Home PARENTING How to Plan the Perfect Play Date For Your Kids

How to Plan the Perfect Play Date For Your Kids

by Katie Reed

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Planning the perfect play date can be stressful for parents and children alike. Figuring out logistics like where to have the play date, what activities to do, whether food should be included, how long it should last, and what rules should be followed can be overwhelming. But with just a minimum of effort you can be prepared for any occasion and plan the perfect play date for your kids.

How long should a play date last?

A play date can last as long as you you and your children are comfortable. But it’s best to start with shorter time limits at first. Check with the other parent or caregiver and see what works best for their schedule. It’s usually best to start with 30 – 60 minutes for a first time so that your kids can get used to each other. It’s also a great idea to choose a neutral location like a playground or park so the kids don’t feel out of place in either’s space. If it’s going well, you can always extend the play date a bit, or you can let them play longer next time.

Once you know that the children get along, most play dates can last anywhere from one to three hours. Communication is key, though, so be sure to talk with the other parent away from the children so that no one feels guilted into longer play dates than they’re comfortable with.

At what age are play dates important?

Play dates are important at all ages, but they begin to be developmentally helpful around three years old. This is a time when kids begin to recognize that there are others out there that are like them. They begin to crave connection and want to interact with other humans of their own size. It’s how they begin to understand human interaction, and it’s super important for their brain development.

Beyond this, play dates are a great way for kids of all ages to continue to work on social skills. Interpersonal development is a huge part of growing up, and the better their skills, the better their likelihood of doing well in school and in life.

What should I bring to a play date?

Depending on the age of your child(ren), you may need to bring a toy, a change of clothes, a snack or drink to your play date. If your child is younger, bring everything you would if you were taking them on a short trip to the park. If they are still in diapers, bring their diaper bag, fully packed with everything they may need. For older children, discuss with the other parent or guardian whether you should allow them to bring a toy or game. Sometimes a play date can mean two children playing video games or playing together on their own tablets. In this day and age, technology is often a big part of play dates.

It’s important, though, to understand that not every child is going to have the same socioeconomic background as your own child. Be sure to be sensitive to the fact that they may not have the same access to toys or tech. Be prepared to just let the kids play outside or use their imaginations. The best play dates often require nothing more.

How many friends should be at a play date?

Play dates require no more than two friends meeting together to play. However, in many cases, it’s the more, the merrier! As long as the kids are happy, and the adults are okay with it, you can plan play dates with many kids at once. Just be sure that there are enough adults to watch over the amount of children involved. For very young children, a good ratio is 2:1 kids to adults. For older children, you can get away with a higher ratio without too much trouble.

What do I need to do to prepare for a play date?

Preparing for a play date is pretty simple, but it depends on whether you’re hosting or attending. Hosting duties can feel slightly more daunting, but in reality, you just have a few extra decisions to make.

First, decide if you want the kids at your house. If so, are you going to keep them to a specific area of the home? Have you prepared the area and made sure it’s safe for the children to play? Are pets safe in another room? Are you going to serve food or drink? Do you have any activities planned in case the kids get bored? You don’t have to put a ton of thought into these questions, but having a plan in the back of your head makes things so much easier.

On the other hand, if you’re the one showing up to someone’s house, all you really need to think about is how you can make the play date go smoothly for them. Can you bring your own child a snack? Can you offer any help to the host? Be punctual with drop off and pick up so that you don’t add extra stress to the other parents.

Basically, don’t stress too much, and let the kids have fun. They’ll let you know if they need you.

What questions should we ask when planning a play date?

There are a lot of questions that run through a parent’s mind when planning a play date. It’s especially nerve-wracking when you don’t know the other parent or guardian well. Letting your child into another person’s home is not a small thing, and it’s always best to ask questions and make sure you are completely comfortable before allowing your child to be alone there. Even letting another adult look after your child in a neutral setting like a park or fun center should still require due diligence on your part. You are trusting them with your most precious possession after all.

