Technology is amazing. And because of it, Thanksgiving Day Video Calls are a trendy topic in November 2020.
The whole world discovered new ways technology could be used this year when we were suddenly sent home and began scheduling our children’s video conference calls for school, sometimes bumping us off our work computers and trumping corporate priorities.
We are living in a world none of us ever expected or for which we ever prepared. And although you may have figured out the socially distant birthday parties for kids, there are still new events to navigate as the weather gets cooler and the holidays approach. For some, that means Thanksgiving has brought more questions than answers with familiar faces potentially absent this year and wondering how to make decisions where all participants feel comfortable.
It’s hard. And we get it. We know we can’t make it all go “back to normal” with the flip of a switch, but we can hopefully offer some tips and tricks to get the most out of technology with your children as you eat a meal, making maybe more leftovers than normal because there are fewer faces physically present at your table.
3 Free Video Chat Systems for Thanksgiving Day Video Calls
These now wildly popular video chat systems work on any device with Internet access and a camera, including your smartphone.
- Zoom has lifted the 40-minute time limit for free video chats on Thanksgiving Day so families can connect with each other whether or not they are in the same room, same state, or same time zone. Setting up a free account takes mere minutes, and they offer fun backgrounds you can use during your video call, including cartoon ones for kids.
- Facebook pivoted well and launched “Messenger Rooms” within weeks of the shutdown earlier this year to compete with others offering video chat services. If you and yours have Facebook accounts, it’s easy to set up a call to connect. They even have Tips for Staying Safe and are concerned about Privacy in Rooms.
- Google Meet also offers video calls at no charge and can be done through your already existing account or by creating a free one. You can chat for up to an hour and invite up to 100 participants.
6 Practical Tips for Successful Thanksgiving Day Video Calls
- Time zones can cause pesky problems. Communicate specifically with your loved ones who live elsewhere to make sure that you’re going to log on at the same time and not an hour early or an hour late. It’s a simple mistake and one we have all probably made since the shutdown.
- Batteries can be a bust. Make sure that your cord is handy and reaches where you want to place your smartphone, tablet, or computer or charge your device in advance, so you don’t cut off Grandma in mid-sentence.
- Gravy doesn’t go as well with electronics as it does with turkey. Sharing a meal across miles is actually one of our favorite ideas (keep reading!), but make sure to place your electronics in a no-splash zone. (Has anyone ever had a clean tablecloth after Thanksgiving? Like ever?)
- Do a dress rehearsal. You’re not going to be performing on the holiday, but you do want to make sure that where you place your device captures the faces of all family members before you’re trying to carve the turkey and serve the sweet potatoes. Simply set it up in advance and see what kind of shot it takes. This is a great way preteens and teenagers can participate (keep reading to hear more about this!). They might even have more experience with you creating videos, especially if they have a smartphone and participate in social media.
- What are you wearing? Although it may feel like you’re getting dressed up to go sit in the living room with the people who already live in your house or going completely casual this year, it’s helpful to make sure that your teenagers aren’t stumbling out of bed and in pajamas after the call has started. That may embarrass them more than you if they suddenly realize that their entire extended family or family friends are witness to them making such an unintentional grandiose entrance.
- Disconnect devices. The number of computers, tablets, phones, and video game systems all on the same Wi-Fi can influence the quality of your Thanksgiving Day Video Call. Take a few minutes to disconnect devices before you connect with family. Bonus? Those in your home who can get easily distracted will be helped by not having access to digital distractions during family time.
13 Ideas to Make Thanksgiving Day Video Day Calls Fun for All Ages
Kids can be a tough audience, especially as they get older. These tested and tried ideas from a mom of three (including teenagers!) for your whole family to participate in Thanksgiving Day Video Calls can help you connect with those who may not be able to be in your home this year.
- Share the same meal you would have shared in person. Agree to eat at the same time as your friends and family who can’t be with you physically. Set up the camera somewhere that shows the whole table and sit there together until the meal is complete. Take a break to clear the table and resume again for dessert.
- Cheer for the same team…or revel in a rivalry. Is watching football part of your family tradition? Start the video before kickoff and comment on the plays, just like you would if you were in person. Place the screen with the video call near the screen showing the game so you can easily look at each other while you’re watching the game. You won’t be talking the whole time, but you will share the experience.
