Exploring Grandparent Apps

Updated: September 10, 2021. Authors:

Grandparent apps: exploring

 

“Once you are a grandparent, almost nothing seems as important as interacting with your grandkids, and helping them and their parents as much as you can.”

But, if you can’t visit, or live a long way away, how do you maintain the sorts of deep interactions you long for?

This group of four older adults from the Longevity Explorers thought “there should be an App for that”, and set out to explore the space of “Grandparenting Apps”.

 

 

Overview

Between us we have 20 grandkids and grandnieces / nephews ranging in age from a newborn to a 25 yr old. And during the research for this article we engaged with various friends who also had grandkids and an interest in how to better interact with them.

We hoped to find Apps that could deepen our ability to interact with the grandkids from a distance. We call this overall “category” “Grandparenting Apps”.

What are we looking for? Solutions that meet our needs for developing a warm, positive, engaging, nurturing, friendly relationship with our grandkids even though we are not in the same physical location as frequently as we would like.

 

Who Should Read This?

This article is for grandparents wishing they could have deeper interactions with their grandkids, but who can’t just “drop in” and see them.

It’s also for parents, who want to facilitate closer interactions between their kids and the grandparents of the kids (ie the parents of the parents).

If you are looking for an App to help interact better with the grandkids “from afar”, we hope our research will point you in the right direction. And if you have tried any of the Apps we mention, please add your comments at the bottom and tell us what you learned.

 

What We Did:

We canvassed people from our network and researched the Internet looking for “promising Apps”.

We decided there were a handful of major “subject areas / categories / types of app” that seemed promising, and within each category we identified those Apps that seemed most likely to be useful for our goals of deeper engagement / better relationships with grandkids.

Then we did some deeper investigation. In some cases we did a hands-on exploration of the Apps, and in other cases that is something we hope to do in a subsequent part of this study.

We summarized what we found about the Apps, and organized them by category below.

Throughout this project our focus is on ways to enhance our interactions with our grandkids. This led us to ignore some things you might imagine would be in here.

For example, there are many, many “entertainment” and “educational” options. We mostly glossed over those unless they had an obvious “interaction with the grandparents” relevance. Among these are things like “watching a video together” that may well be nice. But we decided that was outside the scope of this project.

This article is not meant to include an exhaustive hands-on evaluation of every app, but rather to be an overview and a roadmap for future, more detailed, evaluation.

 

What We Learned:

We found a number of rather promising Apps, and we explain which ones we liked and why.

However, we also identified some “obstacles to deploying these Apps successfully” — to have actual interactions with the grandkids. This was a surprise, and we explain exactly what those obstacles are.

Many of these Apps have a freemium model (a free version, then a more feature-rich version with a monthly fee). Some do not have the “free” version and need a fee to do anything.

We did not spend a lot of energy trying to compare the prices. Fees were often in the range of $5-10 per month (some were more expensive). Our thought was that if the App really enhanced our interactions with the grandkids, then a fee would be fine. And if it did not help us become closer to our grandkids, then even a free version was not going to be something we needed.

Overall, think of this work as a first step in our ongoing exploration of Grandparenting Apps.

 

Table of Contents

 

 

 

The Problem:

As a grandparent, you probably want to have opportunities to interact with your grandchildren however close or far away they may live.

The interest to develop such a relationship often is influenced by factors including the relationship with your children, the health and well-being of everyone, potential constraints related to job hours and commitments as well as the complications of time zones.

Says Reviewer Susan K:

“For me and my 14 month old grandson, I currently spend Fridays commuting fifty miles round trip to spend the day babysitting for my 14-month-old grandson in the living room and kitchen while his Dad works for a tech company in one of the three bedrooms. Mom will have left much earlier driving to her job managing the construction of a biochemistry lab in a nearby town.

This arrangement works fine one day a week, however it doesn’t meet my need for interaction for at least some time during the other six. And what about my other grandson, soon to be born 5,700 miles away?”

 

 

 

Implementation Issues

While we came away excited about the idea of using many of these apps for closer interactions, we did also discover some unexpected “obstacles” to using them in real world situations.

 

Parents are so busy

Many of these apps really required a parent to be involved in order for the grandparents (ie us) to start interacting with the grandkids.

In some situations, it was just the initial setup process that required a parent. In others, the parent really needed to be involved to make each session possible.

We soon realized that parents are extremely busy. They have their own jobs, the kids to worry about, and sometimes they worry also about us. So, while they are keen to see deeper grandkid / grandparent interactions, if the extra interactions need the parents to add tasks to their schedule, that adds a whole extra challenge.

What we really want is a way we as grandparents can deploy and initiate the interactions (after getting buy in from the parents of course). We want to have deeper interactions with the grandkids and NOT add to the burdens of our kids who are the parents.

 

Do you really need a special App?

