Celebrating Grandparents Day: Unique ways to stay in touch with family during the pandemic

by John Skelton
Senior Adviser of Senior Helpers of Tempe

The coronavirus pandemic has put a damper on family gatherings and celebrations, but there are still several unique ways to celebrate Grandparents Day this September or future special occasions. As Arizona’s leading in-home caregiving provider, Senior Helpers has compiled a list of ideas for families to create new memories while practicing social distancing.

First and foremost, daily video chats are a must. If you have an Apple iPhone, try FaceTime, and if you are an Android user, download Google Duo. These apps make it especially easy to video chat with your loved ones. Your grandkids will be pleasantly surprised to see your face while you talk, and video chatting is as easy as making a regular phone call these days.

If video calls are not the best option because of a time difference, Marco Polo is an app that allows you to stay in touch with the people who matter most by sending prerecorded videos. Think of it like a “video walkie-talkie.” Video messages are sent immediately and are available for the recipient to view and respond to almost instantly. But you do not actually talk in real time. Instead, you take turns leaving videos for each other.

Snail mail is also an option. In fact, letter writing has helped people meaningfully connect during this period of isolation, grief and unrest. Think of sending a postcard, handwritten letter, a gift, pictures or even a puzzle. Once you are equipped with pens, envelopes and stamps, you might find yourself crafting more letters than you think.

If you have a special event coming up that you will not be able to attend, try Kudoboard (kudoboard.com). It is an online group card for birthdays, anniversaries, promotions, sympathy or other special occasions. Add a message, photo or video; invite others to post; then deliver. The entire family can participate, no matter their location. This platform can also hold up to 100 posts, so you can really make a statement with a message board.

For new family members, there is a way to introduce yourself by letting them hear your voice, with a voice-recording stuffed animal. Build-A-Bear allows you to create a custom teddy bear online with several cute outfits and a voice recorder. Just record a special message in your own words and add a personalized sound chip to your stuffed animal. Your voice and your words combine to make a gift that delivers a perfect surprise. Hopefully, the newborn will get to know your voice and recognize it when you are finally able to meet them in person.

With that said, as in-person events continue to be canceled left and right, virtual events are popping up everywhere. Digital art classes are a great way to make memories with your family, and several art studios have moved their in-person classes online, like Carrie Curran Art Studios with an option to pick up an art kit. Book a private virtual event for the whole family, and everyone paints from the comfort of home while a studio artist guides you step by step through the process. The experience is completely interactive, and the lead artist will even take questions throughout the event.

Another idea that the whole family can enjoy is a Netflix party! Download the Google Chrome extension for watching Netflix movies or shows, sync up with others, and the extension includes a built-in chat interface for consistent communication. Besides comedy and action, Netflix has several black-and-white masterpieces available to stream. From the 1930s to the 1960s, stream some of the top flicks during that time, including “His Girl Friday,” “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “Let There Be Light” and “The Stranger.”

One of the coolest ways to connect with family is with a long-distance friendship lamp from Uncommon Goods (uncommongoods.com). Light up a loved one’s life across town or across the country with a long-distance friendship lamp. You can find these online at sites like uncommongoods.com. When you turn one on with a simple touch of your hand, the other one emits the same ambient glow, no matter where it is and who is on the other end. Each person sets up their lamp via Wi-Fi, then reaches out and touches the lamp whenever they want to let their loved one know they are thinking of them. With every touch, the lamp cycles through a rainbow of colors, one at a time. You can also assign each loved one a color so that when they tap their lamp, yours lights up with their special hue.

If you feel comfortable enough to venture outside, consider decorating your loved one’s front yard with balloons and maybe a sign or two. Finish your gesture off by leaving a homemade treat at their doorstep, or wave to them from your car window. This can be especially fun around holidays or celebrations that have easy decorative themes.

Sometimes our loved ones have difficulty with technology. If that is the case, then a great option is to enlist the help of a caregiver who can help navigate technology and make it more accessible to those who may have challenges using it alone. Visit seniorhelpers.com to find a Senior Helpers location nearest you.