Long Distance Grandparenting can be a heartbreaking problem… Problem solving happens throughout our lives. As we get older, hopefully, we get better at it. When I became a grandma, it was an incredibly special time in my life. Then when I became a long distance grandma, I had to find a way to fix the heartbreak of being so far away from my dear little ones. I wanted more than simply saying hi, or grandma loves you. I wanted a whole relationship.
This was a big problem! How do you create a whole relationship with a toddler, or very young child? I began my quest to solve this problem and tried several different ways to interact with my grandchildren. I wanted interaction that would be fun for them, and not just fun for me, but moving toward a more fulfilling, whole relationship.
I created several games, that grew into stories, that grew into activities. The evolution of our relationship has been an incredible journey. The time I spend creating these activities has lessened the lonely heartache of missing them, and the time we do spend together, on video chat, is totally engaging, fun, and whole relationship building.
I can say now that it’s not all of what I want, but it’s so much better than I ever thought it could be, with the many miles between us.
While on this incredible journey of being a long distance grandma, I thought of other grandparents, and wondered if they wouldn’t like to engage with their grandchildren in this way too. So, I decided to chronicle some of the activities I created for my grandchildren, including how to’s, materials lists, and age appropriate suggestions for each activity. This process has become a book called The Grandparent’s Field Guide for Long Distance Grandparenting. I’m still working on the publishing end of things for the book, but I thought it might be fun to share some activities that aren’t in the book, here on my website. So, this portfolio is dedicated to that share of activities. I hope you all enjoy them, and learn how to build a whole relationship with your grandchildren. I must share one of the secrets I found on building that relationship, its playing. We have to learn all over again how to play, it’s through this play that we begin to cultivate that closeness with our grandchildren, and ease the heartache of being far away.
Things you should know are, my special names for my grandchildren are Little Moon, and Little Wolf. The activities are all laid out in story style, so the readers can use them as a sort of script or just to know how to sequence things. The activities have evolved into the grandparents having an imaginary friend named Phineas. Phineas writes letters to the grandchildren about his life, his travels, and his experiences. He’s lived a very long time and traveled all over the world. You should also know that if you decide to “play” he has to become your imaginary friend and you get to introduce him to your grandchildren. Oh, yeah, he’s missing his tail. I hope you’re all ready to have lots of fun, laughter, and a wonderful whole relationship with your grandchildren!
I’ll add new activities here as they get created, developed, and field tested.
Phineas’ Souvenirs Activity
The first thing to do is check on the section, to the grandparent, so you can see what needs to be prepared for this activity. Next, it’s all about the story, you can follow the format that’s laid out or you can create your own. Figure out what works best for you and your grandchildren.
Dad called Little Moon and Little Wolf, “Hey guys, Grandma is on video chat.”
Little Moon and Little Wolf came running to the monitor to visit with Grandma.
“Hello, my babies!” Grandma greeted.
“Hi Grandma!” Little Moon and Little Wolf replied.
“Did you get my new package?” Grandma asked.
“Yes!” they answered.
“I think we should start out with Phineas’ letter and see what he’s been up to,” Grandma said.
“Okay!” Little Moon and Little Wolf giggled.
“You get your letters and I’ll get the one Phineas left for me and I’ll read it to you,” Grandma instructed. “This is what he wrote:
Hello Little Moon and Little Wolf
I hope you’re both doing well. I’ve had a bit of a cold lately, so I’ve been staying in and sorting, and organizing my things.
I’ve been so many places over the years, I have accumulated a lot of stuff. So, I thought I’d share some of the souvenirs I’ve collected with you. That way I have less to organize and sort here in my home. Some things were gifts from friends from long ago, some are just things I picked up as I traveled through places. You’ll have to sort out and organize what’s from where or from who, as you go through the collection of souvenirs. I’ll tell you a few things in this letter to help you figure it out, and play the souvenir matching game your Grandma’s making for you.”
Grandma interjects – “Okay, get your game folders and the little luggage Phineas sent you so you’ll be ready for the clues. (After each clue stop and wait, help, or encourage your grandchildren to find the right pocket for the clue and then match the card with the souvenir it goes to.)
In Japan, I made a friend named Hajime, his name meant, beginning, so I think that’s a good place to start with my clues for your guessing game. Hajime gave me something that was very valuable and useful in his country. It helps cool one down when one is not cool.
