With lockdown feeling never-ending, your kids are probably really starting to miss their friends, so it is more important than ever to arrange some virtual playdates!
You are probably familiar with regular FaceTime and WhatsApp video calls, but there are so many new apps popping up that are great fun for kids to connect on. Video calls can sometimes feel a bit awkward, it can feel a bit strange being able to see yourself as well, so we have included some ideas for fun activities kids can do together for their virtual playdates, even Elmo is getting in on it!
As well as being important for their mental well being and keeping in touch in general, children also learn key social and emotional skills through play! Such as sharing, taking turns, cooperation, negotiation, communication and compromise. Friendships become important to our children from a very young age, so to help them keep connected here are our 10 best tips for how to have a virtual playdate, just until we are all free to return to parks and soft plays (important for parents too!).
1. Best For Catching Up
For a quick catch up or if the kids just want to chat face to face, especially for older kids- WhatsApp on your phone or FaceTime on an iPad/desktop are great, make sure they are comfy with some great snacks and just let them chill with their pals. For younger children, they are more likely to engage if you are there with them so, hopefully, you are friendly with the mums and dads too, and can all chat together and encourage the little ones to interact.
2. Best For One-On-One Playdates
Caribu is the latest cool video app for kids to meet their friends on. This is a super interactive way to have a virtual playdate, they can play games, read stories, and do some colouring together. This is great for older kids to use with you nearby or younger ones to play on alongside you. You can also see the other person the entire time in the corner of the screen- great for when you beat them at noughts and crosses!
3. Best For The Whole Gang!
Lots of schools and online classes have been making use of the new conferencing software out there, Zoom, in particular, is great for getting a whole group together, you need a password to get into the 'meeting room' so no need to worry about any strangers gatecrashing, here are some tips for keeping your Zoom playdates extra safe. This is amazing for if your kids are missing school friends, or if you are used to doing a toddler group you can get a few of you together with the kids for a catch-up!
4. Keep Your Expectations Low!
With very little children, it is important for your sanity to keep your expectations about virtual playdates low! As you may have already experienced, it is very common for little kids to just wander off randomly during virtual calls, and there is some debate around how much they can grasp the concept at all- their friend is technically in the living room but they can't pass them things, or share their snacks or hold hands so what the heck is going on! There is a good chance you will end up chatting to the other parent whilst following your child around with the phone, but even a glance at their friend at least shows them they are still out there, and they can still see them when they want to.
5. Don’t Force It
It's good to think ahead and pick the right time for the virtual playdate, nowhere near naptime is a good start, and not when they are hungry! However, sometimes children just aren't up for chatting or in the mood for a video call, it can be quite draining so even if it's all planned out, try not to be too set on your plan and just rearrange for another time when your little one is keener. It's no fun for anyone if you have to keep dragging your child back in front of the camera, young kids especially won't understand the potential length of time they will be going before they see their friends 'in real life' so don't worry if you aren't FaceTiming as much as you thought, just be ready to text the other parents to see if they are free at a moments notice!
6. Up And About!
For little kids especially, its hard to sit still for a conversation in person let alone a virtual one! So you could plan with the other parent before the call and set up some things for the kids to do while they are on the call, it might mean you are playing cameraman while they dart about, or you could set up the phone or iPad so the whole room is visible. You could set up building blocks or play dough, or if you have the same sets of things such as puzzles they can do them together! Show and tell is also fun over video call, they can show each other what they've been playing with the most, or craft projects you've made together, or even do a little tour of the house and garden for each other.
7. Watch A Movie (From A Distance!)
This is an amazing idea from Netflix, you can simply add the free Google Chrome extension, make sure everyone else has it too and you are good to go! You can add the group chat option so the kids can talk during the movie, it is typing so this option is better for older kids/teens. Anyone in the group can pause, play, fast forward and rewind the film so everyone is in the same place and most importantly, only those with an invite can get into the party, so you don’t need to worry about strangers getting into the chat room. So time to cosy up on the couch- the movie is about to start!
8. Virtual Screen Sharing
Similar to the above Netflix Party, but with a corresponding video screen instead of text, Airtime allows you to share YouTube videos, watch TV shows and movies, or share and listen to music whilst being able to see each other. This is great as kids are very visual, so it's lovely for them to be able to show their friends a funny video, or watch CBeebies together and see each other's reactions.
This is a cute way to let your kids spend some quiet time together, at bedtime or close to bedtime you could set up a virtual playdate where each parent takes it in turns to read a story to the kids, the children can take it in turns to choose their favourite stories to show each other and enjoy together. This would work any time of day for kids who like books! Perhaps you could co-ordinate with the other parent so you can each take a little break while the kids listen to a story.
10. Have A Virtual Game Night
Check out an online game site like Let's Play Uno or Pogo and have a game night together from the safety of your own home. On these kinds of sites you can play all your favourite games virtually with friends, including everything from Monopoly to mahjong. You might not be sat around the same table physically but the competitiveness is exactly the same!
11. Staying Safe
With technology becoming more advanced every day, it is easy to feel unsure about what is safe and what isn't. This article has some great information on what Apple has implemented for limiting certain apps and being able to set limits on calls and texts. This is really for older children as they most likely have their own phones and tablets. With little ones we would advise avoiding apps that have lots of pop-ups and ads, it is often worth paying for the option to avoid these as we don't want any little hands tapping on something we don't want! Also as far as any internet use is concerned, there are many parental controls available which we 100% recommend making use of. Ultimately it is also really important to create a trusting environment if your kids know they can come to you with any worries or a mistake they may have made, without fear of judgement-they will be much less likely to want to hide things from you. Before downloading any new apps or letting your kids use them, check all of their FAQs and privacy policies, read their reviews and if you have any doubt, trust your gut and stick to the simple and trusted apps you know.
Freelance writer Amy lives in Hampshire with her 3 year old daughter, who is a super energetic, chatty child, leading to Amy’s interest in all matters to do with infant and child sleeping patterns and mindfulness for adults and children. Amy’s degree was in fashion design and she loves filling their beautiful home full of interesting textiles, tiles, art, ceramics, and houseplants or, alternatively, pining over them on Instagram. When they aren’t out exploring in the fresh air they can be found cosying up at home, painting, knitting, and dancing!