Category: Tips

11 Fun and Useful Apps for Expat Families in 2022

11 Fun and Useful Apps for Families in 2022 by Vincent van de Noord

Do you ever feel like your family is missing out on the life of your child? I know I do. When I was young, I saw my grandparents often because they lived very close by. Naturally, we developed a very strong and loving bond.

Nowadays, my family is living further apart. My son can’t hop on his bike to see his grandparents, so we need other ways to stay in touch. Luckily, almost everything can be done virtually these days. We’re still waiting for technology but kisses and hugs, but my son is saving them up for the moments my family is together in real life.

Finding the right apps can be a chore. We know because we sorted through many of them. To help you, we’ve made a list of 11 apps that you could use. Some are free, but most are freemium (you can try it out, but have to pay to take full advantage of the app).

Each of these apps offers something different and can help you build a virtual connection with your family. So that when you are together in real life, it will be as if you were never apart.

We’ve sorted them into categories. Let’s dive in!

The best video calling apps

For live video calls, these are great options.

FaceTime (free)

Apple’s video calling platform is great for live interaction with your family. You can use it on an iPad for an extra-large screen, and it offers funny animal filters that you can play around with.

It’s only available on Apple devices. You do have the challenge of finding the right time, and depending on the creativity of your family members it will be a conversation with the child or just the adults talking.

https://apps.apple.com/us/app/facetime/id1110145091

Zoom (freemium)

Zoom really took off during COVID. It works very well as a tool for video calls, but it’s built for business communication, so there is no playfulness unless you bring it yourself. The free option is limited to 40 minutes.

https://zoom.us

Alternative:

You can also use Google Meet, which is free to use.

The best messenger apps

If you want to send messages, these are the right apps for you.

Marco Polo (freemium)

Marco Polo is a great option if you want to have video chats with your family. It works by sending short videos back and forth, which makes it more suited to use for young children. It’s designed for close relationships and is relatively easy to use.

What it doesn’t offer is content or activities to get the conversation going. As a parent, you often still have to initiate the contact.

https://www.marcopolo.me/wellbeing/

WhatsApp (free)

I don’t think this one needs an introduction. With approximately 2 billion (!) users, WhatsApp is the most popular mobile messenger app worldwide. It’s great to share messages, videos, and photos. You can also create a group for your family.

The downside is that it’s a very generic messenger built for adults, and your videos and photos are easily lost in your message history. And let’s not forget it’s owned by Meta (formally Facebook), a company that isn’t well known for its privacy standards.

https://www.whatsapp.com

Signal (free)

Signal is privacy friendly alternative to WhatsApp. It offers similar functionality, but its focus on security and privacy can make it a better choice for users concerned about their data (and of course, that should be everyone!).

https://signal.org

Best photo & video sharing apps

If you primarily want to share photos and videos, these apps could be great for you.

Google Photos (freemium)

This is a popular platform where you can store and organize all your photos and videos and share them with your family. You get some free storage, if you need more you have to buy an additional subscription.

Google Photos offers a great photo-sharing platform. However, for some people (myself included), sharing private photos of my child with Google feels uncomfortable.

https://www.google.com/photos/about/

Tiny Beans (freemium)

Tiny Beans is a platform with lots of content for parents. They also offer an app that allows you to share photos of your child with your family and track their milestones.

It offers great ideas for parents, but they don’t facilitate two-way interaction between loved ones and a child. It’s perfect for keeping your family in the loop but less suited to building a relationship with loved ones.

https://tinybeans.com

Best family games

This is our favorite category. It’s not just sharing videos and messages, but really playing together. Being playful is important for a child’s development, and its also a lot of fun!

Together (freemium)

This is a family video chat focused on grandparents and grandchildren that lets you play little games and read books together in a video call. It offers games like chess, checkers, and memory. You can have 3 free calls, after that you will have to buy a subscription.

https://www.togethervideoapp.com

OK Play (freemium)

This is a bit of an odd one out because it’s not about connecting with loved ones remotely, but about playing games when you’re together. But because it’s also about creating a connection, I wanted to point this out as well. As a parent, definitely give it a try and play together with your child.

https://okplay.co

Caribu (freemium)

Caribu lets you do fun activities together in a video call. For instance, you can read a book or create a drawing together. You can start for free, but to make the most use of the app you will need a subscription.

It can make video calls more engaging and playful, but you still have to find the right time. As a parent myself, I know that can be a challenge!

https://caribu.com

Peekabond (freemium)

Peekabond is a family app that combines the best of video messaging, photo & video sharing, and family games. It’s built with children in mind and designed to be easy to use for all ages. You can share videos or play little games with loved ones. It helps grandparents and grandchildren to build a deeper relationship, with activities that grow with the age of the child.

Download Peekabond

A final word

I am a proud father and co founder of Peekabond. All the apps we’ve mentioned here could help your family to feel closer. Building a meaningful relationship always requires effort. I’ve found that many families really WANT to have a closer connection, but it’s hard to maintain in the daily hustle of life.

