The sun is shining, the birds are singing and the ice pops are freezing. Hello, summer playdates! It’s so much easier to get out and about with other parents and their kids or host a playdate in the back yard when the weather is warmer. Little ones are happiest playing outside or in water, plus grown-ups can relax and maybe even hold a conversation without being immediately interrupted (if you know, you know!).
Playdates can be super-fun for everyone, and they’re a great way for your toddler or older baby to learn how to get along with others. Whether you’re meeting people at the park or beach, visiting someone else’s home or hosting your own meet-up, here are some tips on what to do on a playdate: ideas, snacks and activities to keep young children occupied and happy in the summer months.
Set a start and end time
If you’re hosting a playdate, set a clear start and end time. Small children’s attention spans are short and they get tired and cranky easily, so 1.5 hours is ideal – and no more than two hours.
Keep it small
Don’t be tempted to invite every family you know. It’s fine to start off with just one other parent and kid! If you’re organizing a playdate in a public space, numbers and timings are more flexible.
Ask every child to bring a toy
If your baby’s not yet walking, you may not have any toys for children aged three to five. Or if your toddler’s practically a preschooler, you may have given away all your infant toys. Ask parents to bring a toy they know their child loves, so you don't have to worry about providing toys for everyone. Children of all ages can learn a thing or two about sharing here, too!
Create separate areas for different age groups
Mixing little babies with energetic five-year-olds? No problem. Whether you’re at home or the park, designate an infants-only area. Pop down some soft blankets, play mats and age-appropriate toys with space for parents to sit in comfort and peace with their children.
Make it clear to older children that the baby section is a no-go area. Create a super-fun zone for them away from the smaller ones. Maybe their section could be around a toddler pool, sand box or mud kitchen?
Organize one structured activity
Don’t dive straight into your chosen activity. Allow everyone – parents and toddlers alike – to settle in with some free play first. Encourage children to play with the toys they brought along. If you’re at home, get everyone outside in the fresh air, where they can play in the yard. Let them get stuck into the sand box, provide a water play table or encourage them to explore.
Once they start showing signs of wanting to move on, bring out your activity. Don’t stress if some are engrossed in what they’re already doing – they can always join in later, if they like.
Struggling to know what to do on a playdate? Here are some simple but sizzlingly fun summer playdate activities to prepare in advance:
Frozen toy rescue
Pop some small toys, figurines or even flower petals in a mixing bowl, plastic container or silicone cupcake tray. You could make one big one or lots of smaller ones, depending on how many kids you have over. Top up with water, then freeze.
When it’s activity time, remove from the freezer and ease out your frozen toys. Provide some tools and encourage the children to set the toys free! It’s fun, it’s cool on a hot day and should keep them entertained for ages (at least five minutes?!).
Outdoor cardboard box painting
Collect some cardboard boxes in the days leading up to your playdate. Give each child a box and provide some washable paint and plenty of brushes. If it’s hot, let them all play in the sprinkler or toddler pool to wash off the paint afterwards!
For toddlers, hide plastic blocks, tennis balls or mini stuffed animals in the backyard and provide helpful clues.
Challenge older toddlers to find things around the yard, park, beach or playground. Pick items in plain sight. Some ideas to get you started could be: find three yellow leaves, discover a flower of every color of the rainbow, bring back a shell, a pebble, some seaweed…
For minimal parental effort, simply bury items in a sandbox and let the kids do the rest while you sit back with an ice tea.
Keep the snacks simple
Like a grown-up dinner party, you don’t want to spend all your time in the kitchen when you have guests. Provide simple foods such as crackers, cheese, fruits, crudites and juice boxes. Adults will be happy to eat the same snacks and drink tea, coffee or water. If you’re meeting people out and about, why not get everyone to bring something and share?
Playdates should be fun for you as well as your toddler. You’re creating space for a couple of hours of child-friendly fun that gives you and other moms an opportunity to connect over the same day-to-day parenting challenges. It’s your playdate too, so enjoy it! Sit back, relax and relish those few minutes sitting in the sun while the children play.