Play Date Party Ideas
While there's no need to hang streamers for a play date, doing a little prep work makes playtime, well, child's play. Beforehand, have your kid put away favorite toys they won't want to share. Then have them get out one thing that encourages joint play, like blocks, a train set, Legos or crayons, to start out the play date on a friendly footing.
To make sure your house doesn't end up a shambles before the afternoon's over, ask the kids to clean up as they go — no new activity until the old one is put away. That also prevents a meltdown right before the end of the play date, since no one wants the final half-hour with a friend to be spent cleaning up the previous hour and a half's pandemonium. That said, putting away the last activity a few minutes before your guest's parent is scheduled to arrive ensures they're ready to go on time.
Limit the number of guests to one (two at most) and the time to two hours max — any more and you risk cranky kids. If this is a first date, consider making it a double; ask to meet your child's friend and the friend's parent at the park, or invite the parent over for coffee while the kids play. That way, you'll both become more comfortable leaving your child in the other's care — and you can watch firsthand how your children interact.
Before the play date, talk house rules with the other parent so you both know what to expect. Some things you may want to go over (or bring up if your child is the guest):
- Discipline: How do you handle kids fighting?
- TV: Is watching TV OK? What about movies? What about PG movies?
- Health/safety: Any allergies? Does anyone smoke in the house? Are there guns in the house?
- Video games: OK to play? If so, any types of games off limits?
- Toys: Any toys (toy guns, for example) off limits?
- Food: Snack OK? Any foods off limits? Picky eater?
- Other: Any other house rules (for example, you're only allowed to eat in the kitchen)? Anything else to know about the guest (for example, he's afraid of dogs)?
- Contact info and timing: What's the best number to reach each other? What time is pickup?
This is your child's first experience with entertaining a guest, a Valuable Life Lesson, so make the most of it by asking your child what they want to do… and what they think their friend would be into. In case they can't come up with anything, a few possibilities to suggest:
- draw pictures on the driveway with sidewalk chalk
- play hide 'n' seek
- play in the sandbox
- build a fort using old boxes, furniture and/or blankets
- make cookies
- play Legos
- stage a concert using pots, pans, paper towel tubes and utensils for instruments and a beater for a microphone
- play dolls
- make creatures out of Play-Doh
- read a book
- play ball
Stick to healthy, or at least relatively healthy, snacks. It's better for your kid, anyway — and it may be better for your relationship with your kid's pal's parents. Sure, they may say they're fine with anything, if by "anything" you mean whole-wheat, sugarless and organic. Graham crackers and granola bars (as long as you skip the ones smothered in chocolate) are good choices. So are easy-to-eat fruit like grapes, apple slices, tangerines, bananas or raisins.
You can also get kids in on the act if they're old enough. For example, they might make the snack known as ants at a picnic by filling celery sticks with peanut butter and then marching raisins down each stalk. Or help them make a batch of homemade brownies or chocolate chip cookies (okay, sweets aren't healthy, but the exercise teaches kitchen skills — and you can send your guest home with treats for their folks).
Juice boxes are great for convenience and kids love 'em, but if you want a cheaper alternative with a lot less waste, make your own healthy fruit drink that's guaranteed to give Hawaiian Punch the one-two.
Fruit Punch (serves 6)
- 1 1/2 cups apple juice
- 1 1/2 cups no-pulp orange juice
- 3 cups grape juice
Combine in a pitcher.