Class notes: How-to

Illustration by Joyce Hesselberth.

Illustration by Joyce Hesselberth

How to Skype with a youngster

By Gail Orffeo, BS ’90 Owner/founder, Face Fun


Gail Orffeo of Orchard Park, N.Y., spends much of her time helping businesses and individuals navigate employment-related issues through her company, Human Resources Simplified. Recently, however, she’s been applying her personnel skills to a different audience: little kids.

Frustrated at her inability to hold her 6-month-old granddaughter’s attention while video chatting, Orffeo created a set of tools to improve the interaction—and then, realizing others likely face the same challenge, packaged them for sale on the Internet. Face Fun kits include a puppet and other attention-getting toys, as well as Story Sticks: double-sided paddles with short stories written by Orffeo on one side (in English or Spanish) and illustrations on the other. Story Sticks make it easier to read while holding your smartphone, since there are no pages to turn. The company also sells Learning Sticks to teach youngsters numbers, letters, colors and shapes.

Orffeo hopes the kits will help keep families connected—not only grandparents, but also parents who live far from home, like military personnel. “I think as a society we need to grow and enforce family values,” she says. “Because that’s where a lot of problems are coming from today.”

We asked Orffeo for advice on video chatting with a wee one.

Choose the right time of day
Like adults, children have ups and downs throughout the day. Some are at their best after a nap, others in that golden hour between bath time and bed.

Pick a quiet area and stay focused
Kids are easily distracted. Give your full attention to them and they’re more likely to give theirs to you.

Lights, camera…toys!
Get stuffed animals, musical instruments and small toys with flashing lights ready before your video chat. If your chatting partner is verbal, you can be a little more interactive with your props. “Where’s the dog’s nose? Now, where’s your nose?”

Ask the right questions
If you ask a child, “How was school today?” you’ll likely get a one-word answer. A more specific question—like “What was your favorite thing that you did at school today?”—helps create a conversation.

Don’t expect a marathon phone call
Although it depends on the individual, a video chat with a preschooler should last about five minutes. If you push it much longer, the child may get restless—and may not want to do it again. Try to make each call a fun, positive experience.