchildren. Many of the activities above are transferable to the telephone, and there is always snail mail.

Emily Gosbee, from Beaver Bank, N.S., and her two children send care packages via Amazon with items they have picked out together, while Julie Zwicker, from Lower Sackville, N.S., helps her daughter mail paintings she’s made to her grandparents in Ontario.

Another suggestion is to start a picture, mail it to the other person and have them complete the next section, continuing to mail it back and forth until complete.

“We are all very grateful that we all have technology that can keep us close, while at a distance. We can stay connected and share each other’s lives and ideas for best coping with the difficult situation we are living in and can easily support one another,” McBay says.

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