Rama and Karthik led a busy life. With parents of their grandchildren working, they were practically bringing up 7-year-old Natasha and 5-year-old Nitya. While Rama got the grandchildren ready for school, packed their lunch and ensured their backpacks were in order, Karthik would drop them at the bus stop. Their evenings would become busy again once the children returned home from school.
Though they were always on their toes, Rama and Karthik would not have wanted it any other way. But this did not go on for long. The parents of their grandchildren were transferred to an ‘onsite’ location and so the entire family had to shift there as well. Now, Rama and Karthik can only connect with their grandchildren through online chat during weekends.
Growing urbanization and better job opportunities in different parts of the world has led to fragmentation of the family. It is no longer unusual to find grandparents and grandchildren living in different cities or countries. But with advancements in technology, staying connected is not a challenge anymore. Tools like Skype are helping people communicate with each other and rekindle old bonds.
But the problem most grandparents face while communicating through instant messaging tools is best summed up by what Rama says. ‘It’s just not the same as living together anymore. The children have their own busy schedule, so it is just stop and go sessions that we have on Skype’, sighs Rama. ‘And even when we do want to have longer chats, we don’t know what to talk beyond how was your day, what is the plan for today?’.
Here are some tips that will not only make video chats interesting but will have your grandchildren asking for more.
1. Play games
There are several ‘no prop games’ that are fun to play. All you need is a little imagination and a lot of enthusiasm. Some of them are:
a) Build a monster/angel: Describe an imaginary monster/angel and let each player add a new characteristic to the first person’s description to build on what has already been described.
b) Memory game: Pick a few things from around your house and have the children take a look at them. Now, move the camera away and ask the children to remember and name the things they saw. You’d be amazed at what children pick to show you when it is your chance to tell.
c) Freeze dance: Playing this popular games is one of the best ways of keeping the spirits up.
2. Sing songs
Children love music and music is also known to benefit their little brain in many ways. Moving away from nursery rhymes, you can introduce them to clap songs, action songs and even rap. Not only would your grandchildren enjoy the catchy songs, but also learn coordination, body awareness and rhythm. Some songs to sing along are:
a) Educational songs teaching them facts like ABC, This old Man
b) Action and activity songs like Wheels on the Bus, Itsy Bitsy Spider
c) Clap songs like A sailor went to sea, sea, sea
3. Silly faces
Don't be afraid to make a fool of yourself; clown around a bit and pull a face. And if you are not too comfortable making a funny face, there are several apps like Tango for Android or Chat for Mac that can help you to edit and distort your face.
4. Plan a project
Plan a simple project and set aside a week for you and your grandchildren to put it together. They will certainly look forward for the next chat session to share their handiwork and see your creation as well. For example, making sock puppet of characters from Three Little Pigs, or making emoji masks of a happy grandma, winking grandpa, and shy granddaughter using just paper and markers
5. The more the merrier
Set up a conference call with aunts and uncles. If you have older kids who are into video games, video chat services like Camfrog offer games that you can play while you chat.
6. Share pictures
Most of the popular video chat services have options to write text and send attachments. Ask your grandchildren to show pictures of their outings and describe their trip – a virtual slideshow
7. Create new stories
Choose a topic or a subject and try to create a story around it. Or just go with old classics like Cinderella or Snow White, or even an episode from Chhota Bheem.
These are some fun ideas to start off with. If you think monotony has set in after a few video calls, just tweak the rules a little and you will have a new game. For example, the Memory game can be modified by removing some objects and asking players to name them. If you let your grandchildren take the lead, they can give some very interesting twists to the regular games.
Always ensure that you make eye contact with your grandchildren. And stop the game while they are still having fun. Children love a structured routine, so they will relax and engage better if they know what to expect from you in every chat session. They will always want to return back to that game that they enjoyed last week.
Interacting with grandparents is a valuable experience. They bring joy, comfort and love into the lives of their grandchildren. At the same time, grandparents also get a great sense of joy and fulfilment, and an opportunity to see life differently through the eyes of their grandchildren. So, let not the geographical divide come in the way of creating long-lasting happy memories.
Maathangi Iyer is a Human Resource professional who conducts interactive programmes to promote a healthy learning environment for children.