Long Distance Literacy: Using Video Chat to Connect with Faraway Grandparents

Half of our family is over 300 miles away. It’s hard. Especially when Preschool Bookworm asks with his sweet, sad puppy dog eyes if Grandma and Grandpa are coming to his birthday party. Traveling is difficult and vacation time is limited, so we take advantage of technology to bring us together. Video chat has made all the difference in our kids connecting with their faraway grandparents, and we’re working on harnessing its power for literacy!

If you’ve been around the blog a while, you know our family is keen on all things bookish, and that includes the older generation! Below are some tips on connecting across the miles with literacy as a backdrop. We’ve used many of these, and others we are aiming to start as attention spans lengthen.

Video Chat with Facetime, Skype, Google Hangout


Utilizing Video Chat for Literacy

Read together. Duh. You knew I was going to say that, didn’t you? We have enjoyed reading together across the miles as we let Preschool Bookworm pick out a book he thinks they will enjoy hearing that day. (You can utilize my “short books basket” tip here.) Here are a few ways to extend the reading fun:

  1. Share favorite books of old: books that the grandparents read when they were little, or that they recall reading to you. A favorite of Preschool Bookworm’s grandma was also one of MY favorites growing up, The Poky Little Puppy (read my post about it here, or see my Throwback Thursday listing for ideas of popular books that have spanned generations of bookworms).  You could read these together during your call, or read them during the week & talk about your favorite parts. Grandparents can share their memories of reading the story “when your daddy was your size.” Who doesn’t love a little sentimentality?!
  2. Take a picture walk and allow the child to tell the story. Picture walking is a way of “reading” a story without reading the words. Page through the story, sharing observations about the pictures, and practicing summarizing skills. A nice way to add an interactive spin to reading for this purpose.
  3. Read a part of a book together each week. This goes along with adding a routine to your calls (see general tips below). Choose a book and read a chapter together during each call. The “Mercy Watson” series (see my update at 2.5 years old here) would be great for this purpose, or A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh (the old ones before Disney), or even just a segmenting a longer picture book would do the trick! As you pick up reading on the next call, be sure to do some quick summarizing (picture walking as necessary). With older readers, this could be an independent activity that you discuss during your calls. Your own little family book club!
  4. Share jokes, riddles, or tongue twisters. Even reluctant readers love joke books!
  5. Share a magazine. My bookworms’ grandmom gifted them a subscription to Highlights’ High Five magazine this year. Getting literacy based mail is a real treat! We love when it arrives, and its short segments are perfect for sharing on a video call. You could also consider photocopying the “hidden pictures” page, mailing it to your family, and then have the child show grandpa how strong his eyes are to find each item. This is a great language activity! Tip: libraries usually carry subscriptions to many early literacy magazines that you can check out, and likely the grandparents can, too.

“Literacy” Is More Than Books! Literacy involves language, both expressive and receptive.

  • Sing together. Sing the ABCs, a favorite song they used to sing to you, or maybe your older bookworm could teach them a song they’re learning in school. We love showing the grandparents the action songs we sing in library storytime: “Skiddamarinky dinky dink! I love you!”
  • Draw. You can play a drawing game, with grandparents drawing something for your bookworm to guess, or vice versa. Bookworms can play art director and request something for the grandparents to draw. Or, simply allow your bookworm to draw while you chat, and then talk about what they made (what colors, shapes, patterns, letters do you notice?).
  • Play games. “I spy with my little eyes, something that is red…” Or, have a running hide & seek object. Your little bookworms can direct grandma & grandpa to where the object is this week, using directional terms and descriptive language.

    General Video Chat Tips:

    Walk them through how to connect. Video chat has become pretty ubiquitous, so I won’t go into great detail on how to set up Skype or Facetime. If your family members are leary of technology, you might need to set them up in person on your next get together. My bookworms’ grandparents Skype with us through a webcam we set up on their desktop. My bookworms’ GREAT grandparents (96 years old!) Skype with us on Great Grandmom’s iphone, and I have the login info saved so that I can talk her through any error messages. We usually call first to let them know we’re ready to chat, and while on their landline with my cell phone, we initiate the Skype through Daddy Bookworm’s cell. Once we’re connected we hang up the landline.

    Schedule a regular time to chat. We have a running date for Saturday mornings. Some weeks it doesn’t work out, but it gives us a framework to reschedule around.

    Discuss with your child ahead of time some conversation topics. I will often prep Preschool Bookworm with a few ideas: “Ooh! You can tell them about our trip to the museum yesterday. I bet they’d love to hear about the dinosaur bones you went digging for!”

    Consider private one-on-one time with each child. Our Skype calls tend to run long (often 30-45 minutes), and they really get the feel of being in our home: noise, chaos, short attention spans, and the joys of two small children. If you feel like conversation is being overshadowed by the general activity of the room, consider giving each child special time to interact without the other(s). I’ll often give Daddy Bookworm a few quiet minutes to talk to his parents without juggling babies!

    Harness the power of routine. Kids love rituals and routines! Consider implementing one or more activities that you always do at the start or end of your call. Perhaps one of the literacy based ones above! 🙂

Does your family have any video chat routines we should try? I’d love to add to our collective toolbox!

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