Some of the people we talked with felt that they had their own “Do it Yourself” (“DIY”) approach to remote interaction, and wondered why they even needed a “a special app”.

For example, some of my grandparental friends report that they enjoy distanced reading with their young grandkids using Zoom or Skype and some other tech. One of them reads from ebooks checked out of her local library. The other obtains print copies of books for herself and her grandchildren. They then share these stories together from their respective locations.

These two approaches were cobbled together based on prior knowledge about technology. For example, knowing how to use Zoom and the public library online database enabled one friend to combine the two skills and create a no cost, secure way to engage with her grandson. In the other case, books were purchased perhaps on Amazon and shared over a video conferencing app. Purchased for a relatively low cost, the books can be kept or shared and read or reread anytime.

These approaches may appeal to lots of folks who choose to stick with what’s familiar. As well, they provide low or no cost solutions.

Of course, there is always “the phone”. But we and most of the people we talked with felt that in 2020 the phone falls a long way short of being ideal for promoting deep interactions.

 

Do we need the extra technology challenges?

Regardless of whether it is a DIY approach as above or one of the Apps we explored in this project, some of the grandparents we spoke with felt this was all very well, but that they really did not need “more technology” to deal with.

For example, recently purchased computer equipment and a fast WiFi speed are almost mandatory. For the DIY approach, some knowledge of how to gain access to a video conferencing app and to use Amazon are required.

With a new, unknown app these problems are exacerbated. In addition to the basic tenets, it’s important to know how to download a new app and make it run. Where on the app to look for information on accessibility is required. For example, one of my friends, about sixty years old, suggested we include a sidebar beside our recommended apps giving the basics of the app setup.

 

Too much screen time

Superseding all of these issues is the bottom line comment often heard that kids spend enough time on media and why would we want to give them even more opportunity to spend time on their screens. My twofold answer to that is that for those of us at a great geographical or social distance, how else do we connect with our grandchild? Second, in researching these many apps, we are looking for a high quality experience and not just entertainment.

 

 

 

Specific Suggestions: The Apps We Got Excited About (by age range)

While we looked at rather a lot of different Apps (roughly 22 at last count), there were a handful that our team of “grandparents / grandaunts and granduncles” especially liked and were keen to actually try out with their grandkids.

If you are looking for specific suggestions, and don’t want to read all the detail in the main section below in which we discuss all the apps, here are our ideas, organized by the “age range” we think would likely give the best results.

For each App, you can learn more in the main section where we discuss all the Apps.

Age 2 to 5

For this age range, we thought reading together would be the best of the different types of Apps. We especially liked the look of Readeo.

Age 4 to 7

In this age range, reading is still probably an excellent choice. In addition, we liked the idea of playing games together, and our reviewers got especially enthusiastic about “Caribu”.

Age 7 to 10+

In this age range, we still think the reading and games choices above are good (the suggestions above), but we would add some other games and also a photo sharing app.

  • We would add a card game App to the list of “well worth trying”. We liked “PlayingCards.io
  • One of us thought Kahoot (a type of educational game) might make a great “icebreaker” at an online birthday party.
  • At this age, we like the idea of introducing some type of remote interaction app (including photo sharing). One of our reviewers was especially enthusiastic about Grandy. Another of our team got very positive endorsement of Marco Polo from some friends that used it to connect remotely with grandkids during a trip.

Teenagers and Adult grandchildren

Our reviewers really liked the game “Words with Friends”.

 

 

 

Grandparenting Apps: The Details (by subject category)

We divided the apps into the following categories:

  • Reading
  • Art and Drawing
  • Specific “Remote Interaction Apps”
  • Scrapbooking
  • Games
  • Flight Simulators
  • Genealogy
  • Other

One category that deserves a special mention is the whole area of video chatting / video calls. There is no doubt that this is an excellent way to stay in touch with grandkids, and all of the authors currently use video calls as a way to stay in touch with distant family. However, we did not think video calls counted as a special “Grandparenting App”, so we don’t include it specifically in this article. If you want to know more about the best tools for video calling, you can read this article on Tech-enhanced Life.

 

Reading

Remember the comfort of evening storytime with your grandparent? Your grandfather’s voice brought a book’s character alive.

Now imagine you could bring your reading voice to your grandchildren — no matter how far apart you might be.

This category of “Reading apps” have the potential to help you cross this physical divide. Well known children’s book authors contributed to this digital format. Your grandchild turns the pages of his or her book, as your voice catches a character’s personality from your own book. You’ll also help them practice reading skills and prepare them for preschool and elementary reading classes.

While there are lots of apps relating to kids and reading, we only found a handful that we thought might actively encourage and deepen interaction between grandkids and grandparents separated by distance. The apps we singled out were “Readeo” and “Caribu”.

