As grandparents who live away from our two young grandchildren, maintaining a long-distance family connection is very important to us—and it can also be challenging for all. Knowing how busy both their family’s and our schedules are, finding a moment to connect with our grandchildren often falls into a small and spontaneous window of time. But when it happens, the moment often becomes treasurable.

Realistic Expectations and Making the Most of Limited Time

With each call, keeping a perspective and expectations in line is important; some days are just going to work better than others. WiFi woes, partial views, missing emotional cues … the list goes on! Although usually friendly and fun, it’s also good to remember when FaceTime, Zoom or other calls with a grandchild feel “off”, it shouldn’t be taken personally. We’re always grateful to their parents for sharing these real life glimpses, and in real time. The idea is to make the most of the limited time you have on any call and recognize when the window is closing.

🕵🏼Observation Offers Best Clues

Virtual calls should be treated like any in-person interaction with the child. It’s another opportunity to use your observation skills and follow the child’s lead. The feedback you’ll receive—body language and responses—offer the best clues for the call’s direction. 

😍An Attractive Prepared Cabinet

We try to have at least one closed-door cabinet prepared with things of interest for our grandchildren’s calls. Our four-year-old grandchild can be especially curious about what is inside or might ask to see the items from a prior call again. Our soon to turn one-year-old grandchild is beginning to catch on too! Regardless, the prepared cabinet piques their curiosity and provides predictability and repetition. Open shelves can work just as well. Use what you have and works best for you!

Our cabinet has shelves, which makes it easier for the children to focus on visually. I prepare the upper shelf with two or three activities for our oldest grandchild. The lower shelf is then prepared with two or three books and toys that may attract our youngest grandchild’s attention, if only for a moment. Observations from the prior week’s call helps to guide the material choices.

🏎Active Connections and Making Memories

Once our call begins, we have found showing items they find interesting to be most well-received. For example, we store in a separate cabinet a few colorful diecast cars with doors, hoods and trunks that open and close. They have become favorites, sparking lively conversations, “Papa, can you open the trunk? What’s under the hood? Are those red seatbelts?” … and soon become memories as each active connection is created.

🧩Age-Appropriate Puzzles, Toys and Books

Last weekend, our oldest grandchild and I built two wooden pattern blocks puzzle boards during a FaceTime call. I followed his verbal direction for each shape’s placement, holding it up for him to see before setting it on the wooden board. In turn, I shared new language, “This shape looks like a diamond. It’s called a parallelogram.” … “And this shape (while holding it up for him to see) is called a trapezoid.” As our call ended, I asked if I should keep the items in the cabinet for our next call … “Yes!”, was his enthusiastic response.

And just yesterday, he asked to see the cabinet again. As soon as I opened it, he said, “It’s the same as last time!” He proceeded to ask me to show him the basket of “vehicles that go” … We hadn’t explored those during our last FaceTime. I then shook the fabric ball from the lower shelf and our youngest grandchild turned to see where the noise was coming from. This gave me a chance to connect and share a little about its sound and colors,”Shake, shake, shake … Do you hear that jingle?” … Next I said, “The ball is very soft. I see the colors pink, (pause) and blue, and (pause again) green …” pointing to each until the moment of interest passed.

🤸🏽Planning Ahead and Rotating Materials

Before saying goodbye, I asked our oldest grandchild if he would like me to replace the toys with different items for our next call. Once again, he said “Yes!” and looked at me with a big smile as I closed the cabinet, already wondering …

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