- The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is a long-standing tradition for many families. You can still talk about the floats and comment on the costumes together. Before the parade begins, set up an unlimited video call with your family members. Place the video call and parade screens near each other so you can see faces while you talk and watch together.
- Turkey trot together. Does your family—those who live in your house and those who are missing this year—typically start your Thanksgiving Day with a run? Map out a course wherever you live in a distance of your choosing, make a list of things you’ll photograph or video doing (such as building a human pyramid) at each half mile or mile, and time yourselves. When you get home, jump on that video call and share the photos and videos with others who are doing the same thing from a distance. If you’re more competitive than creative, have everyone go to a local track to level the playing field, no matter from what city they are running. Have someone who is not running start the video call from their phone, do an official race start countdown, and see how wins the “live” race. Make sure you agree on the race distance in advance, and shorter distances may work better than longer ones for this option to keep up the enthusiasm across a screen.
- Answer the same questions. Whether or not you traditionally go around the table sharing what you are most grateful for, consider answering that question or another with everyone on the video call to have something in common to discuss. Perhaps this year it’s wondering what everyone is thankful that’s because of the pandemic?
- Play a game. Set up something simple, like Checkers or Connect Four, and have your kiddos play games with Grandma and Grandpa, just like they would if they were in the same room. As you take turns, you’ll have to do your own move and then also make the move that the person on the other side of the screen makes.
- Watch the same movie. If you have Netflix, Hulu, Disney, or HBO, you can set up a Teleparty to add interaction to your viewing experience. While you’re watching the movie together, have another screen set up and on an unlimited Zoom video call. That way, as you watch the movie together, you can see each other’s faces and interact like you would if you were in the same room.
- Have someone else read a story to your child at bedtime. This idea became popular at the start of the pandemic when parents were exhausted and looking for new activities for children. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins—those who may normally be special story readers in your family—can read a story to your children in one of two ways. If they have a book in their home, they can read the story and hold up the pictures to show your children through the screen. If the reader does not have a children’s book on hand, choose a book your child loves, take photos of each page, and send those to the reader in advance. Then, when it is storytime, have your child hold the actual book and follow along to the reader’s voice from the other side of the screen. Remind your child that it’s a little different than a normal story and ask them to wait for the reader’s prompting to “turn the page.”
- Show don’t tell. Most of the video conferencing platforms above provide a screen-sharing feature. Invite your teenagers to share photos with the family. If they have participated in any activities or sports this past year (even with restrictions), ask them to share some of those photos, anything they’ve documented during COVID. You may even discover some things about your own children as they share these snapshots in time with relatives.
- Bob is back. Yes, the iconic Bob Ross of decades past is popular again today, and you can download online painting kits or sign up for his digital classes for everyone who will be on your Thanksgiving Day video call. Worried about creating a masterpiece? Never fear! A lack of talent makes it more entertaining. Come up with various “awards” for the artists upon completion and celebrate each painter’s unique take on their creation.
- Let them drive. Invite your teenager to set up the call and run the technology. This may seem a small thing, but if you have them pick the platform, generate the invitation, and sit in the driver’s seat for the family call, they’ll be more interested in participating. Encourage them to select silly backgrounds and music, as well, if they would like.
- Breakout rooms. Sometimes adolescents disengage during these calls because the conversations tip toward the adults. If your kids have cousins or family friends with whom they would typically talk in-person without adults listening in, set up the call with the whole crew and then orchestrate “breakout rooms.” Your kids can be kids with other kids, as close to “in real life” as you can get this year. Zoom has a tutorial on how to set up these in advance to make sure everything goes smoothly on the day of the call, and just remember that each person or small group participating in a different “room” will need their own device.
- Scavenger hunts. The ever-popular scavenger hunt is always a win with a little advanced planning. If your child has been online for school this year it is likely they have participated in one of these. This option goes over well with both adolescents and younger kiddos if the objects they are chasing are of interest to them. Consider hiding candy or cash (even small amounts can be an incentive), and they will chase it down. Have every family hunt for the same items in their own houses and celebrate the winner with a digital prize. If you have grandparents or others without children, invite them to be the ones to share the clues over the screen.
What are your favorite ways to make Thanksgiving Day video calls fun? Share them on our Facebook page!