Do you have a surly preteen grandchild who suddenly seems impossible to interact with? Or are your grandchildren preschoolers who live too far away to visit on a regular basis? The answer to connecting with any kid who is distant —physically or emotionally — is screen time

The phrase has progressed from being a dirty word amongst cautious parents to a daily reality for many kids — and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Smart phones, computers, and even video game consoles are considered essential tools for education as well as communication and entertainment. So for many children, screens are a very natural way of interacting with their peers and the world around them. Instead of fighting this inevitable progression that often seems odd or off-putting to older generations, it’s time to embrace screens for their ability to engage with kids and facilitate play. It can be a great way for grandparents and grandchildren to connect.

Ideas for Engaging with Younger Children

Children as young as 3 or 4 are surprisingly capable of operating just about any technology they can get their hands on. With some supervision from the parental units (to ensure they don’t just get up and walk away), you could call and play a number of games with little ones that will be sure to build fun memories. Here are some suggestions.

Two young girls laugh at a screenCard games: Card games lend themselves to video calls really easily, whether you want to use regular playing cards or try an online option like Uno, Go Fish, and Crazy 8s are always a big hit with the younger crowd. To use the website, you simply choose a game on their homepage and create a “room” to get a room code. Then, you can share that code with any other players you’d like, and the website synchronizes everything else for you, so you can see the game play right on your screen. They don’t include a chat or video option, so the phone call does need to be done separately via whatever method you’d like (Zoom, Skype, Facetime, etc.) 

Reading Stories: Although you don’t get the pleasure of sweet, sleepy snuggles, reading stories to your younger grandchildren can be just as beneficial over video as in real life. Reading to youngsters has been proven to benefit their cognitive development and lead to higher success rates in later education. It can also be really fun sharing some of our favorite children’s books with a new generation. All it takes is a copy of the book and an attentive kid, and maybe the ability to read upside down (so they can see the pictures the whole time. Kindergarten teachers are saints, y’all.) If you don’t have a physical copy of the book, Caribu, Epic, and Kindle are all great options for being able to access thousands of appropriate books online. And please don’t forget your local library! Most now offer free digital downloads to “borrow” many of the books in their catalog through apps like Libby — all you need is your library card.

boy looks at digital device sitting crosslegged on a bedBingo: Bingo is fun for all ages, really, and you can play for free online without downloading any apps. You could even make up your own prizes for the winners, including the ever-motivating cash for the older kids.

Guess Who? The original version is a classic and really easy to play over a video call, but if you don’t both have it, you can now play it online, too.

Battleship is another classic board game that translates well over screens, and can be played online here if both parties don’t own the original.

Ideas for the Older Grandkids

Heads Up: This game, now available to play on Facetime via an app, can be really fun to play with family members of all ages. It’s basically a modernized version of Charades, so as long as the kids can read, they can play. It’s better with a bigger group, so propose a multi-family call to get more people involved and give the cousins some bonding time, too.

Codenames: Codenames is a current family favorite of ours, and the company has made it easy to play online. The directions may seem a bit complicated — the game is like Taboo with extra complications — but once you get the hang of it, it’s highly addictive and hugely entertaining. (While we’re at it, Taboo is available to play online, as well!)

Grandparents look at ipad screenEscape Rooms: Escape rooms were all the rage a few years ago, where you are “locked” into a room with a few friends and need to analyze clues that are hidden in there in order to “escape.” As you might have guessed, over the last few years people took it upon themselves to create digital versions of escape rooms for people’s entertainment. Many of them are free, and can be accessed through various websites (just google “Online Escape Rooms”) but our favorites are ones that have cool themes, like this Harry Potter one created by a librarian in her free time.

Options that Don’t Require a Video Call

Logo for video game Overcooked2, with animated characters riding atop a bus wielding cooking implementsIf your grandchildren don’t love the video call format — some don’t, after all — don’t forget that there are hundreds of games online that would be fun to play together. Sometimes, even when you’re not actually talking, knowing that you want to play with them can be just as important. Apps like Draw Something, Overcooked, Words with Friends, and Upwords can be great options for engaging with grandchildren without them feeling the pressure of a direct phone call. Have fun!

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