Published on November 25, 2020

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It’s hard to be far away from extended family during the holidays. My two boys adore their grandparents—but out of care for them, we’re not going to visit Halmuni and Halabuji or A-Ma and A-Gong this winter, even though it will be almost a year since we’ve seen them. It’s also tricky for young kids and grandparents to develop their relationship over FaceTime and Zoom (then add a language barrier or time zone difference into the mix). So, how do we still keep these connections going? The holidays are the perfect moment to kick off a care package exchange. Receiving thoughtfully assembled and/or handmade gifts can mean the world to grandparents who are on their own—and shows kids how their small acts of kindness have a big impact.

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Here are some of the ways my family is staying close to our grandparents from afar through the gifts we’re making and sending. The bonus is that each idea offers a much-needed creative outlet for everyone, from cooking to crafting. Pick and choose one project from below as its own care package, and spread these ideas out through the year—or until the day comes when it’s safe to fold origami together in person or play that game of ping-pong you’ve both been practicing.

Learn a Craft

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There’s no time like the holidays to get crafty and start mastering a skill together. Even better are projects that can be enjoyed after making them—such as origami animals that double as tree ornaments; hand-knitted pot holders that look pretty as trivets, too; and a DIY mobile to hang in the window. The beauty of a kit is that all the materials are ready to go, plus they’re easy enough for kids to use and nice enough for adults to want to display the finished work. (For origami, I like pairing a book with metallic or brightly patterned paper to add an extra-festive feel to the package.)

Personalize a Stocking

Usually stockings are just for the kids, but this year we’re making custom versions for our grandparents and embroidering their names in Taiwanese and Korean. Brands such as L.L. Bean and Food52 can monogram initials or a nickname on a stocking for a fun, personal touch. Or you can choose a handcrafted design, like this quilted option.

Become Pen Pals

For your first letter, write an expandable “hug” message that, when unfolded, spans several feet and can be displayed on the mantel. To make: Cut out two hands (kids can trace their own) from sturdy construction paper and glue strips of the paper in between for the “arms.” I’ve been sending poems and letters “in distance”—6 feet in length, like the hug pictured here—during the pandemic as a way to connect with loved ones while we are apart. It creates a wonderful, heartfelt surprise. Have children write a message on the long card, then fold accordion-style to slip into an envelope. Keep the exchange going by sending a suite of beautifully designed cards or blank stationery and prestamped/addressed envelopes.

Share a Meal

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We won’t be sitting side by side during the holidays, but sending a little dish made just for them keeps a sense of connection. My boys drew portraits of their grandparents and wrote “We Love You” with porcelain markers, then we baked the pieces in the oven to let the designs set. I like Pebeo Porcelaine 150 paint markers; the bullet tips are thicker and much better for kids to use. And any porcelain dish that’s oven-safe to 350 degrees Fahrenheit will do. Flat plate designs are easier for children to draw on if you’re trying this out for the first time. Pack with grandparents’ preferred candies or a gift certificate for meal delivery from a favorite restaurant. Another fun addition: an earmarked kid-friendly cookbook that everyone could swap recipes from—like Mollie Katzen’s classic Pretend Soup. I also love the idea of my boys learning how to make modern versions of recipes I grew up with, which will delight all generations.

Play a Game

Zoom and FaceTime calls can be tough for younger kids, but doing an activity in tandem creates something to talk about and everyone can give updates on their progress—a ping-pong set, puzzle, checkers game, or activity book help family bond in a more substantial way. I bought this ping-pong set for my father-in-law, who cannot go to his weekly match, and I’m hoping my boys will get good enough to play by the time we’re able to see them again. A beautifully illustrated puzzle (one for us, one for them) is another great idea—this Charley Harper design shows birds of Florida, where our grandparents are based, or choose a scene from a place that has meaning for everyone. A checkerboard that doubles as a chess set is genius. And my activity book features prompts to write secret coded messages and a list of things that bring joy and encourage bonding, one page at a time.

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