We did get rather intrigued by reading apps like My Very Hungry Caterpillar and Brown Bear Annual Parade (both from StoryToys), and wonder if they can be useful in some way — but our team could not see how to use them to promote deeper grandparent-grandkid interaction. If you have experience with apps like these, please share your experiences in the comments section at the bottom of the page.

 

Readeo

Age Range: 2-5 and up. Best suited for those not yet reading or learning to read.

How we would use this to interact with a grandchild: Both grandkid and grandparent have the app in front of them (even though they are in different places) and the grandparent reads aloud and the grandkid can hear them (via the App). Either can turn the page, and they can discuss.

Key Features: Free and paid subscription of $9.99/mo or $99.99 annually. The membership comes with a money-back guarantee. This is a reading app where both grandparent and grandchild read together while the grandchild turns the pages. The site has over 200+ award-winning titles. There is a patented BookChat platform. This captures kids’ attention. Grandparents may find BookChat sessions are more enjoyable and last longer.

From the website: “When you create a Readeo account, your family also gets full access to our library—for free. This means the kids can use Readeo on any device and read any book they please, whether on their own or with you during a BookChat™.”

Personal Opinion: I was immediately smitten in browsing through their website. Their pricing structure appealed to me because you can take it for several months or a year. Seeing a grandparent reading while his grandchild watched the book pages turn was very personal and heart-warming.

 

Caribu

This App is covered in the games section below. See Games for details. We mention it here too, because Caribu also allows you to read together, which also makes it appropriate for this section of the article.

 

 

Art and Drawing

Imagine a mobile device app that lets you interact with and encourage your grandchildren while they draw and play and develop their creative talents — even though you are far away!.

You might congratulate your grandson as he carefully selects shades of purple, orange or red for his first dinosaur. Or watch your granddaughter giggle as she adds a pink nose on her beloved kitty cat “Meow”.

One app even helps you save and organize their masterpieces, including audio and video commentary.

Our reviewers really liked the idea of some type of collaborative drawing app, or some type of app where the grandparent could interact with the grandkid about the drawings. Apart from various apps in the “scrapbooking category”, we did not really find a drawing app that helped promote deeper grandparent-grandkid engagement at a distance. If you know of one, let us know in the comments.

We did find several interesting drawing apps (for example “Draw with Carl” and “Draw Something”), but they lacked the interacting-at-a-distance we had hoped for.

 

 

Specific “Remote Interaction Apps”

There is a category of apps specifically designed for staying in touch with people at a distance. Many of these are designed for other demographics than the grandparent / grandkid group. But there were a few about which our reviewers got excited.

The “Remote Interaction Apps” category includes “general purpose remote interaction apps”. There are of course games and reading apps that are also excellent for remote interaction but we put them in their own categories.

In this category we liked:

  • Grandy
  • Marco Polo

 

Grandy

Age Range: Pre-teen and teenage.

How we would use this to interact with a grandchild: Engage with them (virtually) about photos, stories, and two player games.

Key Features: Simple to use, offering both messaging and visits, games and stories, and creating calendar habits. No age range is stipulated on the home page, however I would guess that this site would be suitable for ages 10+.The cost is $10 per month, $50 annual fee or $80 premium annual fee.

From the website: “ Where grandparents and kids come together online: spreading joy and wisdom across generations. Targeting geographically distanced families, this website includes scheduled visits with elders to engage with kids, digital postcards with photos and videos, family friendly onboarding and support, and a private and safe environment without data sharing or ads.”

Personal Opinion: I recommend this site with appreciation for the company’s effort to specifically bring together grandparents and kids. The print is large and easy to read and the bright colors are attractive. Definitely family friendly, more than simple entertainment, and lacking in comic book or superhero themes, this is a great site for grandparents to get started with online interaction with their youngest generation.

Reviewer JM: “I like that Grandy incentivizes grandchildren to participate by giving them recognition for participation, such as sending me my first digital postcard.”

Anecdote: Reviewer JM: “I am looking to use a photo sharing / scrapbooking app to stay current with children and grandchildren who are in other parts of the world.

Not only would I be able to watch the grandchildren grow and develop their interests, but I could share my own photos with them as a basis of conversation. I see these apps as a convenient way to reach Children, grandchildren, and close friends — by invitation only for privacy reasons.

My favorite is Grandy because of its interactive nature connecting a grandparent with a grandchild on a scheduled basis to make it easier for a parent to arrange interactions.“

 

Marco Polo

Age Range: Middle school and up.

How we would use this to interact with a grandchild: You can share pictures and videos, and interact about them virtually.

Key features: Longer and lasting images, good for sharing videos; no ratings or comparisons; great for reaching relatives on a trip and sharing photos. Apparently, a Marco Polo plus subscription allows you to video conference and has many other enhanced features like short messaging and texting. The enhanced version costs $5 per month. Marco Polo is appropriate for middle school age and up

From the website: “Gather friends and family, chat with your support or hobby group, collaborate with coworkers or fantasy football teammates. Each person can watch and respond when it works for them. Speaking face to face is as easy as pressing "Start" and "Stop". Have fun with doodles and voice filters, too!”