Not only should you ask questions on behalf of your own child, but be proactive in asking about their child, as well. Make sure you know about allergies, phobias, quirks of personality or anything else that could come up.

Here is a non-comprehensive list of questions I like to ask other parents before we have play dates for the first time. Yes, some may sound kind of intrusive, but try not to be embarrassed. Think about what could happen if you don’t ask.

  • Are there guns in the house?
  • If there are guns in the house, are they properly stored away?
  • Will the kids have access to the internet?
  • Do you have parental controls turned on?
  • Do you supervise their computer use?
  • What movies, TV shows, video games, etc are allowed in your house?
  • Do you have pets in your home?
  • Do you have alcohol and poisons locked away?
  • Are there allergies we need to be aware of?
  • Are there any behavioral issues we need to be aware of?
  • Will the kids be left alone at any point?
  • Will the kids be left with any adult or teenager other than you at any point?
  • Will you be driving anywhere with my kids at any time?
  • Does anyone in your home know CPR?
  • Are there any specific rules in your home that my child should be aware of?
  • Can we bring anything?
printable checklist of questions to ask when leaving your child somewhere new
Click here to print this checklist out

What activities should we plan for a play date?

Play dates get easier as kids get older because after a certain point, they have their own idea about what they want to do. But for younger children, you’re going to need to have some ideas about what you want them to do. Having a few great kids activities in your back pocket is always a good idea.

Younger kids will always gravitate towards messy play, so doing a fun craft or art project is a great way to pass the time, and they’ll feel like they accomplished something. It’s also a great way to teach them about cooperation. It even gives them a chance to clean up at the end, which is another important skill for them to learn.

For older kids, it’s best to have an activity idea in mind, but keep it to yourself. Let them bring their own ideas to the play date and only offer suggestions if they are struggling.

Do I have to host?

Hosting a play date can really feel scary for some of us. And there’s no rule that says you have to play host, though you need to be careful not to take advantage of other parents. If you’re having trouble offering your home up, consider offering to oversee a play date at the park or at a nearby community center. If even this is too much, ask yourself what is getting in the way of you being able to reciprocate hosting duties.

Communication is key here, so if you aren’t able to host, find another way to contribute, and I’m sure your play group will understand.

Am I supposed to stay for the play date, too?

Most first time play dates involve both sets of parents sticking around to make sure the kids are doing well, but this isn’t always the case. And after that, it’s really anyone’s guess as to what the parents involved will be comfortable with. If you want to stick around, talk to the other parent and see what they are expecting. If the play date is in their home, they may find it weird for you to stay. If it’s in a neutral location, then it’s way more okay for you to hang out.

Of course, the same is true in reverse. If your play date is at a crowded play center, the other parent may be expecting you to stay and watch your own kid, so leaving might make them uncomfortable. The trick here is to talk to the other parent and make sure you’re on the same page.

I’m nervous to leave my child. How do I politely let the other parent know?

Hey, leaving your kid is hard. We’ve all been there, and some of us never get over it. If you’re having trouble leaving your kid, that’s totally understandable. As previously mentioned, there are situations where it’s totally fine to stick around for a play date and watch your kid in action. There are other situations where it’s going to make you look like a weirdo, so it’s important for you to understand the difference and know in advance what to expect.

Communication is always important in planning the perfect play date, because if the parent is stressed out, the kids will be, too. If you aren’t ready to leave your child, then you’re probably not ready for them to have a play date quite yet. At least not on their own or on someone else’s turf.

Instead, invite them over to your place or to the park at a given time. Just don’t freak out if they don’t come. Play dates are reciprocal things, and if you’re not willing to give, you won’t always get.

Now that you know all there is to know about planning the perfect play date, you can breathe a little easier and look forward to the next one. Gather your thoughts, grab a few supplies and get the kids together for fabulous time. You’re ready!

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