09/10/2012 12:06 BST | Updated 22/05/2015 06:12 BST

10 Ways To Be A Hands-On Grandparent - Even When You Are Miles Apart

grandparent Today, millions of families are separated by distances too vast to make day-to-day grandparenting possible.

But while your time together may be limited to holidays or a summer visit, you can still play an important part in your grandchildren's lives and build your own special relationship.

The simplest conversations, letters, and traditions can keep the intimate bond between you flourishing across the miles.

1. Get online
These days, even young kids are computer literate – so you need to be too. E-mail is great for sending 'secret' messages, silly jokes and swapping photos and you can even get your own home page on the web.

2. Pick up the phone
It's best to call at a regular time - say, Saturday mornings at nine - so your grandchildren can look forward to the chat all week. Do your homework first - knowing your grandchild's friends' names, favourite activities and television shows means you can ask all about them.

3. Say cheese!
Send disposable cameras to your grandchildren. Equipped with a camera, a child feels important and will happily snap photos to share with you. Include a stamped addressed, padded envelope for their return and have parents mail the cameras back to you so you can get them developed and share in their lives away from you. Then the next time the kids visit, you can talk about the pictures together.

4. Go digital
Children grow up fast. Ask their parents to email you regular digital snaps to help keep you up to date with how they change. Kids love using digital cameras too, so encourage your grandchild to take lots of photos that their parents can post online.

5. Start your own book club
Make a habit of sending your grandchild a book a month. Focus on special subjects that you like to talk about when you're together. Think about accompanying the books with handmade laminated bookmarks. Choose family photographs, photos of pets, or favourite places to visit - anything that will remind your grandchildren of your good times together.

6. Send an old-fashioned letter
These days a handwritten letter is a rare treat. Decorate with stickers and fancy stamps and put in little drawings, photos, treats...anything! Just the fact that they've received a letter addressed to them is far more important to a child than what's in it.

Want a reply? Buy some blank postcards. They're the perfect size for little drawings. Address the postcards to yourself, stamp them, then send them to your grandchildren. Ask their parents to encourage them to write or draw you something every couple of weeks.

7. Make visits memorable
After your grandchildren visit, use photos and keepsakes to make a scrapbook or collage of all the fun you had together. Send it to the kids as a keepsake.

8. Be creative with special dates
Can't make your granddaughter's birthday? Solve the problem by promising to celebrate it at a different time. Make it festive, just like you would for the date itself, with decorations, a birthday a cake, singing Happy Birthday and, of course, presents!

computer, grandparent 9. Learn to Skype
There's no electronic substitute for a hug. But owning a PC with a high-speed internet connection and a compatible camera, microphone, and speakers means you can have regular face-to-face time with your grandchildren even if they live thousands of miles away.

Skype is free and simple to set up. Just create an account, log in, and download the software. Use the onscreen prompts to guide you step-by-step through a call, then set a date with your grandchildren and get ready to wave, read a story, or just sit and smile at their antics.

10. Plan ahead
Using the phone, letters, or the Internet, plan activities with your grandchild for when you next meet up. Not only will it give you both something to talk about but it will also increase the anticipation of when you'll be together again.

See? Out-of-sight doesn't have to mean out-of-mind. Experience shows when grandparents make the effort to love and care for grandchildren who live far away, they know it...and it means the world to them.

More on Parentdish:

There's no one quite like Grandma (or Grandpa)

Gloria Hunniford stands up for grandparents