Some of the fondest memories that children carry into their adulthood are the fun times spent with their friends and cousins. In the good old days, not a lot of thought was put behind these events. They just happened and everyone went with the flow. These days, children are easily distracted and a well-planned play date will keep them occupied longer and allow them to have constructive playtime with their mates. Parents want to make sure that everything turns out perfect.
But setting up a play date does not need to be a stressful affair. With the right kind of planning, it can turn out to be a truly wonderful memory for you, your children and their friends.
Location is everything
Pick a location which is most convenient for you and your child’s friends, and have the play date there. This could be your home, a mall with a play area, a local park or even your favourite café. If you are worried about children running amok in your home, then you can have certain rooms off limits so that the mess is contained to a specific area.
Think of a play date as a party. What makes or breaks a party is the right number and mixture of people. The same applies for play dates as well. You need to figure out the right number of children to invite. If you invite too many it will be difficult to manage and if you invite too few you will land up entertaining the children. Another thing to keep in mind is to see if the kids get along with each other if you really want the play date to succeed. So, find the right number and mix of kids. You can start slow and then add to the mix as you grow confident in your hosting skills.
Activities, activities, activities
The whole point of a play date is to engross the children in fun activities. These activities can be outdoor games, solving puzzles and learning new crafts. You can either cram in all these activities into one date or spread them across multiple dates.
Here are some fun activities that can take place over play dates:
- Science experiments
- Garden tea party
- Dance party
- Jigsaw puzzles
- Board games
- Scavenger hunt
- Book reading
- Puppet making
- Paper/candy jewellery
A content stomach
Well-fed children are happy children. You cannot subject children to all that activity without feeding them. And giving them junk food is a big no-no. The trick is to keep the food line up simple yet delicious. You might want to check with other parents about any health issues or food allergies that their children might be prone to before deciding the menu. You can use eating time as a distraction if the proceedings are getting out of hand.
So here are some healthy yet fun options, which will keep the children happy and active:
- Sliced seasonal fruit
- Fruit or sprouts salad
- Flavoured popcorn
- Multigrain bread sandwiches
- Cereal bars
- Dry fruit/nut mix
- Fruit juice (without sugar)
- Sliced vegetables with healthy dips
Play dates cannot go on forever. You need to set a start time and end time for the date. You can have about two to three hours of play time per meet up. Anything more than that might test your patience as the children might get cranky as they will begin to lose energy. As the play date winds down, start giving a 10-minute and 5-minute countdown so that the children do not become cranky when it’s time to leave. You can also try to schedule it so that it does not interfere with feeding and nap times. Though this might not be possible completely, you can give it a shot. You can choose another time for your next play date if some of the parents are unable to make it to this one.
Playing the perfect host
When you are having other children over, sometimes it can be an overwhelming experience for your own children. Get them involved in planning the whole thing. Remind them they have to be gracious hosts as the date is being arranged by their parents. They might not like the fact that the other children will get access to their toys during these dates. They can put away a few of their favourite toys but everything else is fair game during play dates.
Play by the rules
When there are a bunch of children involved, there is always going to be potential for conflict. You can set some ground rules about the kind of behaviour you expect under your watch before play time begins. While you should let them resolve small problems amongst themselves, if someone is getting physical, you should step in.
You must also keep some supplies such as sanitisers, toys, wet wipes and diapers handy just in case. It’s always better to be safe than sorry where children are involved. Don’t become intimidated by the idea of it and you will be able to arrange the perfect play date.