Where do I start?
Ask your little one if there’s a pal from preschool, daycare or the playground who she’d like to play with. If she doesn’t have a favourite friend in mind, choose a child you’ve seen her interact well with, or invite a friend of yours to come over with her youngster (the kids can play while you two catch up over a cup of coffee). If your child picks a playmate who is either older or younger than her, don’t worry; she’ll get a kick out of teaching the younger child new games and she’ll enjoy learning from an older friend. If you’re hosting a new chum for the first time, consider inviting her parents to come along so you can get acquainted.
Whoever you invite, make the date easier by limiting the get-together to just one buddy at a time. Make the visit as enjoyable as possible by ensuring everyone has a buddy to play with. For younger children especially, three can be a crowd. And be mindful of the time. If you’ve made arrangements to meet for an hour, stick to your schedule. Little kids don’t have the patience or attention span to stick with one activity for too long, so keep it short and sweet (one to three hours).
Here’s some basic etiquette to ensure your little one’s date is filled with fun and laughter:
• Stick around. If you’re hosting, either you or your partner should be present for the entire visit. If you’re dropping your younger child at a friend’s house, ensure she feels comfortable with the host before jetting off.
• Set some ground rules. If the date’s at your house, it’s OK to establish some rules for play. If you’re afraid a precious toy might get broken or abused, hide it away beforehand. Avoid conflicts by stashing the video games, DVDs and your little one’s favourite toy in a closet.
• Let them play. While you might want to get in on the action, it’s best to sit back and let kids’ imaginations go wild. Younger children might be having a grand old time simply colouring next to each other, without any conversation or interaction. This “parallel play” is normal and letting them enjoy the company (no matter how anti-social it may seem to you) is best. Be sure to stay close to help resolve conflicts, but back off when play resumes.
• Be firm when you have to step in. If rules are being broken, it’s up to you to stop physical or verbal quarrels. Stay calm and speak firmly: Explain that “Hitting is not acceptable in this house,” or “We don’t use bad words like that.” Don’t be afraid to separate the kids if arguing ensues, or have them choose another activity to avoid continued conflict.
• Provide meals or snacks. Have lunch or snacks on hand to keep everyone (including you) from burning out. Healthy nibbles like veggies, raisins and cheese will keep the good times rolling. But clear all snacks with parents in advance to avoid possible food allergies.
• Be prepared and offer choices. While games of make-believe and tag might keep them occupied for most of the time, it’s good to have other activities on hand to keep boredom at bay. Pack a bag with colouring books, Play-Doh, bubbles and stickers. See Pack ‘n’ play for more ideas.
• Make time for clean-up. It’s a good habit for kids to learn to clean up one activity before starting the next. Plus, it’ll be hard for little ones to end a fun-filled playdate by cleaning up a mess that took a few hours to make.
• Where not to go. If you’re lone parent or guardian on the playdate it’s best to avoid busy playgrounds, public swimming pools or venues where it will be difficult to keep an eye on all kids at all times. Save the amusement park trip until you’ve got an extra set of eyes to help monitor the fun.
• Return the favour. Reciprocate by hosting the playdate at your house or by taking the kids solo next time.
Not sure where to meet? These spots are sure to be a hit with the gang:
• Coffee shops
• Zoos or petting farms
• Drop-in centres
• Your basement or playroom
• The backyard
• Family-friendly restaurants
• Local fairs
• Restaurants with indoor playgrounds
• Movie theatres
• Family-friendly shows or plays
• Public libraries
Games and activities
Try these fun activities on your next playdate. Plus, check out our Game Centre stocked full of fun ideas for kids of every age.
• Sandbox fun
• Eye spy
• Simon Says
• Jump rope
• Bake cookies or decorate cupcakes
• Dress up
• Colouring and crafts
• Paper mache
• Host a dance party
Ending the fun
Bidding adieu is by far the hardest part of any successful playdate. Here are ways to prepare little ones for goodbyes.
• Give ample warning. You’re not going to get a favourable reaction if the doorbell rings and the kids are right in the middle of building a fort. Make sure you tell kids how much time they have left to play and don’t let them get immersed in activities you know will take an hour to complete if they only have 15 minutes left.
• Wind-down time. Just so there are no surprises, try to slow down the activities 20 to 30 minutes before pickup time by reading a book together or letting the kids colour quietly.
• Talk about next time. If everyone enjoyed the date, spend a few minutes chatting about what they can do together next time: “You both liked playing Chutes and Ladders today. Maybe next time you’d like to try Guess Who?”