Play dates are a fantastic way for your child to interact with other children, and to gain valuable social skills. Whether you choose to hold a play date at home or at another location, there are a few ground rules that can make the occasion run a little more smoothly:
- Be age aware. For a successful play date the children involved should be around the same age so they can communicate well with each other and they can enjoy the same activities.
- Keep it small. Ideally a play date should only involve two children. If you include a third somebody is likely to get left out and the level of interaction will be reduced.
- Set a time limit. Play dates should be kept short, ideally one to two hours so that the children don’t become tired or argumentative. Warn them a few minutes before the end of the play date and have a race to get ready to go.
- Turn off the TV. For a play date at home switch off the TV and video games that can limit interaction. Instead plan activities they can do together such as finger painting, cooking, setting up a model train set, or building with blocks.
- Provide snacks. A snack break can help if the children are getting tetchy or tired, and healthy snacks such as fruit, cheese or crackers can give them an energy boost. Check whether other children have allergies before you offer a snack.
- Invite the parents. Be clear on whether the other parent is invited too. For younger children most parents or carers will want to stay, and this can be a great time for you to catch up, but make sure you’re always aware of what the children are doing.
- Teach sharing. Play dates are an ideal time to learn about sharing, taking turns, and being kind to others. Try to let children resolve small disagreements themselves, but step in firmly if the dispute escalates and make sure neither child is monopolising play equipment or toys.
- Bilingual play dates For parents that are raising their child as bilingual, play dates in the second language can be invaluable. A language play date gives your child the opportunity to hear and speak the language with someone other than their parents or carer and this helps them to see its importance and usefulness. It gives them more reason to try to use the language. Ideally a bilingual play date should involve some sort of activity that reflects the country and culture of the language, perhaps a game, a story, or a snack with food from that country. This will help children to build their relationship with the language and country, and will make them interested in learning about it. Play dates are also an ideal opportunity for parents to exchange language resources such as books or music CDs.
- Play Date Hotspots If you’re looking for a play date location outside of the home, there are plenty of possibilities. Parks are always a good-weather option, and are ideal for a picnic, especially if they have a children’s play area or a pond where you can feed the ducks. Outdoor alternatives include the zoo, or children’s farms such as Belmont Children’s Farm. Indoor possibilities for a play date include age appropriate soft play areas such as It’s a Kids Thing or Bramley’s Big Adventure, or swimming pools that have safe children’s pools and play equipment. You can also arrange to meet at your local library, especially if there is a story time session going on, or at a child friendly museum such as the Science Museum.