Playdates are a great way for little ones to flex their social skills. Yet if you really want them to get into it (long enough to enjoy some coffee and conversation with your fellow moms) have a fun activity planned. Try these ideas!
Have a car wash—but not for your minivan. On a sunny day, gather toy cars and trucks, a bucket of soapy water, a bucket of clean water, some sponges, and then head outside. You'll be amazed at how long this keeps toddlers happy. Lay a few old towels in a sunny spot and let the newly scrubbed vehicles dry. And you don't even have to tip the car washers.
What's almost as good as eating cupcakes? Baking some. Kids won't care whether they're made from scratch or a box. Don't forget the icing—get some in red, yellow, and blue, and then let your sous chefs mix them to create different colors. Up the fun factor by sprinkling on M&Ms, but let the kids count them out first or sort them by color—why not sneak in learning on a playdate!
Greet mini guests with a fun puppet craft like this one. You'll need paper bags, colored paper, and child-safe scissors. If you can, pick up googly eyes and pom-poms at a craft store. As the kids paint and glue, you might even have enough time to have a coherent chat with the other parent (what a concept!). Once the puppets are done, turn your living room into a theater and watch your kiddos' imagination soar.
Instead of hanging at your house, head to a local garden or nature preserve. Walk the trails and point out interesting plants and flowers you may not have in your own garden or neighborhood. Fresh air has a great effect on even the most boisterous of kids, and who knows, you might luck out and have your kids take a nice long nap that afternoon!
It's never too early to develop a love of reading. Ask guests to bring their three favorite kiddie books. Gather your own and have a reading-themed play date. Snuggle into the couch or a lap, and share. Show off your repertoire of funny voices—and invite kids to join in! They might also enjoy acting out a scene from one of the books.
Even if a child's too young to hold a paintbrush, they can explore art. Try fingerpainting. Put sheets of paper on the table or floor and make a train out of the kids' handprints. Kids can also dunk blocks or stacking cups into paint and dab them on paper. Keep an old plastic tablecloth handy to put beneath the paper they paint on. Non-toxic washable paint is an absolute must so you can focus on fun, not the mess.
For a truly memorable tea party playdate, break free from apple juice and goldfish crackers, and serve up passionfruit iced tea and cookies. Get out your fine china cups for the adults, and cute plastic ones for the kids. Have some fun costume jewelry on hand for guests. And don't forget your manners, ladies!
When it's too cold outside to take a dip in the kiddie pool, why not let them splish around in the tub? You just might want to clean out your bathroom first. Then add water, toys, kids, and some warm fluffy towels. You could even bring in a boom box and play some tub tunes, like the super-cute Singin' in the Bathtub CD by John Lithgow.
Save up your recyclables for the next playdate—those yogurt cups make for excellent UFOs. Gather your (clean) recyclables together, add basic craft supplies like glue and markers, and let 'em create. You'll be amazed by the things kids come up with, you'll teach them about being eco-good (tell them about the three R's of the environment: Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle), and it's totally free.
Bring the playdate to a museum (hint: most offer free admission one day a month). Plenty have fantastic children's sections with hands-on exhibits and a kid-friendly environment where your little guys can talk in their booming voices without anyone shushing them. Bring along a pad of paper and crayons, plop yourself on a bench in front of a painting of choice, and encourage the kids to play Picasso.
The perfect rainy-day playdate for kids: Grab every board game you own, clear off the dining room table, have snacks ready to eat, and try a game marathon. Make a tally sheet and post it on the wall to keep score, pretend to be a sportscaster while you narrate the games (and giggles) and learn about winning and losing.
Check with parents ahead of time before selecting the film; all families have different guidelines when it comes to flicks, especially for young kids. Serve apple slices, string cheese, or mini crackers in popcorn cartons (popcorn is a choking hazard for kids under 4). Just be prepared for a lot of playdate requests, because after hosting one like this, you will be very popular!
Allison McDonald is the mom and former preschool teacher behind the popular early learning blog No Time For Flash Cards. She lives in a yellow farmhouse outside of Seattle with her son, daughter and husband Jason.