Playdate Ideas

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Welcome to the Heart & Soul of This section represents the initial building blocks and motivation behind creating this site. I never really knew the meaning of the term Playdate until I was 19, when I babysat my nieces. One day while picking them up from school Sarah, who was eight at the time, turned to me and asked, “Can I have a playdate with Gail?” “A what,” I asked? “A playdate,” she responded as if I’d been living on another planet. She continued as she brushed her bangs aside appearing slightly annoyed, “You know so Gail can come over my house or I can go over hers.” Whatever happened to just walking down the block or biking to the park to play with neighborhood kids?” I thought to myself. Then I realized with all the security risks of today children under the age of 12 generally aren’t allowed to just walk out and play on their own. The term may have been new for me but certainly common lingo among parents and school-aged children. The new protocol was that the child would generally ask their parent or guardian to set up a Play Date rather than set one up on their own.

This is an opportunity for you to learn and exchange ideas with other families.

The Benefits of a Playdate

Why are playdates so important? Imagine building the ultimate of all sand castles only to be destroyed by the waves, or composing a hit song, which only you can hear, or discovering the remains of Bigfoot, which you bury in your backyard.  What would these discoveries be if you couldn’t share them with someone? The reality is that we influence and are continuously influenced by others. Sharing and interacting with others, is what shapes our behavior. Hopefully you’ll benefit from others as much as they benefit from you. With the explosion of internet, kids are spending more and more time on the computer and less time with face to face interactions which are invaluable to improving social, emotional, and intellectual development.

While it might look like your kids are just out there running around and having fun, you might wonder if there are any real benefits to having playdates. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with just having fun every once in a while, but it’s nice to be able to weave education and purpose into our everyday activities.

Studies have shown that social interactions with same gender children during childhood set the tone for both same and cross gender relationships during adulthood.  Good friendships make for good relationships! Therefore, childhood friendships really do matter. Thirty years ago children went out into the streets and into their neighborhoods to play with other children.  Because of today’s safety concerns things have changed and now parents have to set the stage for their children’s social activities.

Your child’s development and ability to adjust in life will be better if s/he has two or three close friendships.   More is not necessarily better – two to three will do the job.  And the best way for your child to learn the skills for making and keeping good friends are from interacting with other children on informal, one on one playdates.  These are very different and better than sports or organized activities because informal play dates follow the direction of the children, whereas organized activities have rules dictated by adults, and are in an arena where adults are in charge.

Playdates provide the building blocks for social interactions.   Allowing your child to simply play with another child of the same gender and approximate age teaches both children how to be either the host or guest, how to find out what other children enjoy & to learn the art of accommodation and compromise.  Children learn how to get along, and how to resolve conflicts with someone who is not a family member.

Though life is busy you should consider making playdates a priority for your children.  On an ideal playdate there would be no sibling interference, and there would be no television/computer use (they can do this on their own at home).  Starting with shorter playdates – two to three hours in length, will allow the children to play, enjoy one another (hopefully) and separate before they get bored.   When your child finds someone who will be a good friend you will notice that there is a chemistry between them that just feels right, much like the chemistry of falling in love.

Finding a true friend is one of the great pleasures in life.  One of the greatest gifts you can give to your children is allowing them the opportunity to learn about making and keeping friendships and relationships. Though times have necessitated certain changes in our behavior, the need for face-to-face interactions will always be the key to healthy social development.

Below are some playdate tips you can use whether hosting or participating.

Playdate Tips:

1)  Time and Location: Give your children a good a good chance to succeed. Make sure it’s a fun and safe location whether it is at a park or at home. Make sure they have the proper tools (toys) for them to have a positive experience. This will help keep them out of trouble and direct them to more positive activities. Make sure they are well rested, have drinks and snacks, which will prevent them from getting “cranky” and misbehaving.

2)  Make it a learning experience: Make sure that activities are age-appropriate and include children of similar developmental stages. Sometimes parents look for children who they believe will be a positive influence, but are often blind to seeing the role their children may play. Everyone wants to believe their child’s an angel, but that may not be the case. Regardless, do not discriminate based on age, race, sex, orientation, religion, or socio-economic class. Just like in the adult world we have to deal with good and bad people, teach your children to deal with both positive and negative influences. Hopefully, children will be drawn to those who have similar interests as them such as music, sports, and other activities.

3)  Stay and Play: Whenever feasible and depending on their age, try not to leave your children unattended. You should stay and observe your child’s interaction with others. This is an opportunity for you to learn and exchange ideas with other families. If there’s a parent or guardian that you know well, and they agree, then you may consider leaving your child under their care.

4)  Keep it Safe: Let children have fun but remember you’re responsible for their safety. Monitor interactive play to assure that all parties are behaving appropriately. There may be predators that show up at public venues looking for victims. Please assure that your children have read our Street Smarts section and practice other lessons you have taught them. It’s a good idea to start by bringing all the children together and going over some rules of engagement before they start. This will set the tone of play and reinforce that although we are here to have fun, we have rules of mutual respect and safety that we follow. If the play date starts falls on a school-night, it’s appropriate to have your children do their homework first, to teach them the importance of prioritizing.

5)  Share Responsibilities: – In public settings, while you’re responsible for your own children, make sure you help the organizers with setting up and monitoring the play date. Often a few responsible parents may take on the majority of tasks. Be assertive and delegate tasks to others, even if it’s a labor of love for you. Share the burden and don’t allow others to sit back or get lost. Encourage them to be active contributors, which will model healthy behavior for their children. I hate seeing children misbehaving at play dates while the parents are nowhere to be found. It puts a strain on others since it disrupts their children and they are limited in their ability to discipline that child. Parents should not use play dates as a substitute for childcare. Even if your friends say that it’s not a problem, your children still want you there or want to see you making an effort and being involved.

See our Playdate Ideas below!

*Check out our Creative Corner , Show & Tell, and Places to Go for more ideas.