Engaging Young Children Through Video Chat


Many grandparents, close friends and relatives love catching a glimpse of their young family members via video chat. They may, however, find it challenging to keep young children engaged for more than a few moments. The standard How was your day? What did you do? may not go very far with a toddler, and even a 6 year old will likely give a 2-3 word response. While video chat can be a valuable and meaningful way for young children to interact with and get to know family, and even learn language and other skills, it can also be chaotic, brief, and sometimes frustrating for all involved. Having a plan in place for a few simple activities can stretch a 3-minute chat into a longer, more gratifying experience for all, and may even last long enough to give tired parents a bit of a break. 

Here are some ideas for activities you can do to engage young children via video chat by age. (Option to jump to specific age group: 0-2yrs, 2-3yrs, 4-6yrs)

*Depending on the activity, these might need to be set up on the child-end of the chat by parents or caregivers, or on the grown-up-end of the chat, or both!

General Tips:
  • Practice tech ahead of time if possible. Kids lose interest quickly if there are technical delays and frustrated grown-ups. Do a test call beforehand. It’s ok to say goodbye if the tech is getting in the way of the fun. Try again tomorrow!
  • Consider the space and seating. Couches are tough for video chat. They are huge, with many levels for sitting and many opportunities for moving, rolling, and jumping out of sight! Mealtime seating and/or craft/art table seating might be best.  Infants are probably best seated in a high-chair or on parents laps. 
  • Keep tech well positioned. That means the kids can see the grandparents, and the grandparents can see the kids. It also means that the little red hangup button is out of reach to younger children. It’s just too inviting!
  • Be flexible. Have a few tricks up your sleeve. Prep a book, song, and game. They may not all work, so when one is clearly failing, move on to the next!
  • Make it routine. These calls will work best when they are a part of the daily routine. Young children thrive on routine, and so finding a time of day they can rely on a video chat with loved ones really helps set things up for success!
  • Work in some conversation. This is not just the grandma show! You can use this opportunity to ask questions like what foods or colors they like, or tell a fun story that will help them get to know you better.
Activities for Ages 0-2

Play peek-a-boo with colorful scarves. Peek-a-boo can last longer if you hide behind interesting things! Incorporate scarves, stuffed animals, masks, different colored sheets of paper and more to make this classic game last longer. You can even sing a peek-a-boo song.

Read a simple board book. (First Five Years e-books) Read board book or short and sweet picture book--for babies and young toddlers choose books that have big bold illustrations, rhyming words, and/or simple concepts like colors and shapes. 

Eat a meal together. Plan to eat a meal at the same time– share a breakfast, lunch or dinner routine.  Share what you are eating, talk about how it tastes, and let toddlers show off new skills like eating with a fork or drinking from a cup. You can turn this into a turn taking game.

Yogurt painting/Finger painting. Set up a sensory painting activity to keep your child engaged while talking to family members. Older toddlers may be able to use finger paints, and younger toddlers/infants can paint using yogurt (mixed with food coloring if you have it). 

Songs, rhymes and fingerplay. Singing is a great way to engage infants and toddlers. They don’t care how your voice sounds, and have a lot to learn from the words you sing, and the way singing slows down language so they can hear those small letter sounds. Learn some songs on Jbrary!

Show and tell. Bring a stack of interesting toys, dolls, stuffed animals and more. Introduce each one using descriptive language--make it silly! Toddlers can also introduce some of their favorite toys.

Perform a puppet show. Bring a stuffed animal, puppet or finger puppet and allow them to do some of the talking. You can even tell a simple made-up story, or re-tell one you remember from your childhood.

Create a family band. Bring some instruments, or even pots and pans, and do a call and response game. For example, shake your shaker three times, and encourage your conversation partner to do the same. 

Activities for Ages 2-3

Play with Playdough together. Dig out the toys that the grandkids use when they come visit– like playdough perhaps? Or you can always make your own. Take turns making things: snakes, bowls, pizza, pasta– take turns showing each other your magical creations!

Have a Tea Party. Bring out the tea sets!  Drink tea (use real tea, juice or water– up to you!), cookies or crackers, and some fun hats and take turns sipping tea while having a chit chat. 

Read a fun and engaging picture book (First Five Years e-books) Older toddlers and preschoolers can listen to longer stories--probably just one or two a session and don’t worry if you don’t make it through the whole book. You can always come back to it.

Sing a movement song. If You’re Happy and You Know It can go on for a while if you keep adding emotions and movements.  You can also learn this simple exercise song! 

Play Instruments together. Same idea as above, but now you can add more complex instruments and play a rhythm copycat game. Start a rhythm and have the child copy you, and vice versa. 

Do a simple craft together with the same materials. Make a mask out of a paper plate, make a collage with textured paper and cloth, or paint with watercolors while listening to music. Make sure you have the same or similar materials and show each other your work as you create! Here are some simple craft ideas

Show and Tell. Same idea as above, but now you can add more language to this exchange. 

Make a simple recipe together and eat it. This takes some prep, but is a memorable and satisfying activity! Bonding through cooking and eating is something we’re all missing right now. Set up a simple recipe on both ends and go through the process step by step.  Mollie Katzen of Moosewood Cookbook fame has some great kid-friendly recipes in her books and on her website.

Use story cards to tell a simple turn taking story. You can take turns telling a simple original story, or use these storycards to prompt your ideas

Activities for Ages 4-6

Play scavenger hunt. Send your grandkids on a hunt around the house for items you know they have, or use some of these great ideas.

Play Simon Says. Turn-taking games like Simon Says can last a long time, especially if you add silly and novel movements to the game. Here are some other game ideas for this age group

Read a chapter book. Many 5 and 6 year olds are ready to sit for longer stretches, and may be interested in listening to a chapter book. Magic Treehouse books are often a popular choice with this age group. 

Play a drawing game. Take turns suggesting a drawing prompt. Take a few minutes to draw, and show each other your work.  It’s even more fun if the prompts are silly, like a surfing banana!

Show and Tell. Same as above, now even more language. You can show things that have some sort of story attached to them, and encourage them to do the same.

Let them practice reading to you. Many 5 and 6 year olds are learning to read, and have daily reading assignments. Let them practice reading to you! Don’t correct too many words– their teachers and parents are likely working on vocabulary and phonics with them. This should just be for fun!

Play I Spy.  Sit in front of an interesting backdrop, and take turns playing I Spy.

Tell silly jokes from a joke book. Kids love jokes. Take turns telling some of these kid-friendly ones. 

Do a science experiment. This requires more set up, but is another one of those memorable bonding activities. Sink or Float is a good one. Share and test your hypotheses!

Tell a story from your childhood. Kids this age love hearing about your childhood. Enjoy this while it lasts. The ones where you get in trouble or injure yourself are usually the most popular!


Remember, don’t get discouraged if these don’t work--but as long as you try something new and different, you’re likely to create some wonderful new memories!



This blog post reflects the opinions of the author and does not necessarily represent the views of Brooklyn Public Library.


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