How to host a playdate for your children

Matilda (now 6 years old) on an early playdateTHE real title of this blog post is How to host a playdate for your children that doesn’t rely on television or video games. It’s the school holidays and whether your kids are at school or kindy, chances are good you’re entering prime time for playdates. If you’re new to playdates or an old hand, here are a couple of tips that will help the time move faster and ensure the kids have a great time.

We don’t have a pool, which I think would make every playdate a breeze. Well, the summer playdates, at leaset. We also don’t have very many games for the Wii console that we have. So we have to work a bit harder than most when hosting playdates.

Why bother hosting playdates?

And if you’re wondering why on earth you would go to all that trouble to have playdates when they are so much work, well, the answer lies with helping create resilient families. All kids cope with school differently and some are better than others at it. With my three kids, abilities seem to span the spectrum. We have one who is a natural networker and social butterfly with a solid core group of friends, another who builds relationships but floats between groups, while the third couldn’t be more different and has only one person to call ‘friend’.

The playdate plays a crucial role in helping your child forge the bonds of friendship in an environment where they are comfortable and where they are on home turf. The authority figures are on their side, the equipment is theirs and they control the environment. So this helps those less assertive kids be more bold when relating to peers who come to visit.

I thought I’d offer up a few tips for those who aren’t as experienced as me – and call on those readers who are far more experienced, to contribute a few of your own handy, tried and tested tips for hosting successful playdates.

Preparing for the playdate:

How to host a playdate - prepare fruit!Food: If you’ve got time to prepare for the playdate, great. This means you can be somewhat organised. I like to make fruit platters so that there isĀ  plenty of healthy food on hand. This is important because it keeps everyone on an even keel and stops those emotional moments that can spring up when blood sugar drops and rationality takes a holiday. The other important factor is the type of food. It’s tempting to curry favour with visiting kids (and your own) by stocking bags of snakes and chocolate bars but this is a rookie mistake. Two words – sugar crash! Keep the food relatively balanced and towards the end, right before full-time, throw in some sugary treats if you must. It’s important to avoid the sugar highs and lows that come with gorging on sweet foods loaded with e numbers and artificial flavours and colours. Remember, this is about building a relationship that will flourish in the school yard. Err on the side of caution and stock plenty of fruit and low GI foods, such as popcorn or homemade muffins. (This is one of my favourite, tried and true banana muffin recipes that the kids love and you can whip them up while the kids are playing Red Red Rover in the yard).

Games/entertainment: It’s tempting to structure the playtime so they are organised and busy from the minute the visitor arrives. By all means plan some activities, and even have supplies on hand for fun stuff, but perhaps let them wander around together for a little while. Let the visitor be toured around the home, checking out your child’s bedroom and toys. Feel free to keep playdates limited to the backyard if, like me, you hate tidying up mess inside after a playdate. But let curiosity take over and let the visitor have a wander around, figure out where the loo is, and so on. If you feed the kids some snacks as soon as they arrive, and then let them wander around for a bit, it’ll be at least half an hour before they’re ready to think about games or activities. Depending on their age you can sit back and watch them figure out what they want to do, or you can take over at this point and steer them towards some organised activities. School aged kids should be able to sort themselves out. Kindy kids might need some structure, if only to keep them out of your bedroom and limit the mess.

How to host a playdate:

Challenges: The greatest fear any host parent has when having playdates is that the visiting child will take a casual, raised-eyebrow glance around the house and declare in a snooty tone, “I’m boooored,” before flopping down on the sofa and demanding a Pims and lemonade. In my experience that almost never happens. But if it does, have a back-up plan. If it’s raining, then making something is a surefire hit.

What’s easy and no hassle – make your own play dough. Whip up this basic microwave playdough recipe, then once it’s finished (takes no time at all) divide it into balls and give each kid their own ball of dough. Put a drop of food colouring in the ball and get the kids to knead the playdough until all the colour is throughout the dough evenly. I’ve entertained six rowdy boys with this – it works. And then you can play games with guess what colour the dough will turn when you add a different drop of food colouring to it. Another favourite is make your own volcano. Put some bi-carb soda in a large jar or bowl, put a few drops of red food colouring in it and then pour white vinegar onto it – stand back and watch your volcano erupt!! Huge fun for boys and girls! (Best done in the yard or in the kitchen sink).

There are a ton of games or activities like that, easily found online. That will take up at least an hour! Which leads me to my next point…

How to host a playdate - homemade cupcakes are great!Time: Most playdates go for two hours. That’s plenty of time, no matter what age group your kids are, to have some fun and get the visitors out of there before it all goes pear-shaped. Make sure the other parent knows the two-hour window is the absolute limit. If you have to, tell them you’re going out after that, or expecting someone else after that and you need them to be on time when picking up and/or leaving.

Playdates are fun and playdates a great tool to help your child make friends. When you host a playdate for your child you’re really helping them be more resilient, and more expressive and outgoing. These are skills that children can learn but they need you to help them. By all means hover in the background, by try to let the kids work things out for themselves. This is an important step for them.

Good luck!

What are your handy tips for making playdates fun?

3 thoughts on “How to host a playdate for your children”

  1. Thanks so much Felicity! I get really stressed by playdates – the noise & the mess! – especially as, like you we don’t have a pool, and we don’t have any game consoles. Mind you I don’t like kids playing too much of that when they have guests over, old fashioned maybe but it feels rude and unsociable to me (no complaints if other parents want to let my lot play at their house – their house, their rules – if they are kind enough to invite my kids over I’ll let them run it the way that is easiest for them).
    After reading your post I think I will try to have a couple of backup activities ready, like the play dough idea especially, because our yard doesn’t have much shade until late afternoon, so they can’t cope with playing outside for long in our summer heat.

    1. Actually, Rachel, you make a good point. I’ll add to this post over the next couple of days with more activities for parents of kids that are our children’s ages (6, 7, 8, 9 years). My kids never get tired of the volcano one, so I’m forever buying Bi-Carb Soda (in the big box for about $3 and white vinegar, about $1 for a 2L bottle). The playdough one worked on the Howarth boys, plus my two boys and Matilda. They all loved it. Lots of fun.

      Craft stuff on your lovely back verandah would be good. Keep some Makedo kits in the cupboard for easy playdates. Your boys would *love* Makedo, if you haven’t got into that already. http://mymakedo.com/

      Kids respond well to instruction, so if you give them the materials and tell them to make, say, three robots, they’ll probably do it. Or you could put your boys on the back verandah with the visiting kids and see if they can work together to build a Lego town. Offer prizes for something that can be driven (car or tractor or some kind of wagon, using wheels) and something that a Lego person can sit inside (house or shop or another car?). Get them working together to solve a problem. Prizes can be as simple as a water iceblock (my kids love Zupadoopas) or a Freddo frog.

      Hope that helps. Good luck!

  2. There’s not much shade at our place either, so I always tell parents of visiting kids beforehand – hat and sunscreen essential! A half an hour outside in the sun on the trampoline is always a winner. I am very fortunate with my older boy, 5, that once his best mate arrives they take off – either into his bedroom to play Lego or outside to play superheroes – and I seriously don’t see them again unless they want to eat. We do have a Wii, but I say early on that time on the Wii will be right before pick-up time and it’s going to be pretty limited, maybe 20 mins or half an hour at most.
    My youngest is only 2, so requires constant supervision when playing with others! We’re at the not-very-fun, “everything is mine” stage ;)

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