Last year, when my oldest son was in a 3-year-old preschool class, I wanted to ask one of the moms for a play date. We each have two sons around the same ages, and we had been chatting for a few months during drop off and pick up times. It seemed like a good idea to me. My intention was to ask if they wanted to meet up at the Strong National Museum of Play on a non-school day. Here's what actually transpired right after class one sunny afternoon:
Me: So, do you guys, like, belong to Strong or anything?
Mom 2: Well, my husband works at Strong Memorial.
Me: Oh, I meant the museum. If you guys are members, maybe we can meet there one day.
Mom 2: You know what's great? I've taken Alex* there while Jake* is at preschool. It's not much time but it's really fun for him.
Me: That's a really great idea. (cue my youngest falling down and crying in the background) Ooh, I've gotta go!
* Names have been changed.
True story. It's been over a year now and we still have never gotten together. However, we've had many wonderful play dates with other friends, thank you very much. And I've gathered many tips based on my new-found knowledge and experiences. So, please, avoid the awkward phase of play-dating and follow these helpful hints.
ROCmomma's Guide to Super Play Dates
The AskWhen you ask another parent to schedule a play date, there are a few things to keep in mind.
- Would you like to meet somewhere, or invite them to your house?
- Would you like the parent to stay and help supervise?
- For preschoolers and toddlers, 2 hours is a good length of time for a play date. Be sure to specify an end time as well as a start time if the play date is at your house.
If you don't know the family well, or have never been to their house, you can always be up front and say, "Yes, and I'd like to come too to help supervise." If the other parent opposes the idea, you can say, "Sometimes Sophie doesn't feel comfortable in a new place without me. I'd really like to be with her for the first play date, if that's okay with you." Or you can always offer to host, this way it's not an issue. If the other parent continues to oppose, it's okay to be an overprotective parent and decline this time around. After all, YOU are the one looking out for your child's best interests.
- Toddlers, preschoolers, and even Kindergarteners will benefit from 1-2 play dates per week. Any more than that is a bit overkill.
- Your child's play date should be close in age, but does not need to be the same gender. Around 5 or 6 years old, gender becomes an issue for some kids.
- One friend at a time per play date is a good idea. Younger children may become overwhelmed with more playmates; older children may pair off, leaving one child feeling excluded.
- If you are scheduling multiple play dates for your child during the week or month, try to vary the locations. Some ideas in the Rochester area include: Strong National Museum of Play, Rochester Museum & Science Center, Seneca Park Zoo, The Sandbox (Fairport), Wickham Farms (Penfield), Clubhouse Fun Center (Henrietta), Bounce It Out (Pittsford), Clover Lanes (Pittsford), and Kango Play Center (Rochester).
- If the play date is at your house, put away any favorite toys that your child might not want to share.
- If you have pets, consider putting them in a room away from where the playing will take place. This is for your guests' comfort as well as the animal's. You never know when a child will pull a tail, or when an animal simply will not feel like being hospitable.
- If your child isn't feeling well that day, reschedule.
- If you're meeting on neutral ground, such as a play center, museum, playground, et cetera, then you won't need to worry about activities.
- A two-hour play date at home will probably work out this way: play time, snack, play time, clean up.
- Play dates at home will undoubtedly include playing with toys. However, some other indoor activity ideas include: crafts, Play Doh, dress up (yes, even for boys!), freeze dance, and baking treats.
- Outdoor activity ideas include: bubbles, silly string, Tag, Ring Around the Rosie, Duck Duck Goose, Hot Potato, simple relay races or running races, and an exploration (go for a walk and give each child a pail to collect leaves, pine cones, and acorns along the way).
- Be sure to ask the parent about allergies ahead of time.
- If you're meeting somewhere, you could each bring a snack to share or alternate bringing snacks for this date and next time.
- Keep snack time fun by making snacks all one color or all one shape. Try green grapes & Veggie Pirate's Booty for green snacks; peach slices & banana yogurt for yellow snacks; kiwi or orange slices, mini Babybel cheese, & mini muffins for circles; cubes of melon, cubes of cheese, & whole wheat crackers for squares; strawberry slices & grilled cheese cut into triangles; or string cheese, pretzel logs, & carrot sticks for lines.
More Than Snacks
- Most often, we have play dates right after preschool (which ends at 11:30), so this means lunch.
- For the kids, I always keep the following on hand: organic macaroni & cheese, peanut butter & jelly, Sun Butter as a nut-free peanut butter alternative, frozen organic meat-free "chik'n" nuggets, yogurt, grapes, apples, string cheese, baby carrots, raisins, applesauce
- I've stopped stressing about what to feed the moms and just have a few lunch tricks up my sleeve. When it's chilly out, my go-to menus are Minestrone and Baked Potatoes, or Black Bean Soup and Cheese Quesadillas. On warmer days my favorites are Apple-Feta Salad and Fruit Salsa with Cinnamon Pita Chips, or Spinach-Mandarin Salad and Chickpea Salad Sandwiches. Or never underestimate a buffet-style spread of hummus & veggies, cheese & crackers, and some grapes or berries. Almost every one of these ideas can be adjusted for vegans or gluten-free diets. And the best part is that they can all be prepped the night before, with minimal hands-on time during the play date.
