Virtual Playdate Tips and Tricks
Virtual playdates are a great way for young ones to stay connected and continue their social development even in the face of self-isolation and distancing. Depending on the age of your child, it also gives parents a breather and some structure to the day.
Platforms like FaceTime and Google Hangouts are free, easy-to-use, can include multiple people, and are pretty prevalent for anyone with a smartphone, tablet or laptop with camera. Other ideas are utilizing conference platforms like Zoom (free for 40 minute sessions) or Skype.
- Try pre-planning a session or two but also be open to spontaneous requests or opportunities to share something cool with a friend or classmate. (This is how play occurs in the offline world, too.)
- Choose an appropriate time of day when you know your video partner is home, rested and not enjoying a meal.
- Discuss virtual playdate ‘etiquette’ beforehand, especially with preschoolers and up: time limits, using respectful language, asking thoughtful questions of their friends to demonstrate listening, staying visible or heard while engaged, courteously letting friends know when you are ready to say goodbye.
- Before your call, prepare props such as books, instruments, puppets, toys and pictures to create positive interactions.
- Get musical: sing a song with hand movements, play or shake instruments, or have a dance party to keep the children's attention.
- Move around: take your video partner on a house tour to maintain their attention and point out different things to look at and chat about.
- Interest points: on your next call, allow your video partner to take the lead to discover interests to talk about or activities to participate in.
Probably even the oldest infants are not a good fit for a ‘virtual playdate’ but certainly using video calls with grandparents, extended family or family friends can be fun for babies to ‘see’ others and have interactions outside their immediate family. You can ask virtual family and friends to try peekaboo or sing them a song or perform a show (could be more fun for you than baby!).
By 18 months to 3 years, toddlers may be ready to have virtual playdates. Bearing in mind that even in the offline world, play at this age is generally more side-by-side than interactive play, know that a virtual playdate might be pretty quiet as toddlers simply do their own thing and occasionally check to see what their online friend is doing. Parents can be heavily involved, prompting questions of both participants. Pre-planning for each toddler to showcase a special toy or activity they are doing can help encourage interactions and build conversational skill. Likely expect a duration of less than 10 minutes.
Prompts: who is that on the screen? What are they doing? Can you make silly faces? Can you show them your favourite toy? I will follow you and let’s show your friend your bedroom/kitchen/playroom/yard.
A younger preschooler (3 to 4 years old) may be more interested to sit and converse with a friend or might still be mostly interested in just playing in their own environment with their friend available in the background. Expect that a virtual call could be very short or may stretch longer - best to end after 20 minutes and promise to reconnect soon to keep the novelty and excitement.
Prompts: can you find something in your friend’s room that is yellow? Can you show your friend what you are doing? What is your favourite toy and why? Let’s sing your favourite song for your friend.
An older preschool and kindergarten child (4 to 5 years old) is likely able to and interested in maintaining a conversation on their own, but may need help to kick things off and find fun things to share virtually. Expect a virtual call could stretch long and you may want to set a time limit of 30 minutes.
Tips: let them play with funny faces or add ’stickers' using the effects button on FaceTime. Consider calling multiple friends at once and be prepared for a bit of silliness and nonsensical engagements. Allow them the ability to ‘go off’ and play if the engagement is happening without your involvement, but check in enough to keep things on track.
Prompts: Can you share with your friend a favourite game/activity/experiment/art project/song and listen to theirs? Do you want to try a game of charades? Do you want to pretend you are two super spies trying to sneak up on someone (a sibling or another parent)?
Children even as young as six are likely to be familiar with virtual calls or very quick to figure it out, and older children may be using it alongside texts, chat groups and social media to maintain connectedness. Expect virtual calls to have potential to extend a long period and ensure you have time limits you are comfortable with.
Tips: Discuss rules of engagement and stay close enough to their use of technology that you can monitor and enforce.
Prompts: suggest and assist as needed with good virtual games such as trivia, charades and heads up. Dig out classic games that can be used simultaneously such as chess, monopoly or battleship. Come up with lists of thought-provoking questions (example: what animal would you be if you woke up tomorrow as one?). Encourage them to go away each day and work on a new project (art, story writing, sports skill, experiment) and share virtually with their friend the next day.
If you have any questions regarding how to set up the technology for these video chats, please reach out to our Digital Marketing Manager Christie at firstname.lastname@example.org.