Personal opinion(s): Reviewer JM: “This app is better than others because it allows the user to post a chat video to be seen by the intended viewer at their leisure. I find it especially appealing because it allows the user to make some amusing visual (drawing) and voice filtering effects to allow both the grandparent and the grandchild to have some fun with voice and the pictures. I like it because it does not have to be 'live' if our schedules do not align when I am ready to send a message. A cautionary note: the app asks to download the user's contact list to its server to identify others who are on Marco Polo, but goes on to state that the user data is not sold for advertising.”

Reviewer SK: “I think Marco Polo would be great fun for engaging with grandchildren. If you or they were on a trip, you could enjoy sharing photos and videos with your other family members. MarcoPolo is considered to be the “opposite of Snapchat” as the messages don’t self-destruct and you don’t get suggestions to add random users.”

Anecdotes: Reviewer SK: “I first heard about MarcoPolo at lunch with friends. One couple mentioned that they very much enjoyed getting photos and messages from their children and grandchildren taking an RV trip to National Parks earlier this year.”

 

 

Scrapbooking

There is an entire category of apps devoted to collecting and keeping track of memorable events and memorabilia. Some of them focus on baby pictures, some focus on trips, some focus on your kids in general.

We included this category of apps in this article, because they are likely to be of interest. In terms of encouraging deeper interactions, they do have features like commenting. But we were not convinced they would help much with grandkid grandparent interactions. Maybe more grandparent / parent interactions?

If you have tried them, let us know.

The apps in this category we liked are:

  • Keepy;
  • Family Album;
  • 23 Snaps;
  • Tiny Beans.

While we also included various “photo sharing apps” (like Google Photos and Flickr) on our original list, we decided they were not sufficiently helpful in promoting relationships at a distance to include in this article.

 

Keepy

Age Range: Birth to 18-years.

How we would use this to interact with a grandchild: Keepy is an attractive app to stay in touch with the grandkids by allowing a grandparent to see, interactively enjoy, and archive the children’s art projects and schoolwork.

Key Features: This is an archive to save and organize children’s art and memorabilia for the family. Grandparents can also add voice or video stories. iOS 10.0 or later, iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch. Apple app store is iPhone only. You can share with others through email, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, What’s App and more. It features a clear interface, large icons and simple registration process, according to its website. English. Free version available. Subscriptions needed for more features: monthly fees from $7.99, $9,99 or family sharing with up to 6 members for $29.99 monthly.

From the website: “Invite grandparents and loved ones to be your kids' "fan" so they can see all of your memories. Anyone with access to a web browser or smartphone can work with it regardless of their experience with technology.”

Personal Opinion: The Keepy website is well designed and catchy and the introductory video let me imagine its possibilities. Several testimonials rate it highly. They write that it is a must for grandparents who want to curate family memories, photos, videos and artwork “for now. for later. forever.” Two potential issues: monthly fees are high and they do not tell you how to retrieve your curated work if you or your family end your subscriptions.

 

 

Family-Album

Age Range: Birth to 18 years.

How we would use this to interact with a grandchild: Family-Album is an app that allows grandparents to follow the growth and development of a grandchild through photos or videos, and organizes the images by child, when more than one is involved. Not useful for close interaction.

Family-Album is a free photo organizing and sharing app with a premium option.

Key features: Comments & Conversation: Add comments to explain photos. Respond to reactions and communicate with the family. Visitors may check to see if your family has viewed your photos, bringing everyone even closer together.

From the website: “The best way to safely share and organize your family’s photos and videos. Unlimited storage, no ads, and it’s free! Auto-Organized Album: Simply upload - the album will be made for you and sorted by month. Grow Up with 1s Movies: See the story of your child's growth told in seconds with each season. Just upload memories and we'll put them together.”Safe & Secure: Only family members you invite can see your album. Lost your device? Recover your photos from Family-Album. No hassle required, even when life happens.

Personal opinion: This website is especially attractive to me because of their offering of the ‘1s movie’ feature described above. That, in my opinion, puts it ahead of others which also offer privacy and security in sharing photos.

Anecdote: Reviewer JM: I especially like Family-Album for the 1s movie feature which provides a brief review of a child’s development during each season of growth.

 

23 Snaps

Age Range: Birth to 18.

How we would use this to interact with a grandchild: This would be helpful in archiving family photos and tracking the development of grandchildren, but not in an interactive way.

Key features: Online photo timeline, family album organization, everyone can contribute. The company offers a free basic edition.

