With schools closed now due to concerns about the coronavirus, children really miss interacting with their classmates, friends, and extended family members. Thanks to technology, there are many ways for parents to host a virtual playdate and help their kids continue to connect with their peers, so they don’t feel so isolated. So take a look at our Atlanta Parent list…choose a technology, choose a playdate idea, then have some virtual FUN!

Top Technology Apps for Virtual Playdates:

The app Caribu is getting a lot of attention these days and is actually being called the “ZOOM” for kids! Caribu is a family friendly video calling app. Most importantly, during this unprecedented time of social distancing, Caribu is making its service free with unlimited access, which means kids can have virtual playdates with their friends and loved ones at any time! On a Caribu video call kids can play games, share stories, and even color together. For more information visit Caribu to download the app or check out their Facebook page to learn more.

Google Hangouts is another good option for virtual playdates when it comes to free group video calls. Parents will need a Google account to start a call, but can join one without it. Only up to 25 people can join a video call at once. Also, in response to the coronavirus pandemic, Google is now offering features of its business version (Google Hangouts Meet) for free until September 30th.

Facebook’s Messenger Kids is another free and popular app that allows young kids (ages 6 to 12) to video chat and send messages to their family and friends. This may be a great option for many parents who already have a Facebook page, and may be looking for a safe and familiar social networking option for their children. Parents are completely in control with this app and will simply need to download it on their phone or tablet, and then login/set up their child’s account by using their own Facebook login information. Parents can also control who their child “adds” and connects with by searching their contacts, as well as monitor when their child is using Messenger Kids and how they’re using it.

Remember the game Marco Polo? Well now kids can use this video chat app to easily call out the popular phrase and connect with their friends and family as well. Marco Polo allows kids to chat and play live in a group, and if the person they are attempting to reach isn’t available, the app will record a message for them to view later. From a playdate perspective, kids can use this app to channel their “inner thespian” by acting out a play or even putting on a small-scale production. The Marco Polo app is free; however, there is a premium version available for a monthly or annual subscription price. Also, parents should remember that when allowing access to communication apps like Marco Polo, it is wise to make sure children understand how they work, who can see their activity, as well as what is appropriate to interact with and share online.

Older kids can still connect and have some “Netflix and Chill” time with their friends. Anyone with a Netflix account can host a watch party by adding the free “Netflix Party” Google Chrome extension. This allows kids to watch Netflix remotely with their friends, and even synchronize video playback so that anyone in the group can pause, play, fast forward or rewind the movie. The “group chat” feature can also be added so that kids can actually communicate during the movie. Kids can choose to actually “talk” to each other during the movie, or if they prefer a quieter experience, they can decide to use the “text chat” option only. Additionally, parents don’t have to worry about any strangers crashing this movie party because only an official invite gets their buddies in. So, kids can feel free to grab some popcorn or their favorite snacks and let the good times…and film role!

The word Zoom is a “new normal” for many adults these days.  Some kids are even using Zoom for school meetings. Primarily used as a video conferencing communication tool for working professionals…Zoom can now easily be utilized for virtual playdates! Zoom’s basic plan can be downloaded on a computer, cell phone, or tablet…all for free! This plan allows parents to host up to 100 participants in a virtual video meeting. Participants can join the meeting for free from their electronic devices…even if they don’t have a Zoom account! Zoom’s basic plan has about a 40-minute limit on meetings with 3 or more participants, but if you don’t want any limits on time or number of participants, you can upgrade to the Pro account for $14.99 a month. Zoom has been criticized for having some issues with security lately, so make you sure you set up a password to join any Zoom meeting, do not answer a Zoom call from anyone you don’t know, don’t include personal information under account and double check security settings.  For an educational step by step on how to join a Zoom meeting click the following link: https://youtu.be/Rzk4vdTIi0c.

Top 10 Virtual Playdate Ideas:

Host a themed playdate – which can include kids dressing up as everything from superheroes to their favorite TV and Book characters. Children can also talk about general things they’ve been up to, as well as play games like “Simon Says” or “I Spy.”

Do a Puppet Show – kids can perform this with their favorite toys, or have playdate participants make their own in advance. This activity could also be concluded with a “Dance Party”, where playdates and their puppets take turns showing off their favorite moves to tunes from a pre-determined playlist.

Have “show and tell” – where kids can see and talk to each other while showing off their latest projects, crafts, and yes…even their current favorite toys!

Read a book together – which is sometimes more fun and motivating when done in a group. Parents should pick a book that’s on the same reading level of everyone in the group in advance. Have the kids take turn reading the pages, then perhaps have a brief light discussion at the end.

Have a “Lunch Chat & Snack” – with this option, send out invitations for everyone to meet at a certain time and have their lunch or snacks together. Kids share what they are eating, their favorite foods, and any snacks they like to make themselves.

Have a Race! – Kids can meet up and then race to make something…on camera. This can include things like a paper airplane or a play-dough pet or character. Supplies needed should be decided in advance and sent in the invite.

Play “Personal Picasso” – Break out some art supplies and have children draw or paint each other’s portraits, and then share them! Parents can even arrange for kids to have copies of their creations by scanning and emailing them out, or even sending original photos out via “snail mail” with a friendly letter attached.

Virtual Top Junior Chef – is a great option to bond virtually with both friends and family members. Participants could decide on a simple key list of food items and ingredients in advance. Once the virtual meeting begins, participants could have a “set amount of time” to create something yummy and appetizing and present it on camera. Make this idea even more creative and competitive by appointing virtual judges in advance.

Virtual Scavenger Hunts – are another idea that works well for family get togethers. Perhaps even Grandparents could get involved with this activity by calling out certain household items that kids have to race around the house and find before others. The first child or team back on camera with the item wins the point…and parents win because youthful energy is being burned at the same time!

Watch a Movie together – as an ideal “laid back” virtual activity in the afternoon. Just decide on a movie in advance, as well as set timings to start the film at the same time for all playdate participants. Remember “Netflix Party” is available on Google Chrome.

– Monica Croom

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