This is the challenge that we want to solve with Peekabond. Create a virtual place where you can be together as a family, without adding more work on your plate as a parent.

I invite you to try Peekabond, hope to see you there soon.

About Vincent

Vincent is a father and co-founder of Peekabond, living in the Netherlands. He loves designing beautiful products and wants to use his skills to make (at least) 20 million people smile. When he’s not working on Peekabond, you can find him doing outdoor activities or spending quality time with his family. You can find more about Vincent here

Join Us at Peekabond

Anieke Lamers, our CEO created Peakabond at the onset of Covid-19. A mobile app to help global families bond with young children remotely. Inspiring families to create playful and engaging moments with young children.

Asynchronous video connection and inspirational science-based content suggestions. Allowing families and loved ones to share small moments and build better bonds. Every play experience is designed with care and approved by child development experts. Always age appropriate. Always private and secure, never showing ads. Our intention is to build a movement that connects families across borders and over generations. To try storytelling activities at Peekabond go here. 

Testing is the Key to Creating an App that Users will Love by Katy Barnard

Testing is the Key to Creating an App that Users will Love

Developing an amazing app is a lot like creating the perfect cake recipe.

Maybe it’s too sweet? Use less sugar. Taste it. Mm, still not right.

Maybe it’s too dry? Try adding more milk. Give a piece to a friend. What do they think?

It takes constant testing until you find the exact recipe that people love.

At Peekabond, we are determined to create the perfect platform for families to make meaningful and lasting connections with little ones far away. This also takes a lot of testing. (But sadly, less cake).

What is user research?

User research is an essential part of the design process. It allows the team to test and validate or invalidate their design decisions. The user is at the center of this process. It is very important to talk to users about their experience with the app to ensure that we are designing something that works for them.

User research can take many forms such as video calls, surveys, screen captures… Using these different methods, we can understand how users use the app, where they get confused, what they like/don’t like and listen to their ideas for improvement.

How does user research work at Peekabond?

Step 1: Defining the experiment

Every user research endeavor begins with an experiment. These experiments are ideas that the Peekabond team comes up with or improvement suggestions from our users. Each new idea must be validated through user research before it goes into the app. And, once it’s in the app, we test it even more to make sure it is working well for our users.

Step 2: Finding users

Next, we need YOU! Recruiting current and future Peekabond users is the most important step, because without users there is no user testing. The only requirement to be a test user is to have experience with long-distance bonding with young children. You can be a parent trying to have your kids bond with their grandparents. You can be the grandparent trying to bond with your little loved ones. You can be an aunt, an uncle or a cousin. Or you can be a close family friend.

Step 3: Setting a time to meet

Typically, we use video calling for our user research at Peekabond. For each person that wants to participate, we send them a calendar link where they can pick a time that works for them. 

Step 4: Conducting the interview

Most interviews take around 30 minutes. During the call, our user researcher, Katy, asks the user questions relating to the experiment they are running and gives them prompts of things to do in the app.

For example, if the experiment is to understand users’ experience of adding a family member to their family circle in the app, Katy might ask the user to add her to their family circle and speak out loud about their process as they go. After the user completes the task, Katy will ask the user about what they found easy, difficult, clear and confusing.

Step 5: Analyzing the data

Each interview is full of rich data that can help us improve Peekabond. The key insights from the interviews are translated into proposed changes for the designer and the team to discuss.

How has user research helped us so far?

Thanks to the many users who have already given us their feedback through user interviews, we have been able to make valuable improvements to the Peekabond app.

For example, user research helped us discover and validate the family circles concept where users can connect their Peekabond account to the accounts of their family members for easy sharing. Another experiment helped us understand the central role of parents in long-distance bonding and build different onboarding flows for each type of family member. Many users have suggested to us that they want to be able to add filters and stickers to their videos to make them more fun, so that is something we are working on for the app now.

Every single interview brings great potential to help the app grow. The more we learn about our users and their experience with Peekabond, the better we can build an app that is useful and enjoyable for them.

Our goal is to know when we need to add some more sugar, when we should cut down on the flour and what color to dye the frosting. And for that, we need you to tell us what you think!

“It was great to be brought in early to see how the app is progressing and give feedback. I think parents have a lot of unique circumstances and ways they want to connect, and it’s good to know that Peekabond is developing with our feedback in mind.”
– Jason, parent
 
“My chat with Katy about the app was warm and friendly. She never made me feel like a fool for being so technologically daft. I hope the app in development goes well.”
– Sara, grandma
 
“I really felt appreciated as an app tester and it was a pleasure for me to be interviewed by Katy. It was a very good feeling to be treated as a member of Peekabond, and I’m fond of using this app.”
– Edith, grandma

 

Do you want to get involved?

Are you in a family where long-distance bonding with little ones is part of your routine? We’re always welcoming new test users to be part of our development family. If you’d like to participate please email katy@peekabond.com to learn more!