From the website: “The whole family can use 23snaps to privately share photos online; on a phone, a tablet or a computer. You can even invite family members to receive updates by email - they don't even have to visit the site.” Personal Opinion: Good for grandparents who wish to save family events and celebrations online.

Personal opinion: This app is attractive for its ability to help one collect photos, videos and stories of a child’s development and precious moments, and for the provision of privacy in sharing with others.

 

TinyBeans

Age Range: Birth to teenage.

How we would use this to interact with a grandchild: Not intended for handy interaction with grandchildren, TinyBeans allows for sharing photos of the kids privately.

TinyBeans Share photos of the kids privately. Free secure and family friendly photo sharing. Provides a place for photos of children to be organized over time to see their growth and progress.

Key features: Unlimited storage, no upcharging after a trial period, photo books, album organization, secure server.

From the website: “There is no such thing as overposting here. Bonus! We organize all your photos and videos. Free unlimited storage. Unlike other apps, we don’t start charging after a trial. Don’t miss a thing. Easily track growth, milestones and development. Print Photo Books. Create baby books and photo albums your child will love looking back on.” Personal opinion: Safety and privacy are as attractive as the free unlimited storage. The fact that grandparents can connect from all over the world is a plus.

Anecdote: From one of our friends (KL): “I've used Tinybeans in the past but haven't for a couple years since I just text pictures and videos directly to my family now. I liked how it was a more private way to share my kids with a limited number of close family and friends since my other social media has too wide of an audience. Also, I like the format since it's laid out as a calendar. I could scroll through easily and see how quickly the kids have grown up.”

 

 

Games

Games are a favorite way for grandparents to interact with grandchildren of all ages. These Apps let you play games with your grandkids when you are not both in the same place.

Many games are fun and become something that the children want to do again. They provide a structure for interaction. (Sometimes, when grandparents aren’t involved closely with the children’s lives and activities, conversations can be awkward or hard to start.) Sharing good times with laughter and competition promote good feelings and memories. They also encourage repeat activities.

Some apps focus on just one game, while others provide multiple options. Some allow creativity and the ability to make up games or change rules.

One of the apps, “playingcards.io” is notable for the variety of games and the structured versus unstructured options. This plethora of choices would seem to have something for everyone.

These apps are classics and can be used to set up a “playdate.” Very easy to use.

We included:

  • Playingcards.io
  • Caribu
  • Words with Friends
  • Wheel of Fortune
  • Kahoot

Note that Grandy also includes some two player games, but we included Grandy in the “Remote Interaction Apps” category.

 

Playingcards.io

Age Range: 8+

How we would use this to interact with a grandchild: The grandparent and grandkid play a game together, using the App, even though they are not in the same place.

Key features: Playingcards.io/ is a browser website, displaying a “Virtual Tabletop”, on which multiple different games can be played. Many games have templates, including card games (Hearts, Go Fish, Euchre, Crazy 8’s, Cards against Humanity) and board games (Checkers, Chess, Backgammon, Cribbage).

Grandkids can click on a game and get a URL to send to grandparents (or vice versa) that leads to a dedicated room where everybody plays the game. The players' screens are synchronized, so you see cards and game pieces shift in real-time as other people move them. (Other players won't see your cards, though.) Rooms are automatically saved and won't be removed until they haven't been used for two weeks -- so if kids don't finish playing, they can revisit a game later by just entering the URL.

From the website: Site has very sophisticated methods to customize games, like Spades, Bridge, Poker, just like a deck of cards on a tabletop. Because it is browser based, it can be played on any device with internet access (phone, tablet, laptop). Multiple players can be accommodated at once, though 8 is the max recommended (confusion factor).

Personal opinion: Two major pluses are no need to register and no fees. You can experiment without incurring any obligation. Biggest negative is lack of voice chat, so you need a second method to communicate during the game. In fact, the home page of the website has a prominent comment, “Bring your own chat. You’ll want to be talking with the other players during the game. Use another site or the good old telephone to chat.”

This is a terrific site. The only weakness is that it does not provide a means to chat or instant message to discuss the game. If an alternate method to communicate alongside the game is available, I strongly recommend it.

Anecdotes: I tested the checkers game with my wife and it works fairly well.

 

Caribu

Age Range: 4-12

How we would use this to interact with a grandchild: The grandparent and grandkid play a game together, using the App, even though they are not in the same place. You can also read together, like some of the Apps in the reading section.

Key features: App based games, activities, and reading. The grandparent downloads the app, sets up an account, then emails the invitation to family to also download a linked account. Within the app you call a family member, which produces a screen, with both grandparent and grandchild pictures inset. Then you have the ability to select Books (from an extremely large library) or Activities. You can read together with either able to turn pages. The Activities section also has a lot of options, such as puzzles and games using the touch screen or mouse. One of the strengths of the site is ease of use. It is intuitive and versatile, offering many options in addition to games, including ‘Paint & Draw’, ‘Tic-tac-toe”, and mazes.

