It's important to us that our kids develop good relationships with their grandparents (and aunts, uncles, and cousins) even though none of them live nearby. While we visit as often as we can, two or three visits a year are just not enough to establish strong relationships. Kids need to see and interact with people frequently in order to feel connected to them. We've come up with a bunch of little ways for them to keep in touch on a regular basis.
* Video Skype - the single best way to keep in touch is to see and hear someone in realtime. Video Skype works well as long as you have sufficient bandwidth in your internet connection (cable modem or better) and it's free! We Skype with the various sets of grandparents as often as we can. But it's really difficult to get little ones to sit still at a computer and interact with someone for any decent amount of time. So, we use our TV for Skyping. We have our TV connected to a Media PC that runs Skype. We attach the camera to the top of the TV and point it out over our living room. That way, the grandparents can watch as the kids run around and play. And the grandparents look life-size on the big TV. Occasionally, HB will run up to the TV to show the grandparents something, and the grandparents will do the same. But, usually she just runs around and plays while the grandparents look on. Sometimes, we put the baby in the exersaucer in front of the TV, and he can interact with them too. It's somewhat of a more 'natural' interaction than a phone call especially before your kids are very verbal. It's more like they are right there in your living room.
* Flickr photos and videos -we upload pictures to Flickr almost weekly. The grandparents know to check for updates. If go too long without posting pictures, we get angry calls from the grandparents asking, "Where are our new pictures?!"
We also keep a flickr album of pictures from our family visits. We set the flickr slideshow going on the TV (we have our TV connected to a Media PC) and the kids can see the pictures as they are playing in the living room. We talk with the kids about the pictures and ask them to name the various family members. This keeps our occasional real-life visits fresh in their memories.
* Sending art to hang on the fridge - HB generates an amazing amount of art at daycare -- almost one per day. We end up with a huge pile of art lying around. It's too much to display on our own refidgerator, but I feel guilty just throwing it away. So, we send it to the grandparents to display on their fridge. They *love* this (more than I ever expected they would)!
We keep a little 'inbox' of art on a shelf in the playroom along with 11x17 envelopes, notecards, and stamps. When the inbox starts to look full, we sort the art into envelopes to send off to each grandparent. I have HB help me select which art to send to which grandparent, and we include a little note card that she 'signs' herself. When the grandparents get the art, they usually call to tell HB thanks, and they also show her the art they received during the next Skype call. After a few cycles of this, HB seems to understand how the process works. She now occasionally brings something home from daycare and specifically asks me if she can send it to Grandma.
* Quick phone calls - phone calls with the grandparents don't have to be a long drawn-out affair. Kids really don't have the patience for such things. So, we've taken to having more frequent short calls. Whenever the mood strikes us, we give a quick call to Grandma or Grandpa. Sometimes it's as we are driving home from daycare, or at home hanging out. I also try to call them whenever HB mentions them or when she is playing with something they gave her to reinforce the connection.
* Reading books on tape - my awesome sister gave HB the complete works of Winnie The Pooh along with CDs of her reading the stories aloud - a homemade Book-on-CD! This is such an amazing gift! HB gets to hear about the adventures of her favorite bear while staying familiar with her Aunt's voice. For less tech-savvy relatives, I've heard about grandparents reading books over the phone to the kids. This would also work great over Video Skype. Various other uses of the homemade book on CD have been discussed over at ParentHacks.
* Photo frames - We bought some indestructable photo frames and filled them with pictures of the relatives. Best are pictures that have the family members together with the kids. Our original intention was to hang the pictures at kid-eye-height in the playroom. But, before I could get around to hanging them, I realized that HB had more fun with them un-mounted. She likes to carry them around with her, and sometimes take them to bed with her. Magnetic frames might work really well here if you want to hang them, but still allow the kids to take them down every so often.
What ways do your kids keep in touch with distant relatives? Please share them in the comments.