Whether you’re at home with your kids during the day, or have a caregiver, if you have little ones you probably spend a fair amount of time organizing play dates. Play dates are a great way for adults to get in some grown-up conversation and for the kids to build friendships and to take part in social activities. They’re also an opportunity for kids to be active.
So the next time you or your caregiver are arranging a play date remember these five easy tips and your kids will have a great time being active with their friends.
1. Leave the car at home
Try to plan play dates that are walking distance from your home so that you and your child can use active transportation to get there. If your child is mobile leave enough time so that they can walk for some or all of the distance, but for kids under 5, of course a stroller is an important backup and does the double duty of transporting all the snacks and gear. So instead of loading up the minivan, walk, run, bike, hop, or skip to the play date!
2. Get outside
Sadly, in Canada not every outdoor play date can be in the sunshine and warmth. But those other three seasons we have aren’t so bad. You can all jump and run through the leaves in the fall. You can look at the blossoms on the trees and play in puddles in the spring, and, of course, you can meet up at the splash pad in the summer.
But, don’t forget about old man winter. Yes, I am encouraging you to go outside in the winter. Please. I know winter weather is often challenging. It’s cold, it takes forever to get children ready, and staying cozy on the couch reading books can be much more enticing. But, if you can join together with someone else and do it together, it might not be so bad. Plan to meet another caregiver at the park for a couple of toboggan rides down the hill and then, when everyone’s cheeks are rosy, go back to someone’s house for a warm drink and a healthy snack. Makes it sound doable, right? The key to outdoor play dates, in any season, is making sure that your child is dressed for the weather.
Our “outdoor activities” board on Pinterest has loads of ideas that you and your friends can use for inspiration.
Want to take it a step further? For more on how to organize an outdoor playgroup, check out these great guidelines from Kari over at Active Kids Club.
3. Choose a theme
We all know how independent little ones can be and how important it is to create space for free play, but there can also be some structured time during the play date where they receive a little guidance in their play. One way of doing this is to choose a theme that everyone can participate in. It’s important to pay attention to the various interests and abilities (age, developmental level). Here are a couple of ideas to get you started:
- Have a ball: Ask everyone to bring along their favourite ball. Adults can guide the children on games to play with them (ball toss, soccer, etc). Check out these awesome resources we’ve developed for some ideas on what the little ones can do with a ball.
- Dance it out: Invite everyone to come wearing their dancing shoes. Playing some upbeat songs is a fun way to get everyone moving and smiling (especially on those days where the weather isn’t cooperating and you have to be indoors). Take the lead, grown-ups, and show those little ones your best moves. Depending on the ages of the kids at your play date try freeze-dance and musical chairs for a twist on the dance party theme.
- Neighbourhood scavenger hunt: Get moving around your neighbourhood finding common places like the fire station, library, and grocery store. End the hunt at someone’s house or the park for some wind down time. You can also keep the scavenger hunt even closer to home by looking for different objects found in nature like sticks, stones, and leaves (bring home what you’ve collected and make a nature collage with all the treasures). Or why not try this super cool outdoor alphabet scavenger hunt from No Time for Flashcards.
4. Fuel the fire
Healthy eating is important for growing bodies and a snack break keeps everyone happy during an active play date. Consider having some healthy snacks and water available. It helps for grown-ups to discuss snacks ahead of time so that everyone is on the same page and aware of any existing allergies, etc. If the kids are all eating more or less the same healthy snack it reduces the risk of the tantrums that can spiral out of control when one child is eating a chocolate bar while the other has a piece of cheese and grapes.
5. Keep your eye on the clock
As all parents and caregivers know, children have an amazing ability to find piles of energy even when they’re exhausted and worn out. For your next play date, agree on a set time that the activities will end. When planning something active, it’s important for everyone to get proper rest and down time to build more energy for the next activity. And it’s better to end the play date while everyone is still having fun and not wait for the first meltdown to start a chain reaction. This also helps the caregivers give ample warning that the fun is coming to an end and eases the transition to home time.
With a little bit of thought and preparation, play dates can be an excellent way for kids to get their daily physical activity time and develop fundamental skills.
Did we miss anything? We’d love to hear your strategies for planning active play dates; please leave us a comment below.