When my three kiddos were toddlers, our closest family members lived a 13-hour drive away. The furthest? A 34-hour drive away. (And, no, we never drove that. Please! We flew.)
We went months without our children seeing their grandparents. I was always a little surprised at how little the kids remembered them. It always took some reminding, showing pictures, and talking about the last time we were together to warm up.
Did you know that babies under one year don’t yet have the brain capacity to develop long-term memories? If you’ve ever left a little one for more than a short time, that was probably painfully obvious upon your return.
Long-term memory improves for children over time, of course. The older my kids got, the more easily they remembered their grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.
However, I could tell that just a few months seemed like a decade to my children. This was well before Skype and FaceTime weren’t even things!
We did our best back then, but there are some wonderful ways these days to help toddlers and young children connect with family members across the miles that parents today can really take advantage of.
Since the days of having toddlers myself, I have discovered some beautiful, meaningful ways to help family members connect. Today I’ll share with you my favorite three. One thing I especially love about these sweet things is that they’re good for both ends of the relationship—toddlers and adults alike. So let’s have a look!
FAMILY FACES BOOKS
This is a unique and tactile way for little ones to see the faces of far-away loved ones. Even better, this is a DIY board book, so it’s sturdy enough for little hands and repeated bedtime stories.
Each page is thick and sturdy and fully editable. This means that you end up with exactly what you want on each page to accommodate your own unique family, even if you use a template.
You can see all the pages of the book shown above here where I also talk about a special board book that I made for my niece after my mom passed away. It’s still a treasure to her, even though she is now almost 6 years old.
Another idea for getting to know family faces is a “Guess Who Loves Me” book. When my nephew Ryan was born, he came as the youngest of five.
I knew he didn’t need clothes or toys or baby furniture. He lived far away from his parents and grandparents and other family members who loved him, and I thought a book about his family would be perfect.
I made a book for him called “Guess Who Loves Me.” The first page on the right gave a description about someone who loved him, and when the page was turned he could see a picture of who it was. Like this:
“This person loves to play with trains. He lives in Washington. He is five years older than I am. Guess who loves me?”
Then the next page had a photo and the name of his little cousin.
This sweet book allowed Ryan to learn names and faces all the while we were apart and be more familiar with grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins when we were together. It was such a perfect gift, and a neat way for my nephew to have family “close.”
FAMILY CARD GAMES
This is another fantastic DIY idea that helps kiddos put family names with faces. Truth be told, this is probably my favorite of all three I’m sharing, just because it’s SO COOL.
It’s so unique and different that it’s just really fun. And again, this is one idea that can look a lot of different ways. I love the flexibility!
I’m talking about creating a playing card deck with family names and faces! (And, yes, I’m talking about actually make your own playing card deck. For real.)
Go Fish is a very simple game that is fun and easy for little ones. How great is it to be able to put family faces on the cards?!
And here’s another variation on a playing card deck geared toward kids: Matching!
You match Grandpa with Grandpa and Aunt Sue with Aunt Sue. I absolutely love this idea!
If you love this family card game idea—creating a DIY deck of playing cards–as much as I do, you can learn how to make them right here; it’s a video tutorial to walk you right through.
FAMILY VISIT MEMENTOS
The last idea I have for you to help connect family members across the miles is something ideal for both little ones and adults.
When you do get together with far-away family, you probably take pictures. If you’re like most people, they’re still on your phone.
Something I’m very passionate about is getting photos out of digital form. In fact, my motto is “Don’t let your babies grow up to be jpegs.”
Digital is a great beginning for photos, but it’s a terrible end. The purpose of a photo is to see it!
A photo loses a full half its value if there’s not some sort of record with it describing names, dates, and memories. Plus digital-only photos are at all kinds of risk for loss, file corruption, etc.
One of the best photo storage methods is actually the old-fashioned way: print! So it’s important to not leave your precious photos as just jpeg files.
