ParenTalk: The Nestery Handbook of Playdate Ideas For All Ages
If you are like the average parent in a nuclear setup, you have likely been your child’s only playmate ever since they arrived. Parents often worry about not being able to give their children enough opportunity to socialize. The problem has aggravated in the face of the pandemic that has restricted social interaction further. Playdates are saviors in such situations. They help the child make new friends and develop social skills. Even if your child has siblings or you have other people around, they learn significant skills around other children. Playdates also offer the caregivers an opportunity to chat with an adult. They help them learn to take turns, share things, understand that others may like different things/games, manage aggression and discover emotions.
Many people think that it is ideal to wait for the child to go to preschool to start organizing playdates. However, according to pathways.org, infants learn important life skills at playdates and can start being around other kids even before they say their first words. So, whether your child can independently play children’s games or not, it is never too early for a playdate. However, it is always better to stay prepared and help children have a great time.
Children’s indoor games for a fun playdate
This is one activity that keeps children of all age groups equally engaged. If you are arranging a playdate for 2-4 years olds, it is best to hand them some pre-cut ingredients and allow them to ideate their recipes. A lemon squeezer also comes in handy. They can have fun squeezing and making lemonade. While this activity will create some mess, it helps the children with fine motor skills and ingredient identification. It also helps them connect with food, encourages an important life skill, and creates splendid memories.
If you are handling older children such as those in the 3-6 years age group, you could hand out recipe cards with easy-to-follow pictorial directions for them to make some quick sandwiches or a bowl of bhelpuri. Or give them easy-to-cut fruits along with child-safe knives and see the fun unfold.
Children older than 6 years can handle equipment such as an oven or a toaster under adult supervision. They can also try their hands at kneading dough.
You can also encourage pretend play and let them host their party or sell the food they cook. The opportunities are endless and so is the fun.
- Pretend Play:
This is a hit among kids of all ages. You could either stick to a theme and arrange props and costumes accordingly or just collect some random objects put them in a bag and let each child pick one. Now encourage them to imagine what they are and see them get lost in pretend play. It is one of the best activities for preschoolers that encourages creativity, imagination, and vocabulary.
Simple setups related to everyday situations work better for children in the 2-3 years age group. So, set up a tea party or a vegetable stall and enjoy. If the children are even younger, just organize some pictures or flashcards with animal images and enjoy the adorable sounds in the zoo.
- Bring out the fleet of vehicles:
This is one of the most engaging activities for preschoolers and toddlers. Just give them a set of cars and other vehicles and they can vroom around for a long time. Children also love construction vehicles. Giving them transportation-related toys can also set the stage for pretend play. If you want to go a step further, use tape to make tracks on the floor. You can also craft other props such as traffic lights, or police officers.
- Modeling clay and kinetic sand
Children love sensorial experiences and benefit from them greatly. While you can set up elaborate sensory stations, modeling clay and kinetic sand are easiest to set up and straightforward. All you need is a pack of clay or kinetic sand, some moulds, and a covered surface for messy play. You can also encourage them to model structures on their own without using a mould. All children past the mouthing stage can enjoy these activities. Clay also helps strengthen fine motor skills and encourages creativity.
If there is an activity that can be enjoyed by infants and adults alike, it is painting. If you are running short of ideas for the next playdate, painting and crafts never go out of style.
For babies, tape a sheet of paper on the floor and hand them easy-grip crayons. You could also give them edible paints to dabble over the sheet.
If you wish to do art as one of the activities for preschoolers, it is best to hand them the supplies and let them create what they wish. Later, encourage them to talk about their creations. You will be amazed by their thought process and creativity.
If you are inclined towards guided art, you can look up easy craft ideas on Pinterest. Simple origami or card making for festivals is very popular among kids.
Take the fun outdoors!
While the pandemic has made it imperative for parents to look for children’s indoor games, nothing beats the fun of outdoor time. If you can manage some safe time outdoors, the kids can learn a lot from nature. Collecting leaves or pebbles, making 2D structures with twigs, playing catch, or enjoying slides and swings are just some ideas that can make an outdoor playdate fun. There is no dearth of ideas when it comes to outdoor play.
Tips to keep it smooth
Do not keep it too long
Whether it is your child’s first playdate with a new friend or a playdate with someone they know, it is best to keep it short. This is to ensure that the kids don’t get overstimulated. It also leaves them wanting for more and they look forward to the next playdate.
The key to a tantrum-free playdate is to keep the monsters in their tummy happy. However, remember to check with the other child’s parents about any food allergies and share your child’s allergies and preferences with them.
Do not force your child to share:
Sharing and taking turns are skills that are gained through experience. Forcing the child to share will only move their focus more towards the stuff than playing or having a good time with their friend. According to parenting expert Janet Lansbury, sharing or taking turns are playdate rules that limit learning and caregivers must refrain from their urge to end the struggle between the children.
Do not let structure spoil the fun:
While it may tempt you to load the playdate with children’s games and activities that seem to aid learning, it is best to encourage free play. Too much structure will limit experiences such as coming up with own game ideas or conflict in choice of games. These experiences aid the development of critical skills and emotional intelligence in children. It is better to offer the tools and let the kids devise their games.
Let them fix their squabbles:
The American Academy of Paediatrics describes aggression as normal. However, it is best to let the kids resolve their conflicts on their own. Most squabbles end earlier than expected if adults don’t intervene. Step in, only if it gets physical.
Do not end the playdate abruptly:
If kids are having a good time, give them a time warning that the playdate will end soon. This helps them stay prepared and reduces the possibility of disappointments and tantrums.
Have fun at the next playdate!
Smriti is a freelance content writer and an avid reader. She quit her 6 year-long IT career to embrace her love for writing. She writes content across genres and takes pride in her ability to research and carve magic with words. She passionately writes about parenting and is currently working on her book. When not writing or reading, she can be seen running behind any of her 2 kids or learning Deutsch.