“How are you surviving the chaos?” That’s the question I’ve been asked most since the quarantine started. Makes sense, since I’m home with my wife and three kids under five (and one’s a newborn!). Six weeks in isolation has definitely been a test of patience, will and love. My kids are used to play dates, activities and a lot of time with extended family, so it’s been a huge adjustment for them and we’re doing our best to maintain as much normalcy as humanly possible.
Video chatting with the family has been key to bridging the in-person void that COVID-19 has created. We’ve actually always FaceTimed with grandparents and other family members now and then, but since video chats became so frequent, they were starting to get boring for our kids, whose attention spans aren’t quite developed for long conversations. So that got us looking around for some alternatives: Apps that provide the face-to-face void fill, but also offer something extra to keep the attention spans focused.
Our research introduced us to a few new apps that do both with ease and seem to be keeping our kids entertained and our immediate family as happy as possible during these strange times. Here are three that stand out.
Once you sign up and create a profile in Caribu, you can invite people (like the grandparents) into your network. (They’ll need to download the app too.) During a video call, you can try out all sorts of different kid-friendly activities that run in real-time in the background. This includes reading stories, colouring, matching and tic-tac-toe. My four-and-a-half year old has started asking for Caribu video chats, and her grandparents are loving it. Free (with in-app purchases); available on iOS and Android.
This chatting app from the makers of Facebook offers a variety of features that make video chat more engaging for kids, like filters, reactions and sound effects. It also offers safety and privacy settings for parents; for example, parents can manage their kids' contact list and monitor all messages, and if your kid blocks a contact, you’ll be notified. Free; available for iOS and Android. (Today's Parent reviewed Messenger Kids when it first launched in 2018. Read the write-up here.)
Houseparty has been around for quite some time now. The premise is simple: launching the app alerts your approved contacts that you’re “home” and ready to “party.” You can then create parties (group chats) that can be locked to outsiders or unlocked for anyone to join (parents would of course opt for a locked party if their kids will be using the app). Once in, with as many as eight people in real-time, users can chat and play games together, such as a Pictionary-type drawing game. Free (with in-app purchases); available for iOS and Android.
Before using any video chatting app with kids, be sure to carefully review its privacy and security features. If that’s your top concern, FaceTime and iMessage are secure chat options for families with an Apple device. Privacy is built in from the beginning, so conversations are encrypted end-to-end, meaning they can’t be read when being sent between devices.
Remember, staying home and flattening the curve doesn't mean losing touch with loved ones!