I met a wonderful fellow long ago named Leonardo, he lived in Florence Italy. He was quite the inventor and artist. He gave me some special things when I went to visit him.
In the way, way back we couldn’t text, we didn’t have cell phones. These are what people used to write a quick note on, then send it off through snail mail.
Back in the way back, again, when there weren’t any cell phones or computers, we used these things to find out where we were going. They were on large folded pieces of paper. They were really hard to refold when you opened them.
In Denmark, very long ago, I made a wonderful friend named Hans. He wrote lots of stories. He spent a lot of his time being miserable because he kept falling in love with people who wished he wouldn’t. I suppose he couldn’t help himself, but really one does have to control one’s self, sometimes. He gave me a very special gift, I’m sending you a small version of it. It is something you can travel on water with, but not very far.
So many years ago, I made a dear friend in France. His name was Claude Monet. A lot of people have heard of my old friend now days. Claude was an artist, not the same as Leonardo, but he’s very good, in his own way. He also gave me some special things that artists use.
I’m sending you a bit of my own work. I learned a bit from my friends, and like your Grandma, I do love to tell a good story. Very long ago, I was in a spot of trouble. A very curious cat thought I was a plaything. At least that’s what I want to tell myself. The cat hat batted me about a fair bit and was coming toward me ominously, when a very dear little girl came to my rescue. I do believe she might have saved my life. Can you guess which souvenir I’m talking about?
One must always have reading material on long trips. Do you love to read, I do, I just love it!
While in England, many, many years ago. I went to visit my lovely friend Bea. She was an artist, and she was also a writer. She wrote stories about a small rabbit that kept getting into trouble over at a nearby farm. The small rabbit didn’t quite understand how to stay out of trouble. His mother would give him boundaries on where he could go, and where he shouldn’t go. It never worked, I don’t know if she could have kept him in line even if she’d marked out the boundaries with a wrought iron fence. I loved reading about this small rabbit so much that I had to make sure I marked my place each time I had to stop the story. I think keeping one’s place is very important. So, I’m sending you a special way to mark your place.
This next clue deals with an essential one needs for travel. Its just incase they don’t provide it or they run out of it, wherever one is traveling. An extra bit of clue – it comes on a roll.
While I was packing all these things up for you guys, I seem to have lost a very nice pair of shoes. If you find them, please let me know.
Over the years, I’ve collected many of these things that keep one’s things safe. The key to solving this clue is knowing where to put the key.
I hope you enjoy the souvenirs and the game!
For the grandparent, to help with prepping for this activity.
I’ll attach some pictures of the things I made so you’ll get a good idea of where to go with this. As with my book the Grandparent’s Field Guide for Long Distance Grandparenting, not published yet, this is a guide. You’re the ones making the project, do what you want to do with it. You can do this project in half, or in thirds, or quarter it up. Simply do some of the clues in one video chat and the other clues in other video chats. Challenge yourself, make it easy for yourself, whatever you want to do. Most of all, have fun with it! If you’re having fun, then hopefully your grandchildren will have fun to, that’s where the relationship building begins… I always include a personal letter from me to each of my grandchildren. This is a very important step in building that relationship we as grandparents want to have. Write to them about your childhood, your life experiences, your family history… You can save some time at the end of your video chat to have them read the letters and answer any questions you asked, or for you to answer any questions they may have about what you told them in the letters. The letters are very important, and can be a wonderful experience, even for the younger children who can’t read or write yet. I have to tell you there have been some very special times for my grandchildren and myself during letter time.
As with all these activities you’ll need a helper on the other side of the video chat. You’ll need to communicate with your helper and let them know what you’re planning, with all the details, so they can set things up when your package arrives.
Mod podge glue
Twine, jute, or some sort of thread to tie things together with
Fabric, paper, or faux leather, which ever you choose to use for the steamer trunk
Two-sided sticky tape
Needle & thread
Miniature glass bottles with corks
Peter Rabbit stickers
Other items that were purchased for this activity with links below:
Dollhouse artist supplies
Dollhouse toilet paper
Print out or hand write the Phineas letter for each grandchild, this way they can follow along. Of course, take out the grandma notes before the clues begin. I would suggest some fun clipart or pictures and a page boarder, to make the letter visually appealing.
