Breast Cancer Research Centre - WA

Connecting with My Grandson During COVID-19

I am a Grandmother with a pre-existing medical condition (metastatic breast cancer) who has been physically distancing for the last few weeks. In general, I have found maintaining connections with family and friends via the plethora of social media apps relatively easy. We are all busy finding creative ways to stay in touch with those we love. On Saturday I texted, talked via Messenger and WhatsApp, played Scrabble with friends online, and was invited to join a HouseParty and Zoom into a yoga class.

But the most joy I felt was playing with my 2 ¼ year old grandson via FaceTime.

Earlier in the week I made some playdough – four different colours, rolling balls into patty pans and placing the leftovers into little sealable bags. I put the lot into a shoebox, wrote his name on top, tied it up with a ribbon and secretly delivered it to his doorstep a few streets away.

That night, and again on Saturday, we played. He and his mum manipulated the playdough, while I commentated the action. Following his lead and making the odd suggestion, “Rolling, rolling, rolling … you’re making lots of little balls …. They look like cakes!” I pretended to eat them from a distance and he squealed with delight. The cakes became sausages, then snakes. The snakes hissed. The big snakes gobbled each other up. We made some more balls, we counted them. He made me a pretend cup of tea which I slurped and relished dramatically. Then his trucks got involved – tyres making lovely patterns as the playdough was squashed.

This activity time was a way of maintaining and nurturing my connection with this dear little boy, even though we are not physically in the same space. We can engage in the “here-and-now” – what’s right in front of both of us. Sharing this joint focus of attention and engaging in “doing” activities is the easiest way of keeping the conversation going with someone so young. Every now and again he might leave the play, usually to go and get something, taking a moment to give himself a breather, regulating the pace of the interaction to his own comfort level. Mostly, he was completely switched on to enjoying this new routine of our special one on one time together.

Next we read some books together. He called out requests for his old favourites before snuggling into his mum’s lap to watch and listen. I noticed his favourites are those we shared together at my house pre-Covid 19 – a pop-up book of dinosaurs and “There’s a Hippopotamus on My Roof Eating Cake”. Each story told twice.

We played and talked and read and sang and blew kisses for an hour, and it was so much fun!

Here’s some ideas for activities you might enjoy. You narrate, while your young child plays – or play “My Turn – Your Turn” if you both have access to the same materials.

  • Kneading, Rolling, Squishing – as well as Playdough, there’s Cloud Dough or Slime. There are so many lovely sensations, actions and games with any of these mediums. Follow the links below to make your own Playdough, Cloud Dough and Slime at home.
  • Book sharing – old favourites or new. Simple stories with repetitive rhymes or lines, or catchy words and phrases delight young children.
  • Drawing – with crayons or felt pens or chalk. On paper or card or blackboard inside, or outside on the pavement or bricks. Tolerant parents (in charge on the other end of your video call) might allow paints!
  • Making necklaces – big old beads from your dress ups, bought wooden beads or thick penne pasta from the pantry!
  • Stickers – draw a dog, or a house or a frog or whatever you want. Make sure you both have copies of the same picture. Cover it with spots or stars or whatever stickers the local newsagent sells (or buy online!). You can take turns or do it very fast or do it very slow.
  • Balloons – you blow up yours, the parent the other end blows up theirs. Make squeaky noises, blow up big and then let it go or tie a knot and play keep it off the floor (beware obstacles!)
  • Blowing bubbles – a firm favourite. Inside or outside – “Up to the sky”, big ones or little ones – depends on which wand you buy or make (at home you can use different size pipe cleaners).
  • Building towers – with blocks, or shoe boxes or cards or plastic containers from the kitchen.
  • Talking with Puppets – If you have the same finger puppets, they can talk to each other – or do the actions expected of that animal – kangaroos hopping, hopping; emus running, running. Or make matching sock puppets (all you need are old socks, buttons and a red marker pen to make a mouth). Or stick old photos of family members or favourite characters on the end of pop sticks which can then parade up and down across the bottom of the screen.
  • Gluing – What is your grandchild’s favourite theme? Cars & trucks and aeroplanes, or dogs & cats and animals, or pretty things like flowers and butterflies. Cut or rip out pictures from old magazines and shopping catalogues for your young child to glue on a page or into a scrapbook. Lots to talk about!

There’s still so much to enjoy!

Joanne MacDonald

Helpful Links & Tips:   
Playdough Recipe or use 750g Cornflour + 500ml cheap scented hair conditioner
Cloud Dough Recipe
Slime Recipe