Play dates serve several purposes. For the child, a play date gives him an opportunity to build social relationships with other children close to his own age. Your child is able to learn by watching, as well as by playing with, or along side of, other children. Play dates provide an atmosphere where he is taught to share his toys, as well as interact politely with others.
For the parent, the play date provides something equally important: Intelligent, adult conversation. Hosting a play date can be a great activity for the parents as well as the children, as long as it is carefully and thoughtfully planned. Here are a few pointers for holding a play date:
1. Pick the location.
Play dates, though most often held in a home, can be held at many different locations. Local parks are a great pick in the warm months of the year. Considering the ages of your children, many communities have toddler play gyms, as well as parks which provide activities for older children. If you choose to hold the play date in your home, be sure that you have enough room. If you plan to use your living room, it may be wise to make some extra space for toys and activities. Otherwise, your child’s bedroom, if it is large enough, is also a good location.
2. Pick the right time.
Many a play date has been foiled by a parent failing to choose the right time to hold the activity. Choosing a time that is close to meal or nap time for the children will only produce children that are tired, hungry and sensitive. Play dates generally have the most success when they are held in the morning (around 9 AM) or in the afternoon, after nap time.
3. Prepare the play area.
Aside from making the necessary room in your play area, you should also take care to have activities available. When I host a play date, I have several toys out in different groupings. For instance, I have all of my son’s Fischer Price, “Little People” sets in one corner, Thomas the Train toys in another, books in another, blocks in another, etc. This way, children start out their play by giving each other personal space. This way, the kids can open up to each other gradually, as they are ready. If the toys are all piled in the center of the room, you may start out your play time with a fight over who gets what toy as the children reach and grab for what they want. Organizing toys also provides an orderly environment for the children. Often, children’s’ moods are heavily influenced by their environment. If you start a play group with music playing, a DVD running, and a huge stack of toys in your living room, the kids will pick up on this chaos and it will be reflected in their behavior.
4. Lay some ground rules.
Talk with the parents you are inviting to your play date and discuss the rules that you feel are important for the children. For instance, some parents feel that their children should not be expected to share until they are 4 years old. If you feel strongly that your 2 year old is able to share and that this should be expected of other children, you will need to communicate this thought to the other parent. Agree on basic rules such as, no hitting, yelling or name-calling.
5. Interact, but don’t entertain.
If the play date is also supposed to provide some time for you to socialize, do not entertain the kids. If you jump in and provide all of the imagination and creativity for them, you will stifle their opportunities to forge their own interactions, as well as deprive yourself of the time to interact with other parents. While your intervention will be needed to deflect arguments and squabbles, too much intervention will not allow your children to develop people skills such as being able to compromise or disagree without becoming upset. Of course, this all needs to be adjusted according to the ages of the children present.
The idea of hosting a play date can be overwhelming if you have never done it. By following these tips, and with a strong desire to receive some social interaction for yourself and your child, you will be successful!