Play is important for a child’s development. While they play, children use their creativity and imagination, and sharpen their cognitive, emotional, social, and physical skills.
Even everyday, “ordinary” play will help your child. However, organized play dates with other kids have special benefits: Your child learns how to interact with new people, share and take turns, manage conflict, cooperate, and negotiate.
Play dates are even more important now, since most kids are into gadgets. It’s better to limit TV or tablet time to just one hour a day, and set up activities where they can interact with other children. Here, I will share some of the secrets to a successful play date – from preparation to the day itself.
Pick a date and place
Pick a day when both the parents and the kids have a whole day free. Young children can get very tired or overstimulated, so it’s best that they don’t have school or another activity on the same day.
Plan a kid-friendly menu
Ask your children what they want to serve (they’ll enjoy being part of the planning!), and ask the other parents what their kids like to eat, too. Be sure to ask if their kids have any food allergies, too! In my experience in organizing play dates with my close friends, the other moms often bring food for sharing. You can plan with them and turn it into a potluck.
Fried chicken and rice, french fries, pansit or spaghetti will always be a sure hit among children. For younger children or shorter play dates, prepare light snacks like biscuits, wafers, and small sandwiches.
Serve the food in a fun and appetizing way: cute plates, different colors. In my last play date, I served Blue Lemonade. It is refreshing, delicious and healthy. The kids were amazed by the color, as I showed how I made it.
So, as a host, you may surprise your guests with a new food or drink they haven’t tried. It could be your best recipe or a newly discovered food or drink. Also, prepare enough drinking water.
Prepare the play area
The play area should be comfortable, clean, well-ventilated, and safe. I suggest a wide space with a clean carpet or mat where kids can sit in groups. Remove breakables, cover sharp table corners, and clear out wires they can trip on. If the room isn’t air-conditioned, set out electric fans and open windows. When kids are comfortable, they’re less likely to have temper tantrums.
If the kids will play outside, have mosquito and insect repellant. Remind your fellow parents to bring extra clothes in case they get dirty or sweaty.
Organize age-appropriate activities
While children often have fun without structured play, it’s better to plan ahead and have games or activities ready in case they get bored. It can also be an ice-breaker in case the kids feel shy.
- For toddlers: playdough with cookie cutters, puppets, musical instruments, finger-painting, puzzles. You can set up a living room “stepping stone” obstacle course with pillows, or fill a box with costumes and accessories for dress-up. If they will be playing outdoors, they can blow bubbles, play catch with balloons, or treasure-hunt.
- For school-aged kids: DIY crafts, Science kits, Lego, board games and card games
Brief your kids
Before the playdate, brief your child on proper behavior. Setting simple rules and expectations can help keep the playdate safer and more enjoyable.
The most important rule: don’t stress too much! The real secret of a successful play date is the quality time kids will have with their playmates, parents, and close friends. Just let them play and enjoy as a child.
About The Writer
Jem Alvarado or Mommy Jem is a hands-on mom of two kids. She is a B.S. Computer Engineering graduate, but prefers to work from home to have more time for her family. When motherhood gets tough, she takes a deep breath and in her mind, she whoops “Super Mommy!” That is the inspiration behind her blog, “Experience of a Super Mommy”. For 10 years, she has written about family-friendly products, technology, recipes and menus, healthy living, home improvement, restaurants and hotels, education, parenting tips, and fascinating events. She is passionate about gardening, and has successfully grown herbs, fruit trees, flowers, and vegetables from seeds and cuttings. Visit her website and Facebook.