Building Love and Affection with Grandchildren at a distance by Greg Payne

Building Love and Affection with Grandchildren at a distance

To anyone with family and friends who live far from them, staying in touch can be challenging. On top of that, trying to build new relationships with grandchildren, cousins, nieces, and nephews can seem daunting. Building new relationships with younger family members is challenging because we sometimes don’t know HOW to connect.

You need a plan

Accepting where the children are in their development can be very tough, but it can also let you know that there is some breathing room while you and their parents get a plan together about how you are going to connect. What? Building a plan? Families don’t have plans; they just do. Well, yes, and no. Yes, families often just do activities, pick up the phone to talk, shoot text messages, and send recorded video messages. However, you need a plan when you are at a distance and want to build love and affection with young children. 

You and the young children’s parents need a plan to build your relationship when you are not with the children. That plan could include the following:

  1. Sending pictures/ videos
  2. Video chats
  3. Virtual playtime
  4. Snail mail

Please do not think this requires spreadsheets, formal project planning, or quarterly stakeholder meetings. No, the kind of planning that I am talking about is simply communicating with all the parties and understanding how best to build a relationship between the children and those who are remote.

Sending Pictures and Videos

As a remote grandparent, aunt, or uncle, when you receive pictures or videos of the young children, you must be sure to let the person sending the photos or videos know how much you appreciated the time and effort to send them to you. The busy mother or stressed-out father needs to know that their effort is appreciated. Conversely, YOU need to be sure to send fun pictures to the young children. I recommend these pictures are of activities that you enjoy doing. The action and even silly pictures will make it easier for mom or dad to talk to the young child about how silly grandpa or grandma is. Do not discount the importance of play with young children both in person and virtually through images of others. 

Video Chats

What a time to be alive! Video chats and recordings are a great way to stay connected when you can not be together for special events like birthdays, band performances, or youth sporting events. Video chats, either live or recorded, are perfect ways to ensure that those young children know you care AND are sharing your life with them. The video chats with the young children allow them to ask you pointed questions about your life and the activities you are involved in. How would your young nephew or niece know that you enjoy skiing? If you don’t talk about the big ski trip, you are going on in a few days, and you don’t talk about it.

Another essential part of video chats and recordings is that they offer all parties the chance to notice some of the nonverbal communication that is very important to building love and affection. The opportunity to see grandma’s eyes light up when talking about the upcoming visit to the grandchild lets them know that grandma’s excitement and love towards the grandchild is genuine and means as much to the grandchild as the words convey.

Virtual Playtime

Virtual playtime can be challenging for those who didn’t grow up in a digital world. Virtual playtime can take many forms, so it is important not to let the concept or idea intimidate you. There are some great tips on virtual playtime called out in the last blog about babysitting at a distance. You should check out that blog for some great tips that you can do with very young children. 

If your children are a bit older, I suggest that you think about using some of the online gaming platforms to play video games with your older grandchildren. Another great activity that you can do online with older grandchildren is to share some hobbies and teach them crafts if they enjoy those activities. There is no reason you can’t use video conferencing tools to sit together and work on the same type of model airplane or teach a child how to use gimp (plastic lace) to make a cool key chain or bracelet. Virtual playtime can take on many forms. Playtime depends on the child’s age, but it is crucial to play and interact with the remote child as much as possible since the act of play teaches many attributes of life to children.

Snail Mail

Yes, old fashioned mail. Letter writing is changing. With technology, many of our younger relations have become accustomed to short communication through different text and social media platforms. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not angry or putting my ‘grumpy old guy’ hat on. I say that long-form letters or postcards can be meaningful to the recipient. I have interviewed many adult grandchildren who kept the letters their grandfathers and grandmothers sent to them as children. Writing letters allows the sender to express themselves to the recipient in a way that a short text message does not allow for. The young person also enjoys receiving a piece of mail that is just for them and not for mom or dad (unless mom or dad needs to read it).

There is a certain amount of excitement that I have seen with young children when they have received a birthday card or letter in the mail that can not be duplicated by the receiving of a text or email. An added benefit of writing a letter or note to the distant child is that you can use language that will hopefully challenge them and will build up their language skills. YOU are sneaking a language lesson into their world through your own use of language to express how much you love them and what events are going on in your own life.

Wrap Up

Why it might not seem like it at first, using the four tools mentioned above WILL increase the amount of love and affection with the remote child that you are communicating with. We live in fantastic times where we can see and hear each other over great distances. Uncles, Aunts, Grandfathers, and Grandmothers do not have to be unconnected to the little ones IF the adults choose to use the available tools at hand. By using technology, we can build up and support the love and affection between generations. We CAN if we choose to be the loving mentors that children need. 

Be sure to review the different ideas and blog postings on Peekabond (or you might even want to try their free app). There are many other ideas and suggestions for creating meaningful bonds with those distant grandchildren, nieces, and nephews. 

About the author

 

Greg Payne is the host of The Cool Grandpa Podcast. He discusses the importance of the role of Grandfathers in the lives of grandchildren and families. Greg and his wife, Karen, can be found whitewater kayaking on the weekends, where Greg tries not to get too banged up while having fun. Feel free to connect with Greg via email at this link or on his website.