Family, Kids & Relationships

Isolated? Here’s How to Set Up a Video Playdate or Meet-Up

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Connection in the Time of Coronavirus
Faced with weeks of isolation at homes while we attempt to #FlattentheCurve, parents are beginning to explore ways to organize virtual playdates or gatherings for kids, or even do mini-classes together by video. As kids adjust to staying at home, seeing friends online can be a lifesaver—and a welcome reminder that everyone they know is struggling with the same challenges. 

Luckily, there are several free tools available to help families stay connected, without ever being in the same room.  

Tips and How-Tos

  • Schedule ahead. Pick a time when each family can can dedicate a phone, tablet or computer completely to the gathering. 
  • Pick a platform. We tested Hangouts and Zoom here at ParentsTogether, and we have guides for using each. If you have an Apple device, you can also use Facetime—when setting up the call, click the plus sign at the top right of the screen to add more people. See the pros and cons of each platform, and how-to guides, below.
  • Send out an invitation. While you can create a video chat on the fly, it’s easier to schedule meetings ahead of time using Zoom and Hangouts. It also gives everyone something to look forward to, and it gives parents who are working remotely time to plan ahead.
  • Test the link in the invitation ahead of time, and “practice” with your kids. 
    • See what your video looks like and whether there’s enough light for people to see you properly. 
    • Practice using the mute button and turning your video on and off. (Seriously — this turns out to be really important!)
    • Get to know the tools and teach your children (if they are old enough) to use the basic menu buttons as well. 
  • Take it slow. If you are meeting with a group for the first time, allow plenty of time to help everyone figure out the technology at the beginning of the meeting. 
  • Encourage kids to share. If your kids are at all like ours, they’ll probably want to share their latest LEGO creation, their pets, their lunch, and everything else that has filled up their time while they’ve been staying at home. Helping them feel comfortable sharing is a great way to reduce feelings of isolation, and it’s a nice way to kick off a playdate. From there, you can decide on other activities, or just let kids hang out together.

Zoom vs. Hangouts

We tested both Hangouts and Zoom with multiple families. In the end, we splurged for the $14.99/month Zoom plan, although the free version works well, too. If you are connected to a school, you can get a free educator account right now.

  • Audio. When we used the free version of Hangouts, we noticed an audio lag and lower audio quality. With Zoom, everyone came through loud and clear. If your internet connection is unreliable, Zoom may be the safest bet.
  • Views. Another advantage to Zoom is the “Gallery View”, where you can see a larger group all at once. In Hangouts, you can adjust your view, but you can only see four people at once, and you’re limited to 10 total. 
  • Setup. Google makes it easy to set up Hangouts if you create a Google Calendar event. It took more time, and a little tech-savviness, for the host to set up a Zoom account and learn the ropes. But once that was done, the additional Zoom features, and stability, were worth it. 
  • Features. In Zoom, hosts have the option to automatically mute all attendees when they enter, or mute everyone at once mid-meeting (essential with a group of elementary school kids!). There are some fun features on the iPad version that our kids discovered (before we did!) — the ability to change backgrounds to the Golden Gate bridge, for instance.

Check out our guides for using each platform:

Set Up a Playdate or Meet-Up Using Google Hangouts 

Set Up a Playdate or Meet-Up Using Zoom

Also, consider starting a Corona Chats daily video chat for a group, with a rotating host, to ease the burden of 24/7 parenting.

Good luck with your virtual gatherings. Tell us how they went in our Coronavirus Parents Facebook Group, or comment on our Facebook post about this article here.

One last pro-tip for parents: Grown-up video chats (with a beverage of your choice 😜) also work after the kids have gone to bed.

Cindy has worked in various media roles and is currently Senior Director of Product Management for ParentsTogether. She lives in Brooklyn, NY with her husband and son.