These simple strategies can help make any play date a smashing success.
Play dates are an important opportunity for kids to hone their social skills outside of school. Plus, they give parents a welcome break from primary playmate status — which is why you want to do everything you can to help the play date go smoothly for all involved. Here are some play date ideas sure to boost the chances of a perfect afternoon.
1. Pick the Right Partner
Social dynamics are key to a fun, drama-free time. For example, if your child is somewhat shy, be sure his pal’s personality isn’t too aggressive. If your daughter is a tomboy, think twice about pairing her with a doll-obsessed date. But remember, sometimes opposites attract and can teach each other new ways to have fun. Your best bet is getting a feel for the type of companion your child will be playing with and then tailoring activities to things they might enjoy together.
2. Be Smart About Snacks
You don’t want your house to be the one with the reputation of lacking good snacks, but that doesn’t mean you need a pantry full of sweets. Instead, have several healthful options on hand to please a variety of picky palates (and keep blood sugar from dipping, which could lead to a case of the crankies). Kid-pleasing play date ideas include hummus and carrots or whole-grain crackers and cheese. Or help the little ones whip up an after-school smoothie with bananas or fresh berries and vanilla yogurt. Think the play date might run into dinnertime? Be prepared with mac ’n’ and cheese in the pantry, packaged ravioli in the fridge or lasagna in the freezer, cut into single-serve portions you can heat up quickly.
3. Get an Allergy Report
Schools are on high alert for nut and gluten allergies, but are you on top of the potentially dangerous snacks in your own pantry? If your child is old enough, ask him to check with his buddy and get back to you on any allergies. If the kids are too little to handle that task, play date etiquette suggests a quick call to the other mom before her child starts snuggling your Labrador or munching on a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Better safe than sorry.
4. Encourage Interaction
Electronic gadgets and video games are great for entertaining a solo youngster, but why let kids sit in silence staring at a screen when they’re together? Instead, come up with an electronics-free plan with your child in advance of the play date, focusing on activities that take two. Tossing a ball around is a tried and true winner, but how about making a mini-movie, where the children take turns as actor and camera operator?
5. Mind Your Business
Younger children should of course be well supervised, but once kids are elementary-school aged, they should be able to play on their own. If it’s their first time together at your house, give your young visitor the lay of the land when he or she arrives, including house rules like no flying discs in the living room, no entrance into your bedroom and clean up as they go. After that, make yourself scarce, checking in every once in a while to make sure the kids are getting along (and they’re not painting a mural on the dining room wall).
6. Invite the Other Parent In
When pick-up time rolls around, play date etiquette recommends asking the parent into your home so they, too, can get the lay of the land and a debriefing on how the kids got along. If the date didn’t go as well as you hoped — perhaps your child suffered a toy casualty or the playmates had a minor tiff — be sure to let the parent in on the details so they hear an accurate account from an adult.
7. End on a High Note
Leaving a restaurant with a special gesture — be it an extra sweet on the house or a fond farewell — goes a long way. The same holds true for a play date. Have the kids end the date on a high note by having one last great moment before they head home. It could be a goodbye riddle at the door or a tiny door prize, like a silly sticker on the back of the visitor’s hand. Don’t be surprised if another play date is on the books in no time.