I often get in trouble when I say something is my favorite. This last idea for family connection might be my favorite, too.
Take the photos from your time together and make a memento book. All the books I recommend are heirloom quality so that your photos and memories last. Isn’t this a great one? The
This particular book is a little 5.5×5.5 size and is only $9 so it’s easy to buy one for your little one and one for her grandparents. Like the board book and the playing card deck, this is a fully customizable book!
It’s softbound with the superior PUR binding so the glue in the binding doesn’t crack making the pages fall out. You can read more about this great book right here, and there’s information there about how to make your own, too. (Alternatively, if you prefer a hardbound book, there are 6 sizes of heirloom-quality books available as well.)
LETTERS, POSTCARDS, AND PACKAGES
Children like receiving mail on their own. Hence, if you’re looking for an excellent way to help connect your toddlers with the family across the miles, encourage your loved ones to send letters, postcards, and even packages addressed to them by post.
These items can help your little ones communicate with the family, even if they’re far away. For example, consider asking your family members to send letters and children’s books.
Once you receive the package, you can read them to your toddlers via video call. As a result, your little ones will know they come from family members across the miles.
As for my experience, I ensure that my toddlers receive letters, postcards, and packages from the family across the miles. Consequently, I can help them connect with their grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins worldwide.
WHY I LOVE HELPING FAMILIES
These days we often look to technology to keep us connected, from social media to FaceTime. Hearing voices and seeing first steps using technology when you’re miles away is absolutely a gift.
For instance, setting up a weekly phone call or FaceTime schedule can help keep the bond between your toddlers and the family across the miles strong.
Even if the grandparents live in a far-away retirement village like the Summerset Retirement Home or the aunts and uncles are in a foreign country, a regular phone call or video call allows them to get to know the rest of the family. When this happens, you can build and maintain happier relationships between your toddler and family.
As such, technology is so useful and so accessible, though, that sometimes we forget that things we can hold in our hands are just as much a gift.
“Sir, more than kisses, letters mingle souls.” –John Donne
I love this quote by John Donne because I feel it describes the power of something tangible and written. The written word allows us to record and preserve memories, feelings, tributes, moments.
If Skype is fantastic, how much more fantastic would be Skype PLUS a memento book of your last time spent together? Or a Guess Who Loves You board book?
I love helping families connect because it makes a real difference. Studies show that the more children know about their own family, the more emotionally healthy they are!
Teenagers have a stronger sense of self, and children of all ages are more resilient when they know their family stories. Examples of grandparents and other family members make a lasting impression on kids and their identity. So start with your little ones!
These connections help toddlers and children get to know far-away family members, for sure, but the effects can last a lifetime!
Family connections are one of my passions, so I enjoy guiding people through creating items that engender them. Don’t hesitate to reach out to me with questions about any of these sweet, meaningful connection ideas, as well as other ideas and photo solutions such as the family yearbook. All these make truly priceless gifts as well! You can find me at all the social media spots listed in my bio below.
About the Author
Jennifer Wise is a wife and a mom of three. She loves traveling, the beach, new recipes, laughing, creativity, and homemade guacamole, but not always in that order. She holds a B.A. degree in Humanities-English Literature. She is a 14-year Heritage Makers consultant, passionate about the power of photos and memories when they are recorded and preserved, so she blogs about it at www.lifetalesbooks.blogspot.com, which will celebrate its ten-year blogiversary in November. She was the #familyhistoryfriday consultant at Evolve for its two-year life where she wrote about family, photos, stories, and connections. Jennifer is also an occasional American Sign Language interpreter for the Deaf, and she teaches beginning American Sign Language at community education classes as well as online. She also teaches an early morning scripture class to high schoolers from her church. You can find Jennifer at her Facebook group, her Facebook page, Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter. She has recorded over 30 photo and memory-related video tutorials on her YouTube channel. Her motto is #dontletyourbabiesgrowuptobejpegs