My husband and I used to consider a family hangout a success if we left without anyone bleeding. This was not a figure of speech, with one child with significant special needs and two twin tornadoes, it was our reality. However, since the pandemic hit in March, like so many families, we are really craving some opportunity for family chaos, especially during the holidays. We had to get creative to find a safe way to connect to our loved ones, but this proved to be especially challenging with the ages and ability of our children.
Here are our top five successes for a virtual family connection. Perhaps there is one that will help you to feel closer to yours.
- Dinner Doodles: We roll out the butcher paper, fill the table with markers, and set up the zoom. We move from person to person playing a modified game of Pictionary. It is a great opportunity to learn the drawing skills of your family and see what is happening in your child’s imagination. Otherwise, I would have no idea my son’s scribbles were really just monkeys riding on roller coasters looking for bananas.
- The Family Challenge: Our daughter, Jordan, is an expert at making up family challenge games. They usually require a whiteboard, knowledge of Disney trivia, and an intricate scoring system that requires the losing participant to pretend they are eating the “hottest hot sauce in the world.” Variations of the game include:
- Who Knows Me Best: Each member asks a question (ex: What is my favorite dessert? What is my favorite movie?) The other members of the game write down their answer on the board and then reveal the response. Bonus: This is how we implemented OT and Speech therapy into our daily activities. And how I learned about my husband’s childhood superhero phase.
- Who Am I? Each member thinks of a famous character and gives key details for the other members to guess.
An intense game of “Name the Actor behind this Disney Figure.” As a result of my lack of knowledge, she now thinks Tom Hanks is the voice of Rajah the Tiger from Aladdin.
- Decorating Contest: Each family received the same decorating kit (we used the knock-off version of this Ugly Sweater Cookie kit). After independently destroying their own kitchen with sprinkles and frosting, we came back together for a virtual judging panel. Grandpa made an excellent adjudicator. Each child shoved their ungapatchka, (Yiddish for: ridiculously over-decorated) creation into the camera lens. We would all “ooh and ahh” and move onto the next one. This proved to be equally entertaining for the members of the family – large and small. We learned, no one really stands a chance against Auntie Kris Kris and her creativity.
- Interactive Games: My youngest child is desperate for some 1:1 activities, however my husband and I are outnumbered. We like to refer to this parenting challenge as zone defense. It means that it is very hard to find uninterrupted time to play a game with just one child that doesn’t get stepped on by another. However, Grandpa has a lot of time and patience, so we just had to find a way to get Grandpa virtually into our home for some uninterrupted time. We used some creativity and left over school supplies and created Virtual Checkers.
My son sets up the game for both players. He practices his new number writing skills from Kindergarten and labels his opponent’s checker pieces. Then, he Facetimes with Grandpa and sets up the phone so my dad can see the number of the piece he wants to move.
They played over an hour this way. It was one of the sweetest moments of quarantine.
5) A Shared Experience: This is an opportunity to participate in a shared game/movie/experience. We have one friend that built the same LEGO set as his Grandfather, another who had family movie night in matching PJs, and some who read books aloud. However, my children do not have the attention span for those activities, so we had to get a bit more creative. Naturally, our shared experience was an elaborate birthday party, for our first family pet, Tom the fish. After several hours (more than one should spend for a Betta fish birthday party) decorating our house, we invited both sets of Grandparents to a family zoom. There we lit the candles, ate Swedish fish, and welcomed a new family member. The entire event was about 2 minutes before one of my children fell on their head and the entire party ended in tears (but there was no blood, so it was still a success).