From the website: “The best family video-calling app integrating children's books and activities - a truly engaging experience for kids and their families - a "virtual playdate." Free for 30 days, then $7/month. Available using phone, tablet, or laptop. This app suggests different age ranges in different places - 0 to 12, but optimally maybe 4 to 7.

Personal opinion: Most reviewers rave about the quality of their experience and give 5 stars. However, a substantial number note that crashes and lags are common and that improper synching makes the app unusable. Caribu responds that customer service can often assist with these issues. Even those with operational issues, I like the concept very much and the app seems to work well for most. I strongly support it and recommend it.

Anecdotes: I downloaded the app, invited my wife, and we engaged interactively, reading a book, taking turns turning the pages. We found it intuitive and easy to use.

 

Words with Friends

Age Range: 8+

How we would use this to interact with a grandchild: The grandparent and grandkid play a game together, using the App, even though they are not in the same place.

Key features: Words with Friends is a multiplayer word game where players take turns positioning letter tiles on a virtual game board, crossword-puzzle style in a manner similar to the classic board game Scrabble. The rules of the two games are similar, but there’s no affiliation. You and your competitor take turns positioning letter tiles on a virtual game board, to spell a word. Each letter tile is worth a certain number of points, and there are also spaces on the board that can increase a word's point value.

Players may look up friends either by username or through Facebook. It is available for cross-platform play on devices running the operating systems Android, Windows phone, iOS (iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch). The game is also available on Facebook, Kindle Fire, and Nook Tablet. In addition, there is a chat feature built into the game that allows opponents to exchange messages. The free versions are ad supported and offer in-app purchases.

From the website: The classic version of Words With Friends offered only two play modes — a normal mode, where you played against an opponent, and a Solo Play mode, where you played against the game's AI in order to hone your skills. Words With Friends 2 has upgraded the experience and added advanced features. For instance, you can click on a word to get its meaning. You can download either the Words with Friends, Classic or Words with Friends 2.

Personal opinion: From my research, the game is designed for multi-players, is educational, is intuitive, and seems perfect for a pleasant grandparenting interactive playdate. I highly recommend it.

Anecdotes: Although I have not personally played the game, many friends are fans.

 

Wheel of Fortune

Age Range: 10+

How we would use this to interact with a grandchild: The grandparent and grandkid play a game together, using the App, even though they are not in the same place.

Key features: This is a popular game app, based on the iconic TV show of the same name, that grandparents and grandchildren of all ages can play together, no matter the distance. There are 1,000 puzzles to solve at three difficulty levels, but most are solo.

From the website: A fun puzzle game on home page allows you to try to fill in the blanks, like the TV game, without registering, but does not have a name and doesn’t always come up.

Personal opinion: I do not personally recommend this because of the learning curve, confusing options, and unclear costs.

Anecdotes: I spent quite a bit of time on the website, trying to understand the various options. However, I found it confusing as the icons and games kept changing. Despite the large number of options, it was hard to tell which require watching the TV show to play and which cost money. Since there is no explanation about multiple players games, I assume you must join Wheel Watchers Club for more options.

 

Kahoot

Age Range: 10+

How we would use this to interact with a grandchild: One of our reviewers sees this as a sort of “conversation starter” taking advantage of the way you can interact via questions. Good for that teenager who “grunts” when you ask them how their day went perhaps?

Key features: Kahoot can be very useful in introducing a short questionnaire to an online discussion on Zoom or other platforms, such as in a classroom setting. For example, you can set up a few questions on Kahoot and share the screen with your group. Participants log in their answers by loading and opening the Kahoot app on their phones and tapping their answer button. Kahoot tallies the answer to determine who answered the most questions correctly or simply the most questions.

From the website: Under the headline banner “Make family time fun and educational with Kahoot!” this website offers lots of info about its functionality. Viewing its free website and the “Home” and "Family fun” tabs you will learn about the ability to choose “from millions of games on any topic”, and “Host a game show in your living room”.

Personal opinion: Focused on professional educators. In fact, calls itself The Kahoot Academy. Very professional.

  • Reviewer RS says: “I strongly doubt any applicability for grandparents.”
  • Reviewer SK says: “This app can be used as an ice breaker at an online birthday party and is often employed in a classroom situation. It can be a way to get a sample of opinions from a family group or just to have fun with one or a few grandchildren. The person setting up the Kahoot questionnaire must have a Kahoot account however participants can answer questions with no charge. Using Kahoot implies the group is working together creating an enhanced sense of belonging.”

Anecdotes: Two grandchildren in different schools, a 13 yr old girl and an 11 yr old boy, report that their teachers, during remote learning, use Kahoot to provide a gaming type of break from the academic work.

