First Play Dates: Top 10 Ideas

It’s a date

To a child, few things will be as exciting as the prospect of play date. You suddenly notice the leap from needy toddler to independent child when your little one starts asking for play dates with his or her own friends rather than the play dates you have so prudently arranged in the past, with your own Mummy friends of course.

Depending on whether your child has attended a childcare setting or not may determine how confident your child is when it comes to making new friends and feeling comfortable enough with them that they are actively pursuing more time together outside of their normal environment. If your child has recently started school with little in the way of regular prior socialising, life is about to take a huge turn, your child’s social interest will grow significantly. It is vital that children are allowed to explore these friendships as it will help them to explore different social experiences, possibly creating strong bonds with other children that may last for many years to come.

So you’ve had your first invitation for a play date. As a parent, you’re quite likely to be experiencing a range of emotions. On the one hand this is very exciting news, you are thrilled that your child has mastered enough social ability to be considered a potential friend, another child is interested in getting to know your child better, how wonderful. On the other hand, this is very scary. Will your child behave, will your child be a shining example of all the good graces you’ve worked so hard to instil over the years? Are you about to commit social suicide or will your little darling return triumphant, allowing you to breathe a sigh of relief knowing you will live to face the school gates for another day?

You would be forgiven for feeling terrified. You no longer have the control over your child’s social life that you once had, your parenting agenda was largely similar to that of the other Mummies you were arranging play dates with. You both had children who would keep one another occupied while you relaxed and spent a few hours talking to another human being who didn’t require their language to be corrected every couple of sentences. Now, your child is in the driving seat, out there making friendships at will. Worse still, you will not be there to keep your little angel in check, they’ll be out there showing off their upbringing and finding themselves at mercy of someone else’s.

What to do?

If you are really worried about leaving your child in the care of another parent, you may want to think ahead about how you’ll handle the situation when it arises. Ask your child regularly about who they like. Make a note of the names that pop up regularly and consider inviting a small group of the preferred friends out to a group play date at a local soft play centre or other popular venue. This will probably be welcomed by the other Mums who will probably be feeling much the same as you’re feeling about independent play dates. This will give you the opportunity to talk to the other parents while your children all play together, giving everyone a chance to relax and get to know one another without the pressure of leaving your child in each other’s care without an inkling as who is caring for your child during the play date.

You may want to voice your concerns to other parents in a non-confrontational way. Perhaps your child doesn’t swim or is not yet road safety conscious, you may worry that any trips out and about could be potentially life threatening, you’re not alone in your panic. Use the opportunity to discuss your parenting worries in a light hearted way. You may even suggest to other parents that you would like to invite them and their child over to your own home for a couple of hours, you feel that your child is a little sensitive and it may give everyone an opportunity to feel more relaxed together so that when the time comes to leave them together in a new environment without their own parent, the transition may be easier.

Whatever your concerns, you take your time and talk to your child about what is involved in going to play at another child’s home. If at any time they feel worried or want to go home, they should feel that they can tell the other parent and you will arrive quickly to fetch them. This may conjure up ideas of parking around the corner from the house hiding behind a newspaper, if that makes you feel comfortable then, why not?

Once you’ve bitten the bullet and you’ve dived into the world of playdates, the other consideration is inviting another child to your own home for the first time. This may seem preferable and even easier, don’t fool yourself. Be prepared, this is your time to shine and your opportunity to ensure that your child’s play date is a success, ensuring the future of the friendship. Well, for that week anyway.

Your turn

When you’ve managed to arrange the play date in your own home, this is when the hard work starts. You will need to become Super Mum for the duration. Snack maker, dress-up changer, adjudicator, imagination factory, artist, manicurist and dj, health and safety officer, the list goes on.

If you have younger or older children, be sure that you have also planned some activities for them or if they’re older, they are aware of the rules when it comes to allowing the younger children to enjoy their play date. If you have pets, discuss this with the other parents, asking whether or not they are happy for their child to be in contact with your pets or if they’d prefer the animals were not involved in the play date. Even if the other parent is happy to allow their child contact with your pets, be sure to always keep your pets in sight for the duration of the play date where necessary.

Your only real hope when all is said and done is that your child will be safe and happy, returning with all limbs intact and the promise of another play date in the not too distant future. Below are ten top play date ideas for home based play dates that won’t break the bank and are usually a big hit with the little people.

1. During the warmer months, water balloon or water pistol fights are a big hit with all ages. Great if you have a garden, just be sure to ask the other parent for a change of clothing and if they are happy for their child to get wet, they may be ill or have another reason for preferring their child didn’t take part. Water tables, bubbles and garden sprinklers can all add to the fun.

2. During the colder months or if you live in a property without a garden, a treasure hunt can be as much fun indoors as out. Design your list with either pictures or words of the items to be hunted, then set the friends about their task. This can be either competitive or a team effort. You decide what’s best.

3. Dress up. This old favourite is a hit with boys and girls alike. You can set up a little beauty salon for girls or do some face painting with boys.

4. In addition to dress up as above, add in a craft so that your little angels can make their own pirate hats or princess crowns to finish off their dress-up antics in style.

5. Play dough set out on a table along with some sticks, plastic farm animals or other characters and a little imaginative scene will keep the younger ones busy for ages.

6. Foster imaginative play by creating a little fort or tent out of soft fabrics and cushions. Ensure that the set-up is safe and keep an eye on the children as they play. You can get involved by offering to be part of their game or make initial suggestions so that the children can build their own games as they go.

7. Ensure that you have some drinks and snacks available and ask the other parent if their child has any allergies or preferences when it comes to food or drink. You can even involve the children in the preparation or throw in some baking or a fun meal such as home-made pizzas that they can help to make.

8. Traditional crafts such as painting, decoupage, collage making, puppets, posters and origami are always a big hit with the little ones. Even better if they can make something wonderful to take home for their parents at the end of the day.

9. Outdoor games and sporty activities with a twist are also popular with little imaginations running around. Try pool noodle tennis with balloons or milk carton skittles. The possibilities are endless when you come up with unique ways for creating games that don’t use conventional tools. Ask the children for their advice, you’ll be surprised at what they can come up with!

10. Nothing beats a little good business! Set your children up with a lemonade stand, a village shop or a puppet show and take turns at the counter or being the customers. This is a great way to encourage playing together and taking turns.

It is no secret that summer play dates are easier to plan than winter play dates. When the weather is uncertain, have a back-up plan and as a general rule it is always a good idea to have a list of options for the children to choose from. What your child likes may not be what the other child likes. If they take turns playing games or doing activities that the other enjoys, this will help to ensure a successful play date and a fair experience for both children.

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