During the two Covid lockdowns we, like most of you, have used Video Chats to keep in touch with friends and relatives.

But video calls with young kids can be painful, here are some tips to help.

Choose your software

There are a bazillion different choices. (Keep in mind that we’re looking at small groups, not a dozen attendees, and we’re optimizing for keeping it simple.) You may already have your favourite, if not our preferences are :

  • Do you both have an Apple iPAD or iPHONEs? If so then Apple Facetime is hard to beat - nice big screen, good image quality and pretty much ‘just works’.
  • Are you both limited to a mobile phone? WhatsApp is nice and easy and many people have it already.
  • Do you have a mix of mobiles and desktops? Facebook Messenger - easy and popular (but see below). Zoom - tech de jour but often focused towards bigger meetings. Google Meet, Microsoft Teams and even good old Skype are also options.
  • We’ve had a lot of success playing simple games like Tic-tac-toe and 4 in a Row (Connect 4) with built in video calling (but we’re biased of course!)

What we don’t like

  • The games / filters built into Facebook Messenger, Snapchat, Houseparty and similar. We find that young kids just spend their time looking at themselves with funny filters on - the other person might as well not be there. OK for a quick bit of fun but it does little to help the two sides keep in touch.

Keep numbers small

The greater number of people in a video conference the harder it is

  • Greater chance of tech difficulties
  • Harder to follow a conversation
  • More interruption and inadvertently talking over each other
  • Smaller video images
  • Smaller choice of suitable software
  • Greater chance of exceeding limited internet/wifi bandwidth and everyting going jittery.

With large numbers you’ve got to be organised for it not to descend into chaos - use Mute, make and respond to visual queues when it’s someone’s turn to speak etc.

So make your life easy and keep it to small numbers - just two sides at first, maybe 3.

Do a trial run

Kids have the attention span of a flip-flop at times, so for the first attempt do a trial run to iron out the kinks.

It won’t end well if junior is waiting around while you work out who is using all your wifi bandwidth, Gran tries to remember her password or Grandad struggles to work out how to hold the phone so it doesn’t just show a video of his nostrils!

Think about placement.

A bright room is best - no backlights though (like a bright window behind you).

If using a mobile device :-

  • If there are two of you, then it will probably fit you in better if you hold your device in landscape mode.
  • It may get tiring holding your arm out and trying to keep your device steady, so can you prop it up somewhere?

Set a time

Just calling someone off the cuff causes problems in our experience. They may not be available of course, or it may take longer to get ready and eat into juniors attention span.

Best to set a time (even if it’s just an approximate time that you firm up later) to keep the faff and waiting to a minimum.

Keep it short

Kids have the attention span of … ‘oh, look Lego!’ …

For some reason people feel rude about bringing a video chat to a close.

Set expectations in advance that it’s going to be short and when things start going off the rails or becoming stale then don’t be shy, it’s time to quit.

Ideas to chat

It’s hard for kids to just chat on the phone or a video call. Even before Covid Lockdowns a question of ‘What did you do today’ is often met with ‘Erm… nothing’.

Coming soon - 10 Ideas for subjects your kids can chat about with Grandparents on a video call.

We’ve also played simple games like Hangman and even 4 in a Row (Connect 4) and even Checkers (Draughts) which are possible if you get setup with positioning your devices camera so it can see both the lil’un and the board and use a grid system to make the moves.

  • Connect 4 - Stick a bit of paper on the top row of Connect 4 with letters 1:7 on the top (both side of the paper!)
  • Draughts / Checkers - Find a board that has a A:F 1:8 grid system built in

It can be a faff setting this all up though, especially positioning your camera so the Grandparents / Friends on the other side can see both the game and the person they are playing, which is why we built Games with Gran - classic games with built in super simple video calling.