 

Flight Simulators

Age Range: 10+

How we would use this to interact with a grandchild: The grandparent and grandkid can in some cases “fly together” and in other cases discuss their experiences with the same flying adventures.

We included this category after we received this suggestion from the 14 yr old grandson of one of the author's friends:

“­­­­­­­­­I play Infinite Flight Simulator with my brother Ben.  

We fly a wide variety of planes from propellors to jumbo jets.  The thing I like best about it is that there are different levels.  At first, you are placed in a group where you zoom around in fighter jets or other planes.  Then after you get experience points, you can move into higher and higher dimensions where it gets more serious.   If the game realizes that you are just fooling around and intercepting others, it will send you back to a lower level.  Everything in the cockpit is 3D, and the landscapes are 3D, but not the buildings, although you can still recognize the landmarks. 

Although the app takes some effort to learn at first, the average grandparent should be able to master it.”   .... Danny S, Indiana, age 14.

 

Here is what author RS has to say (RS is a former airline pilot).

Flight Simulators allow you to simulate flying aircraft from your computer or from a mobile device. Some of them allow you and your grandkid to fly together (either as co-pilots , or as part of a squadron in separate planes).

There are scores of options over an extreme range of complexity and required equipment. Possibilities include every different type of aircraft, performing all kinds of missions all over the world. The simplest allows you to physically move your mobile device, iPhone or iPad, (or non apple devices) as a control wheel, aka yoke, to maneuver the airplane flight controls. The touch screen adds other functions like adjusting the throttle and changing pilot view.

The simplest and best reviewed are X Plane 10 mobile and Infinite Flight Simulator. They are free or low cost to download and offer basic airplane choices. However, to actually go beyond practicing basic flight maneuvers, you must ‘buy’ an airplane (Piper Cub for $.99). Age guidance is 9 yrs old & over.

The other end of spectrum is the iconic Microsoft Flight Simulator, which has been the gold standard for 20 years (not compatible with Apple products, though). The degree of sophistication is truly impressive allowing choices of extreme fighter aircraft to 747 jumbo jets. Weather conditions are selectable, equipment failures can be preprogrammed, 3D is available, and over 37,000 worldwide airports are in the data base. For this, however, on top of the significant $90-120 cost of the game, major equipment investments are necessary, including a set of flight controls such as a joystick or yoke and rudder pedals and throttle quadrant, which can add up to $300-400. Not compatible with Apple computers.

Even at the simple level, an upgrade to an interactive feature allows two pilots to fly in the same airspace, side by side or in formation. Thus, it is conceivable that a grandparent and grandchild could share a terrific flying experience. However, the learning curve seems that it would be an extraordinary grandparent who could master the skills in a reasonable time.

 

 

Genealogy

While our reviewers were not convinced all (or even many) grandkids would get excited about genealogy while they were in their teen years, perhaps some would get interested as they grew into adulthood — when deeper interaction is still very relevant for grandparents.

For those grandparents who think genealogy might strike a chord with a grandkid, read on.

We considered two separate genealogy sites (Ancestry and My Heritage) that we thought might be relevant to our quest for deeper interactions between (older) grandkids and grandparents.

Many grandparents have a keen interest in sharing their family history and stories. It is clear that, within a family, grandparents are most knowledgeable about the family history and stories. Their versions of events can help to build a close bond between generations.

In some ways, these sites can set the story straight with more facts and relevant, additional knowledge gleaned from these genealogical programs.

With younger children, grandparents can refer to the data they have collected to fact check their stories and consider who among their ancestors have particularly interesting biographies to share. Grandparents can collaborate with older grand children to enter known data from collected documents. Together they can research and add new information provided by the website's resources including census, military, gravesite, period newspapers and immigration data among others.

These apps provide an enjoyable pastime that can be developed and enhanced over many years in the relationship of grandparents and their grandchildren. Parents may be encouraged early on to enter the conversation and carry it forward for decades to come.

Overall, the two sites are very similar. Both are appropriate for direct use by individual or small groups of high school students and older or they can be used indirectly as reference points for grandparents in building stories for younger grandchildren.

Below is our discussion of the individual sites (Ancestry and My Heritage).

 

Ancestry.com

Age Range: Teenage to college and above.

How we would use this to interact with a grandchild: collaborating to research family history.

Key features: Ancestry.com enables users to create and build their own family trees and/or to import family trees they have created on other platforms like Family Tree Maker. In addition, Ancestry makes it possible for users to research family members and to connect online to upload their family trees and interact with other users to develop and expand their databases. To augment your information the site offers “hints” and assistance in building out your family tree with documents, newspaper articles and other sources to help build out the profiles. A newer feature of Ancestry is to offer DNA kits to discover your own genome. The results can be uploaded and discoveries made online of near and/or distance relatives that share similar DNA traits.

