Planning a Play Date with Toddlers, Activities

By Pamela Kock

Successful play dates for toddlers take a bit of planning, but the rewards can be great.

Two-year-olds are usually ready and eager to make friends and play with (or at least alongside) other kids. Play dates can be filled with toddler games that help them learn about sharing, respecting the rights and feelings of others, and working out disagreements.

Simply putting two toddlers in a room together won't guarantee they'll have a good time, though. A bit of planning and toddler activities the toddlers' can increase the chance of success.

Find the Right Friend

The play date is not a new concept, though the term is fairly new. Kids have been playing together since the beginning of time, but smaller family sizes and today's busy lifestyles lead to fewer opportunities for young children to interact. Play dates for two- to 3-year-olds work best if they're limited to two children close in age, somewhat structured in terms of activities, and supervised by both sets of parents.

Many parents are lucky enough to have built-in playmates for their children through neighbors, friends, or family members. Others have to search them out. Local parenting support groups, churches, childcares, and other social organizations are good places to look.

At this age, it shouldn't matter if the kids are the same gender. A more important issue is matching up the interests and personalities of the children.

Prepare the Scene for the Toddler and Activities

Planning the play date in advance will help it go more smoothly. Try to schedule it at a time when both children are well rested, have recently eaten and are generally more likely to be in a good mood.

Supply enough toys so that each child has a variety to choose from, but not so many that they're overloaded with choices. Duplicate toys are a good idea, but be prepared for one child to claim both! It's also a good idea to put away toys that one child particularly loves, because he might be very upset if the other child wants it.

Structured activities such as finger painting or a craft idea can help, but don't push them if the children aren't interested. Also, don't be alarmed if the children don't play together. At this age, they get a lot of value from simply being together and playing side by side.

Keep Activities for Toddlers Short

Two and 3 year olds have short attention spans, and play dates should be fairly short as well. It might be best to limit the play date to a half-hour at first and try a longer period the next time.

Even during a short, 30-minute session, breaks will be welcome. You might offer a snack, move the play to a new location or change activities.

Be a Good Guest

Children aren't the only ones who must behave properly during play dates. Parents and caregivers need to respect each other as well, especially if they're not already good friends. It might seem obvious, but children shouldn't attend a play date if they're not completely healthy.

Be responsible for your own child; don't expect the other parent to handle all of the problems. Help with cleanup or at least offer. Be on time whenever possible, though most parents will understand how hard it can be to get a young child out the door.

Setting up a play date doesn't have to be hard, but a bit of planning can increase the chances that your child will have a great time. It's a great opportunity for calm, controlled and structured social activity that will teach your child a lot about getting along with others and prepare him for future success.

Pamela Kock is a mother and freelance writer in Ohio.