Keeping Kids Connected with Long-Distance Friends

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Brightly framed photos litter the nightstand, dresser and bookshelves in Miss M’s bedroom, special memories of the sweet friends she’s left behind as life has moved us “across the pond” and back, and then across the country. Mine is a girl who collects friends like stuffed animals; lovely, gentle and each one precious to her, and she can’t let them go.

At four and five, she surprised us with how close she was to her friends, and they never left each other without a hug. As children flood the sidewalk in front of the school at the end of the day, it is still a common sight to see a friend run up to her and exchange a heartfelt hug. Because of this, each leaving has been hard. Despite all the hugs exchanged after school this spring, this last move has been the hardest.

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I found her looking at photos from our time in the UK, and she admitted she was really missing her friends there and in Chicago, too. Now, keeping in touch with far-flung friends and family should be simple as an adult – pick up a phone, send a quick text or dash off an email – easy enough. But if we’re realistic about it, even those simple acts can get pushed to the bottom of the list in all the hustle and bustle that makes up our daily lives.

So what if you are nine and your friends live not just hours, but time-zones away?

Pea was especially close with the friends she made while we were living in the UK and leaving them behind was hard. She tries to send written notes, as best you can when you are seven, eight or nine; but they are often as not misplaced as she worked to complete the perfect drawing or craft to be enclosed in the envelope. She is my little perfectionist, and things have to be just so. Everyone gets a little giddy to have something special arrive in the mailbox just for them, so it’s a wonderful idea, but harder to do as time goes by.

We Skype whenever we can – having a playdate drawing session a time or two with a close friend -but as the kids grow older and schedules become more convoluted, we’re having a difficult time scheduling these online get-togethers, particularly due to the eight-hour difference in time zones between the US and the UK.

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Time zones also prove to be a challenge with making a simple phone call. Of course, so does simply being 8 or nine, as calls tend to go like this: (whispered) “What do I say? I don’t know what to say?”  For a child, phone calls don’t always feel natural; and I’m not a fan of texting at this age, so they aren’t an option.

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As the school year has just in the UK and we try to arrange some long overdue contact with friends, Pea surprised me with another suggestion. “Mommy, have you seen those CloudPets™ on TV? All my friends could send me messages! It would be so nice to hear my friends voices again. I miss them.”

While I’m a fan, admittedly, of old-fashioned paper and marker, I could see the possibilities: one grandparent in Virginia, another set outside Chicago, friends from her old school in Illinois and all her friends in the UK – the messages could be sent irrespective of time zone or hour of the day- and it would be a cute way for her dad to send her a message when he is traveling for business, since often his business dinners keep him busy past her bedtime.

And then the conversation got pushed to the back burner. Bad mom.

Fast forward to this past week. We were at Walmart gathering my son’s supplies for middle school, and as we zipped to the other side of the store to pick up some fresh veggies from the produce department, we found a pallet display in front of the registers, chock full of, you guessed it, CloudPets™.

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The look on her face said it all, and so she picked out a very soft, cuddly puppy – which she promptly named “Buddy”. I picked up a pack of AA batteries as Buddy required three, and I think my family goes through batteries like candy, so I wanted to be sure we had some on hand.

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It didn’t take long for us to download the free app, get Buddy connected via Bluetooth to the app on my phone and get him ready to go. The instructions were pretty straight forward; in fact, the Getting Started page on their website offers a video series on setting up the app, inviting friends and more.

We quickly sent invites to her friends via the app so they could send her messages (and she could send messages in return via Buddy). Being strict as I am about young kids and online activity, I was very relieved to see that there are parental controls on the app.

There are five CloudPets™: a Kitty, Bear, Bunny, and of course, the Puppy, plus a Unicorn that is exclusive to Walmart. It turns out we were lucky, as they are only available in select stores at the moment (and ours was one of them) but they will be available nationwide soon, as well as on Walmart.com.

With invitations sent, she can’t wait until her friends’ parents download the app. In the meantime, her dad has been making good use of it while in Boston with business dinners conflicting with bedtime chats.

 

The first time Buddy’s heart lit up, signaling a message, we were all a bit excited! This cuddly toy really is one-of-a-kind.  Sometimes, a quick message is exactly what’s needed to let someone know they are loved and in your thoughts!

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How do you keep your kids in contact with old friends?
If you had CloudPets™, who would you send your invites to? I’d love to hear your ideas!

 

Comments

  1. I love this! What a great idea for keep kids connected with friends and family out of state!

  2. I love this idea! Something soft to hug on while you get to hear a message from someone you care about that is far away.

  3. That’s such a great idea! Love there are products that are allowing kids to keep up with each other that’s not online ha

    • I LOVE that I get to see who is sending her messages before they go to the CloudPet. She really isn’t ready to be texting yet. I’m hoping she will hold off until 19, but its doubtful, lol.

  4. These are so adorable and this would be a great way for my brother and my son to keep in touch. I’ll have to check my Walmart to see if they are available yet! [client]

    • Oh, I think you need to get the unicorn if you do! So cute! They didn’t have those at my Walmart…I was hoping she’d pick the unicorn but the puppy IS cuddly.

  5. This is such a cute idea! We would use this to keep in touch with my brother and his family, who live out of state. I guess I need to invest in one for my crew. 🙂

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