How-To Host an Awesome Play Date

“It’s never too early for a play date for a child, even an infant,” says Jenn Berman, PhD, author of The A to Z Guide to Raising Happy, Confident Kids. “Babies are fascinated by other babies, and any new stimulation is really good for brain development. Even looking at another child, touching hands, and just being curious is really good.” –from www.webmd.com

Play dates are an important part of our little ones’ extended social education. Not only a fantastic time for the kiddos to play together and learn from each other, play dates can also be a wonderful way for new moms to mentor one another and enjoy some much needed “grown-up” time. If you are thinking about hosting a play group of your own, but aren’t sure where to begin, this blog post is especially for you. Tailored specifically to a play date for toddlers, many of these ideas could also translate into a successful play date for slightly older kids as well (you just might want to rethink a few of the games and snacks). As you will see below, hosting a play posse is really not all that difficult of an undertaking—it just takes a little planning and a whole lot of fun!

Step One: Invitations are a lovely touch.

Depending on your budget, you can always find and order beautiful invitations from a number of online vendors (Etsy and Tiny Prints are usually two of my favorite online sources for announcements and invitations). These pretty pink and green invitations were my favorite (obviously feminine) of what I saw offered. They are available from www.bellablucreations.com. The owner takes custom orders only, but I would say it would be well worth the money if you don’t have the time to create your own handmade invitations.

If you do have the time, creating your own handmade invitations is always a wonderful (and usually less expensive) option. I found these super fun crayon cards on Etsy (blank inside for party details). Unfortunately the shop owner (zoetropa) only has one set of these cards left (on sale for $6) but I figured they were a wonderful inspiration source for creating your own simple invites. Here is the link to the cards.

If you’d like, invite the other moms to stick around for some chit chat time, and maybe some delicious, flavored coffee and cookies!

Step Two: Entertain with games and activities.

All of these ideas are especially perfect for indoor winter play dates!

Adapted ideas from www.parents.com

1. Create a sensory table (with items like peeled grapes, cold cooked spaghetti, steel wool pads, corn starch, and dried beans). Blindfold each child in turn and have them guess the contents. This is also a great way to work on word/object association and build vocabulary!

2. Living Room Bowl-o-rama: All you need is six empty water bottles and a rubber ball. For an added challenge, add rice or dry pasta to weight the bottles down. Hand-eye coordination skills, anyone?

3. Boogie Nights: Turn your living room into a disco dance party. Dim the lights, hand each child a flashlight and a scarf to twirl around, and then blast some groovy disco tunes. (Think “Dancing Queen” or “I Will Survive”.) Who doesn’t love a wiggling, bee bopping toddler?

4. Treasure Hunt: For whatever reason, most red-blooded American babies love to “play pirates”. (Maybe it’s the popularity of TV shows like Disney’s “Jake and the Neverland Pirates”. I don’t know, just a guess.) Hide rocks wrapped in tin foil (“silver nuggets”) around the house and then send the kiddos (clad with a paper bag and a flash light for collecting their treasures) on the hunt.

Adapted from www.toddlerapproved.com.

5. Escape the Volcano Shape Game: free printable (activity) game pieces, dice template, and instructions available here. Similar to a real life “Candy Land” game board, but with activities like jumping jacks, singing your favorite song, and practicing counting. There’s even an empty game piece for making up your own activities! Play and learn your way from the erupting volcano (start) to the safety of home sweet home (end).

More ideas for toddler play (alone or with company) can be found here.

Free play is never a bad idea, either. Just keep an eye on the kiddos to make sure everyone is included—think of creative ways to keep any one child from being left out (start up a group activity and/or craftily encourage your child to play with the would be injured party).

Step Three: Provide a healthy snack menu (with toddler appropriate finger foods).

Delicious and good for you, here are a few of my favorite play date snack ideas. It’s never too early to start teaching healthy eating habits!

Baby Chicken Fingers with Apple Recipe. For kiddos seven months plus.

Cheesy Zucchini Muffins Recipe. For kiddos ten months plus.

Three Minute Apple Pie Recipe. (Using graham crackers!)

For more healthy, kid friendly recipes and snack ideas check out these websites: www.homemade-baby-food-recipes.com and www.superhealthykids.com.

Play Date Etiquette: A Few Quick and Fast Rules

1. If it is a first time get together for the children involved, keep it short and sweet. Nothing over two hours. What if they have no chemistry?

2. Lead by example: it may seem obvious, but do everything you expect of other parents when you are hosting a play date party. Make sure to get cell phone numbers, food allergy information, and general parenting guidelines from each parent. Make it politely and firmly clear that an unruly child will not be allowed back for another play date—especially if he or she refuses to follow your house rules.

3. Don’t over schedule your kids: taking your little one to a different play date seven days a week isn’t generally a real good idea.

4. Be ready to deal with the sharing (or non-sharing) issue. You know what I mean moms!

5. Try to include a wide range of your child’s peers—or take turns inviting different students (in smaller, more intimate groups)—to several different play dates. You don’t want to be known as the cliquish mom and toddler of the neighborhood, do you?

Still uneasy? Check out this super informative article from Web MD. There’s also a wonderful article about play groups and mommy groups in the November issue of Simply Family Magazine (Mommy Meetings: Finding Connections After Baby). If you haven’t checked it out already, you definitely should…