1. Record Stories for The KidsFor our Chicago grandchildren, each Christmas my wife and I have purchased some fun books that are appropriate to their ages and then have videorecorded us reading the books to them.My daughter-in-law reports that these are the best tools she has for "quiet time" when she is trying to get the baby to nap.The older kids love seeing Grandma and Grandpa read to them, and it helps keep our faces and voices in their mind so that when we call or visit, they know us right away.With current smartphone technologies, this has become even easier than it was a few years ago.
2. Send Activity Gift Certificates
Gift cards and e-gift cards are always a great idea for connecting with those who are far away, but giving gift cards or gift certificates that have to be used for an activity can be even more fun and lead to great conversations later. For example, a gift card to a local miniature golf center, water park or family fun center can bring some quality entertainment for the kids and give them one more way of connecting with you.
3. Record Your Day
If you are away for an extended period of time, try taking your smartphone or video camera along and record yourself at various locations and then post it online or email it to the family that lives away. This works best when you are on vacation or in an interesting and picturesque locale, but it can also work when you are just going to meetings or to a convention, or even just living your regular day away from them. It will give you common grounds for later talks or emails, and will help them appreciate your activities and connect with you in an interesting way.
4. Send Activity PackagesAnother strategy that we employ with our long-distance grandchildren is to send them a periodic package with things like workbooks, stickers, card games and the like.Our grandkids enjoy the grade-based workbooks that we find online and it also helps them pass the time in the summer when school is out.But sending things that they can do (rather than just eat or wear) is another great way to stay in touch at a distance.
5. Recognize Their Accomplishments
It can be really hard for a dad or a grandfather to be absent when the child receives an award, is in a school play or wins a big game. Take the opportunity to praise and recognize their accomplishments. Sending a half-dozen roses to the daughter who is in the play for opening or closing night can help them know that they are remembered. If a child is acknowledged in a local newspaper for winning a big game, get online and make a comment on the article talking about what a great player he or she is and how much the victory means to the team, the team members and their families. Staying up to date on events like this can cement a relationship now and later.
6. Hangout Virtually
With technologies like Skype and Google Plus, it is becoming ever easier to have video-based "hangouts" with people at a long distance. I particularly enjoy the Google Plus hangout because you can involve other Google Plus members from various locations all in the same moment. Try setting up a hangout and then invite your family members all to join in. It is not quite as satisfying as a real family reunion, but it does offer some connecting time together.
7. Play Online Games Together
More and more people are connecting up online to play games, whether it is just the two or you or a larger group. This can be even more fun if you are talking on the phone while playing. The About.com guide to boardgames has a great listing of sites that would be appropriate for playing games with the kids in real time.