By Kathleen M. Rehl, Ph.D., CFP®, CeFT® Emeritus
My six-year-old grandson and I love reading stories together.
Nothing beats snuggling with a delightful picture book and following the adventures of colorful characters on those pages. I cherish our precious times together; however, as a long-distance grandma, in-person reading opportunities with him are scarce.
Early Years Reading Together
After his birth, I earned scads of frequent flyer miles from many trips to be with my first grandchild in Illinois, traveling from my home in New York. I sang and read nursery rhymes to my grandson before he was a month old. As a newborn, he soon smiled and even cooed along with “Row, Row, Row Your Boat,” “Old McDonald Had a Farm,” “Humpty Dumpty Sat on a Wall,” “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,” “Itsy Bitsy Spider,” and more.
I shared these same lullabies, stories, and poems with his daddy decades ago—even before my son was born. Balancing a book on my pregnant belly, I read dozens of children’s books to my unborn baby. When he was a toddler, my son made weekly trips with me to our local library, choosing “The Very Hungry Caterpillar,” “Snowy Day,” “Where the Wild Things Are”, “Goodnight Moon,” “Black is Brown is Tan,” “The Cat in the Hat,” “Honey I Love,” and lots of other nifty finds. He and I spent hours reading together, including easy reader books he used in first grade.
Yes, my grandson’s inherited genes preprogrammed him to love listening to stories read to him. During his first four years, I adored bonding times over books shared with my grandson when we were together in person.
Then Covid Came
Covid shut down almost everything, including travel to be with my grandson. Our joyful reading together times stopped as our family resorted to phoning during the pandemic’s early phase. I only had quick conversations with my grandson, about how he didn’t like being confined to his small townhouse all day with a sleepy dog and no preschool friends to play with. Sad time.
But in May 2020, my grandson and his family drove 900 miles to our sprawling New York house with a spacious yard, escaping Chicago’s congestion, chaos, cramped quarters, two parents working from bedroom home offices, no childcare, and profound stress. (I penned a poem about this, “Relief Valve,” which you can read here.)
The positive part of the pandemic for me was this treasured family time together . . . including reading stories every day with my grandson.
We Went Virtual
A few months after my grandson and his family returned to their Illinois home, I tried to read stories virtually. My initial approach didn’t work well. I used Zoom while I held up a book to my computer’s camera, trying to read the words upside down from my viewpoint. Too awkward—plus the pages didn’t show well on his computer screen.
Encouraged after an in-person holiday visit to my family in late 2020, I didn’t want to give up on reading together at a distance. Soon afterward I designed a new approach. Below I describe the basics of my method. One way is free. If you want to expand your choice of electronic books (eBooks), you can add another affordable option, also explained. We’ve used this system for over a year now, reading together almost every weekend. Makes us happy!
My Easy Method
1. Sign up for a free Zoom account. With this basic personal account, you can share eBooks with your grandchild. Try this helpful tutorial if you need assistance using Zoom. Here’s is a screenshot from my computer when reading the eBook, “The Little Book of Friendship” to my grandson.
Your grandchild needs to access Zoom on their device. Most likely their parents already use this ubiquitous tool. At first, an adult or older sibling may help your young grandchild sign into the program.
2. Check out free eBooks from your local library’s website and with the click of a button deliver them to your library’s free reading app or free Kindle app. Many libraries stock hundreds of delightful children’s picture books for young kids.
3. Find dozens of children’s picture books by subscribing to a Kindle Unlimited account (free for 30 days; $9.99 monthly to continue subscription). Sign in to your Amazon account to have eBooks delivered to your Kindle device or another reading app.
To heighten the fun, I recently started sending my grandson a colorful postcard by regular USPS mail. My brief hand-written message includes the title of an eBook we’ll soon share saying a bit about this before our upcoming virtual storytime. For example, with the book, “Bad Dog,” I posed a question wondering why the dog was bad. I mailed my postcard so he received it several days before we Zoomed. Previously I’ve sent him notes via his daddy’s email, with a short message and the eBook’s cover graphic. These actions hype interest in the books we share and our reading times together.
Staying in touch with my grandson through virtual storytime is a loving hug from this long-distance grandma.
Kathleen M. Rehl, Ph.D., CFP®, CeFT® Emeritus wrote the award-winning book, Moving Forward on Your Own: A Financial Guidebook for Widows. She owned Rehl Financial Advisors for 18 years before retiring to a six-year encore career empowering widows. Now happily “reFired” at age 75, Rehl writes legacy prose, poetry, and letters . . . plus is an ambassador for several nonprofits. Her work has been featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Kiplinger’s, CNBC, USA Today, and many other publications. Her website https://kathleenrehl.com.