Struggling to connect at a distance, families separated by migration devise ways to establish simple ways of communication between grandparents and their very young grandchildren. The grandchildren are sometimes pre-verbal. When acquiring verbal language skills, they often are different than the one their grandparents speak. Many researchers have designed focused activities to facilitate connection and communication between the grandparents and grandchildren (reading books at a distance, collaborative activities and games). The focused approach means that these experiences are time-constrained by: Other obligations from the grandparents; The parents’ ability to provide access to the medium (such as setting up the computer the children will use, establishing a videocall connection, and mediating the conversation when necessary); While being in competition for the child’s attention with other activities more at hand.

With FamilySong, we propose the creation of a shared-experience of listening to music, as a means of maintaining connection without disturbing other home activities. Both remote households listen together to a private radio, controlled by the adult family members. In an initial short study with two families, we have observed that the connection established by the music generates a sense of mutual awareness and sharing that is significant, through different motivations, to each individual. In the next stages of the project we aim to (1) deploy the system into 10 more households, and (2) provide the children with an attractive and accessible interface (for their age) for music selection.

This work will provide a richer understanding of what constitutes significant connection and mutual awareness between family members at a distance. With FamilySong, we take a novel approach in designing for families that embodies various design recommendations: passive enjoyment, low-effort requirement to use the system on the adults, expressive meaningful communication.