Many of us have come to the truth that as our children grow up they fly the coop. Some may end up around the block, but many relocate to distances over hundreds or even thousands of miles away. While in the past the only means of connection required weeks of waiting for snail-mail letters, today’s technology has made distances smaller, and for LDS families that connection can allow for a continuance of family traditions. Family Home Evening doesn’t have to be a thing of the past for diffused families. With today’s well-connected world, families can maintain their weekly time together even after children have moved away. Just follow these simple steps below, and voila! Your very own cyber FHE will become a reality.
First things first, you will need a few equipment items. You will need to secure a computer with an internet connection, a microphone—stick style microphones work best for groups so everyone can talk freely—and a webcam. Webcams don’t have to be pricy; on average they range from $20 to $30, and being able to see each other will add a fun dimension to your long distance family night.
Next you will need to download a video chat program. (If you have a Mac, your computer should already be equipped with iChat, which can easily connect to other Macs or to PCs through AOL Instant Messenger.) Although there are many to choose from, Skype (skype.com), and others like it, are effective and free. This will prove especially useful for family in foreign countries, because while phone bills can add up, these programs remain free overseas. What’s more, some programs allow you to make group calls, where you can see and talk to multiple users at once.
Understand that VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) has a bit of lag time. You won’t notice when people are talking, but it may prove problematic for trying to sing opening songs. You can avoid late choruses by having one family sing, while the rest mute their microphones and sing along with them.
Props and pictures.
Having video allows for the use of pictures and visual props. These are easily incorporated into lessons since all you have to do is hold them up in your video to share them with the rest of the family. Skype even has a Screen Sharing function which allows you to share presentations, photos, or other information without having to send it through e-mail.
Mute and un-mute.
Take turns between families on who presents the lesson each week. Have everyone except the family presenting mute their microphones to reduce background noise and talking over each other. Be sure to un-mute your microphone to interject comments or questions. Cyber FHE is also a great option for families with unique situations—where Dad or Mom travel for work or to care for ailing loved ones.
A Laptop: A portable laptop with an integrated webcam and built-in microphone can be useful for families on the go. Not only can you mobilize the location you hold FHE, but you can bring it over to other family members who may not have the equipment necessary to access it, with ease.
Microphones: Microphones include several different styles. While the stick style is useful for large groups, because you can place it front and center, a headset, which includes a microphone and a headphone speaker, has a much better audio quality and is great for single users.
Webcam: While the most practical webcams are those already built into computers, there are many other options to choose from. Webcams that clip to the top of your computer screen are useful to large groups, since it’s easier to adjust the angle to show everyone all the faces of their family.
Lesson Props: Because online chats use video, you can take advantage of video by showing pictures relating the your lesson, such as those found in the Gospel Art Book, or even by conducting your favorite object lessons in front of the webcam. This will get everyone involved and will prove much more interesting for teens and children than a more simple discussion.