It’s that time of year again, the wonderful Australian Summer’s here and so is the big holiday break where kids get that freedom from formal learning! But with the structure gone, often kids (and parents!) find it challenging to come up with novel and fun ideas to fill the holidays. Playdates are a great way to make the most of this time away from the structured school environment and to help foster your child’s social interaction skills with a playmate.
Play benefits all children, but for some, playtime doesn’t necessarily come naturally, and these kiddos may need a little more guidance, for example, finding someone to play with, taking turns, or having a conversation.
Below are some useful tips to help nurture and empower your child in their play experience and also some activity ideas for their playdates.
Finding a Playmate
Your child may already have a pool of friends ready to invite over for some fun, but many children may need some support in finding a ‘good match’ to have an engaging play with another child. Often teachers have a great insight as to what your child’s personality is like and who they tend to interact with, so a quick email or phone call and having a chat about this can be quite beneficial in setting up a playdate.
Group activities your child attends, such as birthdays, team sports, clubs etc. can also be an excellent environment for you as parents to observe what other kids your child naturally gravitates to and vice versa. In this way, your child is already interacting with other children who have similar interests, e.g. Chess club or Karate.
Involve your Child in Planning a Playdate
Parents pretty much have a PHD in planning and scheduling appointments here and there around their children’s various commitments. Still, with some downtime in the holidays, it’s a beautiful opportunity to get the kids involved in planning something they will essentially be the experts at – play.
Once you’ve both spoken about who your child would like to have a play date with, brainstorm with your child whether they’d prefer indoor or outdoor based activities or both; a more structured play date such as going to the movies or FlipOut; or merely having fun around the home.
Often kids like to know what’s happening, and this way, they will have a bit more control and build confidence in initiating their play process. It may also be a good idea to begin with a shorter play date (40 – 60minutes) if your child’s friend is new and you’re not sure how they will go together. This way, there is no pressure to ‘force’ the play/interaction if things go pear shape.
The Fun Bit – What to Play?
So, we have a playmate and scheduled a date and place, and now we just need to fill out that time with some fun engaging play. Again, get the kids involved with brainstorming some activities to play with their mate, and as parents, you can facilitate your child’s shared interests in choosing what activities to place on the agenda.
If you find yourself stuck for ideas here are some awesome playdate activities that usually get a 10 out of 10 on the fun scale:
Building an Obstacle Course
Use indoor or outdoor furniture, cardboard boxes, cushions, anything the kids can find! This activity is a good one to help kids work together and encourage communication between one another to create a start, middle, and endpoint to their obstacle course.
Sensory Treasure Hunt
This one is great to get the kids outdoors and off the screens! Go for a bushwalk or use the backyard or local park and give the kids a ‘treasure hunt list’ that includes finding items that stimulate their different senses. For example, ask them to find something:
- crunchy (like crumpling a dried leaf)
- that smells interesting (perhaps a eucalyptus tree)
- that looks amazing (could be a flower)
- that makes a noise (such as a local bird).
Again, this encourages kids to work together but also strike up a conversation about their findings and sharing them, e.g. ‘This flower is pretty; do you like it?’
If your child shares a similar interest to cook and get creative in the kitchen, then this can be a fun way to build team skills, social communication, and follow a plan. All you need is an assortment of easy-to-cut fruits and snacks (like peeled bananas, strawberries, string cheese, or cooked carrots) and kid-friendly cutlery. Provide them with a cutting board and a platter to arrange their finger foods on, add some dipping sauces, and voilà, you’ve got a half-hour activity that’s part art, part nutrition, and part social skills builder.
Indoor or Outdoor Fort
Another cheap as chips idea that sparks pretend and imaginative play! Your kids can build an indoor fort using blankets, cushions, chairs, to make a tent or fort with their playmate. Once created, the fort can then be used for pretend play scenarios such as going camping, fort battles, and of course, hide and seek. This one will keep them busy for hours – just make sure you set the rules for helping to pack away after before they get started!
Painting and Craft
A fun way to engage kids with fine motor skills but also let their creativity run wild. Get huge pieces of scrap paper, and the kids can create a giant mural using their hands, cotton balls, or the standard paintbrush. They could even paint a race track so that when it dries, they can get their toy cars and play races (one way to get boys more involved with their fine motor!).
Board games have come along way, but even some of the classics can still provide endless fun. Suppose your kiddo prefers more ‘quiet’ activities and has a friend who shares similar play traits in this way. Why not have a ‘chess tournament’ or even Uno – one of my favourites at the moment is Conversation Uno: You have the same rules and coloured cards with numbers/reverse/wild card etc., but on each card, there is a question you have to ask a player. A great way to help kids develop their communication skills and hold a conversation with a playmate!
There is an abundance of learning that happens when kids participate in play – we intermingle with people of all characters and abilities and learning from each other can genuinely enhance our life. And just remember when learning a skill, we all make mistakes, so don’t put pressure on yourself as a parent to set up the ‘perfect playdate’. Our children benefit from every social interaction opportunity, so pat yourself on the back and embrace watching the dynamics of your kiddo’s friendships bloom.