You’ll need to make a folder game with pockets and cards for the matching game. I used a manila folder, covered it with butcher paper. I made the pockets out of cardstock with clipart pictures to help my grandchildren figure out the clues. Inside the pockets I put cards, I made the cards out of cardstock. The cards had pictures of the souvenirs so my grandchildren could dig through the collection of souvenirs Phineas sent and find the right souvenir to match to the card.
I made a sort of small steamer trunk for the souvenirs that wouldn’t fit in the tiny suitcases. You can make one of these using cardboard, fabric, paper, faux leather, hot glue gun, mod podge glue, and whatever accessories you want to add. Or you can simply purchase a small box already made to hold the items that won’t fit in the tiny suitcases. I’ll add a couple of options for a box to use if you would prefer to purchase something rather than making a steamer trunk.
For the first clue’s souvenir, I made a couple of miniature hand fans using printouts of Japanese looking clipart, vintage looking paper, and cardboard. The cardboard is used for the sticks, I used a needle and thread to sew the ends of the cardboard together on one end, this has to be done so that the cardboard sticks will still fan out to allow the fan to extend. I used two sided sticky tape to attach the paper to the cardboard sticks. Liquid glue might make the paper crinkle and give the grandparent unneeded stress and frustration.
For clue two, I purchased some dollhouse miniature art supplies. Links listed below.
For clue three, I found some free images online of vintage postcards. I printed them out small, Phineas size, about six to a page. I printed them on cardstock, so they would be more like “real” small postcards.
For clue four, I found some free clipart of vintage maps and printed them out on vintage looking paper. I made them smallish, again, Phineas size. I used some twine to tie the maps up when they were folded, so they would stay the way I wanted them to.
For clue five, I purchased some very small glass bottles with corks. No, I did not build a ship inside the bottle, I found some free images of vintage ships and printed them out small on cardstock. I used a craft knife to cut the ships out. I curled them around just enough to fit through the mouth of the bottle, then pushed them in and they uncurled and looked like a ship in a bottle.
For clue six, I used some more of the purchased art supplies. Links below.
For clue seven, I purchased a dollhouse framed painting. Link below.
For clue eight, I made some miniature books. You can purchase some miniature books, or do what I did. I copied the book covers of some cute kids books and then found some cute clipart online to go with the covers. They don’t have to be actual book covers, or pictures of actual pages of the books. Use your imagination, be creative, and have fun with it. If you wish to purchase them, I’ll add a link below.
For clue nine, I purchased some Peter Rabbit stickers and cut out some cardstock, placing the stickers on to make cute little bookmarks.
For clue ten, I purchased some miniature toilet paper. Link below.
For clue eleven, I had some vintage doll shoes that I put in for this one. I put one shoe in for each grandchild. I’ll add a link below of something that might work for you.
For clue twelve, I purchased some small vintage looking locks with keys. Link below.
Below are some things I purchased to go along with the clues given in the Phineas letter:
Painting of little girl, for clue seven – https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B08VNWJJPW/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_asin_title_o08_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
Miniature suite cases to hold the mini souvenirs. I used some of these – https://www.amazon.com/Monrocco-Vintage-Suitcase-Rectangular-Container/dp/B07QC24FHH/ref=sr_1_2?dchild=1&keywords=miniature+suitcase&qid=1623089771&sr=8-2
Peter Rabbit stickers for your bookmark – https://www.amazon.com/Stickers-Skateboard-Luggage-Computer-Notebook/dp/B089NH99N7/ref=sr_1_4?dchild=1&keywords=peter+rabbit+stickers&qid=1623459244&sr=8-4
Sidebar – As I stated above you can parse this activity out, you can even do one clue at a time for your video chat. That will keep you and your grandchildren busy and engaged. By doing one clue at a time, you have them always excitedly waiting for your next box of fun. You can also use this format and simply rewrite the clues, as many times as you, and your grandchildren, want to play the game.
For older and younger grandchildren:
For older grandchildren, the grandparent can make the game more challenging by taking the pictures for the cards in an offset fashion. Only take a picture of part of the souvenir, not the whole souvenir. That will make the game more engaging for them, as they will have to work harder to figure out what souvenir goes with what clue.
