Hosting a play date can be an overwhelming task. How can you get the most out of the day? How can you ensure that the children will actually play together? Try these tips for a successful play date.
Choose a time frame. Make sure you have a set start and end time. Not only will it be helpful for your child know what to expect, as well as help him to understand how much time is remaining in the play date, but it will also give you the opportunity to plan your activities beforehand.
Ask questions ahead of time. It will be helpful for you to know as much as you can about the other child in order to plan activities. When setting up the play date, do not forget to ask the other child's parents these questions:
Does your child have any allergies or sensitivities to certain foods that we should be aware of?
What are your child’s favorite games?
Does your child have any favorite TV characters?
Does your child enjoy art and music?
Start with a turn taking game played at a children’s table. Turn taking activities are great for many reasons. For one, there is a clear structure and routine to turn taking games; they have specific rules. This makes it easy for children to play with little adult facilitation. These games give children many opportunities to use turn taking language (e.g., my turn, your turn), comment on the events that occur during the game, and ask questions. To add an extra interactive component into the game, try putting all of the game pieces in a plastic bag, so that they have to ask each other for the piece that they want. Why seated at a children’s table? This will help the children attend for a longer period of time, keep them together in one area, and put them at each other’s eye level. Our favorite turn taking games include: Pop the Pig, Pop Up Pirate, Hi Ho Cherry-O, The Sneaky Snacky Squirrel Game, Gooey Louie, Jumping Jack, and Bunny Hop.
Engage the children in pretend play. Pretend play is a critical skill for the development of sequencing, perspective taking, emotional thinking, problem solving, and abstract thinking. If your child has any social or language delays, this will be the most challenging part of your play date. To make it simpler, try having each child choose only one character. This will cause them to focus all of their energy and thoughts on taking the role of just one person. Also, grab a toy yourself and participate! This way you can help them create a more cohesive story while being a part of their play, rather than trying to direct their play from the outside. If they need ideas about stories, have them recreate scenes and storylines that they are familiar with, such as going to school, or playing at the park.
Always be prepared for snack time. Even though the play date may be short, or the kids may not want to have snack time, it is always better to be equipped with a quick snack. Make sure you know what the other child likes to eat, and that you know of any allergies. Pass any snack ideas by the other child’s parents before the play date so that you can plan in advance.
Play an outdoor game or a movement-based game. If you have access to a backyard or a patio, take advantage of it. It is great to not only have multiple locations for games, but also gives the kids a chance to move around. They could probably use some time to get their wiggles out by this point! Try movement activities such as building an obstacle course, jumping through hula hoops, or freeze dance. For more structured movement games, try Hullaballoo or Wiggle & Giggle.
Incorporate music or rhymes. If the kids enjoy singing, try to incorporate songs into your play date. Have them share their favorite songs, or choose songs beforehand and gather toys that match the song. For instance, if you are singing Old McDonald, you can have toy figures of each animal. Also try incorporating movement into the songs. Try chanting Going on a Bear Hunt and have them act out all of the story events (e.g., running through the forest, swimming through the river).