From the website: The Ancestry homepage invites the user to set up their family tree by entering known data into the various “fields”. The user can then view the data in a traditional “tree” format, as a “fan tree” or as a list with names and info. The Ancestry database has 19 billion records and is primarily American based. It offers US census and military information among many other resources.

Personal opinion: The bigger your family tree file, the more you will need a recent computer with at least 512 GB of RAM. Without this I found researched information I wanted to import stalled with a reported error message.

Also, Ancestry relies on American databases by and large so does not necessarily include info for family members who may be in the country of origin and never emigrated to the US.

In general, Ancestry is very easy to use and very popular among genealogical hobbyists. For many, it contains all of the data and more required by researchers.

 

My Heritage.com

Age Range: Teenage to college and above.

How we would use this to interact with a grandchild: collaborating to research family history.

Key features: My Heritage is similar in many ways to Ancestry.com. It allows the user to upload files and/or create a new family tree. The user interface is equally friendly for entering data and the site offers a variety of ways to view the “tree” information.

My Heritage provides “Smart Matches” by using their algorithm to search for newspaper articles and public military, immigration and other records that have a similar or identical name. The user can check whether they match the info already accumulated and accept or reject the new input as desired.

Users can choose the language such as American English to perform the searches and record the data in their files.

This website does not offer DNA tests or the chance to match DNA results with other online users.

From the website: My Heritage is based in Israel. For research purposes the website has nine billion records. With a more European focus, this site also includes data from Australia, New Zealand, Latin America, Canada and comprehensive coverage of worldwide Jewish ancestry. Also, in thinking about other languages, My Heritage searches yield documents and information in other languages including Austrian German and old German, for example.

Personal opinion: Using My Heritage, it is easy to begin a new family tree file entering your own family data. When questions arise, My Heritage offers friendly phone customer service.

 

 

 

Other Apps We Considered

In addition to the categories above, as we explored “Apps for grandparenting”, we came across a variety of other types of apps. While we did not include them in the categories we explore above, we mention them here for completeness.

 

Video chat and messaging Apps

Interacting with grandkids via video is a great way to engage, of course.

This anecdote from one of the authors illustrates video chat in action.

Anecdote: Reviewer JM:

“My son’s family includes grandchildren (four little boys) living in Tennessee, and yet we live in California. We would ‘visit’ on Sunday afternoons by using Facetime.

One visit, the toddler sitting on his dad’s lap saw his grandpa’s image on the smartphone, and suddenly leapt up in excitement – the top of his head striking his dad’s chin, which brought the conversation to an early end.

Our solution for online family visits is now the Amazon Echo Show which gives a ‘family portrait’ view of all together on a sofa with capacity for ‘show and tell’ for each. “

If you are interested in the best way to do that, we recommend this article elsewhere on this website:

In addition, there were several apps in the video chat category mentioned by other grandparents we talked with that are worth exploring if you need more than you find in the articles above. These include Whats App; and Google Duo — likely familiar to most readers. An app that was new to us, and which has a large userbase in Japan, Thailand, Taiwan and Indonesia is Line.

 

Educational Apps

There is an entire and very large category of “educational apps”. Some of these may be useful for interacting with grandkids, but we did not explore them in this study.

A couple of educational apps that looked intriguing but which we did not evaluate in detail include Sightwords and Kodable. Also, Khan Academy has great merit for targeted educational learning and skill development at almost any age.

 

 

Join Us in the Next Phase of this Project

We are planning further evaluation of some of these apps, and perhaps exploriung additional apps.

If you are interested in getting involved, or if you have experiences yourself with GrandParenting Apps, please contact us, or add your thoughts in the comments below.

 

Get notified when we publish more like this

 

 

 

Disclosure

Neither Tech-enhanced Life nor the authors were compensated for this exploration by any of the companies mentioned in this article.

 

 

 


 

 

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Reader Comments: "Exploring Grandparent Apps"

 

from faengelm (member) at January 04, 2021

Very well done!

 

from Tonya (unverified) at February 10, 2021

I've been using the TogetherVideo app (iOS: https://www.togethervideoapp.com/) for the past three months with seven grandkids ages 3 to 9. I like it better than Caribu because there are games for older children (chess, checkers, backgammon, yahtzee-like game). It's somewhat buggy and there are some odd non-American spellings ("oppss" for "oops" when you slide down in "Chutes and Ladders") and the books have a high percentage written, it seems, for the Indian culture (evident in names of characters and situations). But it's *so* much better than Caribu in that it offers activities for older children as well as a huge variety of games and coloring. It's not perfect by any means, but the best I've found so far. The trial is also long enough to truly give it a good try. You can also scan in your own favorite books and it will be available to you in the app (not shared publicly).

 

from faengelm (member) at November 03, 2021

Has anyone tried the new Amazon Glow device that is aimed at remote grandparents with their grand kids?

I see that its actually shipping now.

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