For younger grandchildren, the grandparent can use a regular size backpack and substitute the souvenirs for more age-appropriate things.
Clue 2 – crayons
Clue 3 – regular size postcards
Clue 5 – toy boat – https://www.amazon.com/Munchkin-Bath-Little-Train-Count/dp/B00PHWMNYW/ref=sxin_11?asc_contentid=amzn1.osa.fda0bf97-4ca1-4d2b-a220-46135324c992.ATVPDKIKX0DER.en_US&asc_contenttype=article&ascsubtag=amzn1.osa.fda0bf97-4ca1-4d2b-a220-46135324c992.ATVPDKIKX0DER.en_US&creativeASIN=B00PHWMNYW&cv_ct_cx=toy+boat&cv_ct_id=amzn1.osa.fda0bf97-4ca1-4d2b-a220-46135324c992.ATVPDKIKX0DER.en_US&cv_ct_pg=search&cv_ct_we=asin&cv_ct_wn=osp-single-source-earns-comm&dchild=1&keywords=toy+boat&linkCode=oas&pd_rd_i=B00PHWMNYW&pd_rd_r=eedac6b2-693b-4a8f-a7cd-4c44347796bd&pd_rd_w=czs3O&pd_rd_wg=xBUqc&pf_rd_p=2a3243ce-188f-426b-9a7c-cd22d207971e&pf_rd_r=7E0XB50014SVYQ3965VF&qid=1624592038&sr=1-2-64f3a41a-73ca-403a-923c-8152c45485fe&tag=newfolks-20
Clue 6 – small sketch pad or coloring book – https://www.amazon.com/Scribble-Toddlers-Children-Scribbling-Important/dp/B08F4L6RHR/ref=sr_1_21?dchild=1&keywords=kids+drawing+pad&qid=1624592142&sr=8-21
Clue 7 – Google “little girl with mouse” or “little girl with cat” and print out a big picture for your grandchildren, you can frame it with a frame or make one from cardboard. Another option for this is to use this rewrite for clue 7 – This was a gift from a very cherished friend, she thought it was a likeness of me. This is a link to a stuffed mouse that could work as a likeness of Phineas – https://www.amazon.com/HUGMO-Stuffed-Plush-Mouse-Outfit/dp/B08PZM77D5/ref=sr_1_80?dchild=1&keywords=kid%27s%2Bmouse%2Btoy&qid=1624592771&sr=8-80&th=1
Clue 8 – for this clue find some cool board books your grandchildren will like
Clue 9 – this one will work for younger grandchildren as is, but if you want to expand it you can include some pre-cut cardstock and some of the stickers you purchased, so your grandchildren can make their own bookmarks.
Clue 10 – this one can be modified by using whatever your grandchildren are on, wet-wipes, diapers, or tp, in regular size.
Clue 11 – you can use doll shoes for this or find some fun shoes that your grandchildren will like and send those in the backpack.
Clue 12 – you can use these – https://www.amazon.com/MEROCO-Montessori-Matching-Practical-Kindergarten/dp/B085TJ323H/ref=sr_1_4?dchild=1&keywords=kids+toy+lock&qid=1624672526&sr=8-4 or these – https://www.amazon.com/Dinhon-Learning-Montessori-Educational-Preschool/dp/B08GJZJYP1/ref=sr_1_2?dchild=1&keywords=kids+toy+lock&qid=1624672642&sr=8-2
When you’re done with everything, then it’s time to pack it all up and send it out to your helper. Below is a suggested list of what should be in your package.
Letter from Phineas
Letter to each grandchild from the grandparent
Field test and results:
When this activity was field tested, everything went great! The first clue was where the kids really learned the game. This one gave them confidence and excitement for what was next. After the first clue my grandchildren were eager and ready for clue two. My grandchildren were very engaged at every point of the activity, working out the clues, finding the souvenirs that went to the clues, and matching them up with the card in the folder pocket.
As the grandparent, I had so much fun watching them hunt through the souvenirs as I read out the clues. We had delightful conversations during the game, and about what the clues meant all through this activity. At the end they read, or had the letters I sent them read to them, and we talked about the things I shared in the letters. All in all it was a wonderful fun time that we’ll all remember for a long time, maybe even forever.