- For recipes, please scroll to the end. Enjoy!
Play dates require a little bit of work ahead of time, but they are well worth it. Your kids will have fun. You'll get to speak with someone who uses real words and full sentences. It's a win-win.
If you have any great play-date tips to share, please post them in the Comments section. As always, thanks for reading!
Bonus ROCmomma Super Play Date Recipe Section
1. In a soup pot, saute about 3 cups chopped vegetables (onions, celery, carrots, zucchini, etc.) in 1 Tbsp. olive oil over medium heat, 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
2. Sprinkle in 1 Tbsp. Italian seasoning, stir.
3. Add 28 oz. diced tomatoes or fire-roasted diced tomatoes, 2 cups vegetable broth, 2 cups water, 15 oz. can kidney beans (rinsed, drained), 1 cup frozen Italian-style green beans, and 1 cup small pasta shapes (TIP: Use rice pasta if your guest has gluten allergies).
4. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, covered 30 minutes.
5. If preparing the night before, cool and transfer to fridge. To reheat soup, bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer 15 minutes before serving. Parmesan cheese is a nice garnish.
Fast Baked Potatoes
1. Scrub potatoes then pierce with a fork several times.
2. Place a double-layer of paper towels on microwave-safe plate; arrange potatoes on top and microwave on high 5 minutes.
3. Flip potatoes and microwave on high 5 minutes more.
4. If preparing the night before, transfer to fridge. To reheat potatoes, place on microwave-safe dish and heat 1-2 minutes, until hot all the way through.
5. Serve with salsa, butter/margarine, shredded cheese, sour cream, and/or chives as possible toppings.
Black Bean Soup
1. In a soup pot, saute 1 jar of your favorite Salsa for 5 minutes over medium heat.
2. Add 15 oz. can Fat-Free Refried Beans, and stir well.
3. Add 15 oz. black beans (rinsed and drained), 1 cup frozen corn, and 2 cups vegetable broth. Check the consistency; you may want to add another cup of broth.
4. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, covered, about 20 minutes. (can chill at this point & reheat at serving time)
5. Serve as is or with sour cream, shredded cheese, and/or salsa as garnish.
1. Shred 2-3 oz. cheese per quesadilla ahead of time. A blend of two or more cheeses is always good; I like extra-sharp cheddar and monterey jack. TIP: Cabot brand cheeses are lactose-free, if your guest is lactose intolerant.
2. Heat a skillet over medium heat; spray with cooking spray. Place one tortilla shell in skillet, cover half with shredded cheese, then fold over. Place second tortilla in skillet so that half overlaps the folded shell. Cover the half that's touching the skillet with cheese, then fold the other side over. Now you have 2 quesadillas with the seams next to each other.
3. Cook about 3 minutes per side. Cut with a pizza-cutter and serve wedges with salsa and sour cream.
1. Core & chop 1 Granny Smith apple.
2. Toast 1/3 cup of your favorite nuts in a dry skillet over medium heat for about 5 minutes. Stir often & check often - when the nuts are fragrant and/or start to change to a golden color, immediately transfer them to a bowl to prevent burning. Pecans, walnuts, pine nuts, sliced almonds, or pepitas (pumpkin seeds) all work well.
3. Steps 1 & 2 can be completed ahead of time. At serving time, toss 1-6 oz. bag of Spring Mix (field mix/ mixed greens), 4 oz. crumbled fat-free Feta, 1/2 cup dried cranberries, and the chopped apple and toasted nuts.
4. Serve with balsamic vinaigrette, raspberry vinaigrette, or (if you live near a Wegmans) Wegmans' Poppyseed dressing.
Fruit Salsa with Cinnamon Chips
1. Finely dice 2 Granny Smith apples (peeled, cored), and mix with 2 Tbsp. apricot preserves, and 1 Tbsp. orange juice.
2. Finely dice 1 peach (peeled, pitted), 3 kiwi (peeled), and 1 cup strawberries (hulled). Mix all fruit together. Can be refrigerated 2-3 days. (best on the first or second day, though)
3. Serve with cinnamon chips, such as Stacy's Cinnamon Sugar Pita Chips.
This simple recipe can be found on the Dole web site.
Chickpea Salad Sandwiches
When you're not sure if your guest is a vegetarian, this salad replaces tuna salad for awesome sandwiches.
1. Drain and rinse 15 oz. chick peas. Transfer chick peas to a bowl and mash with a potato masher (or fork).
2. Add 1 cup favorite veggies, diced (green peppers, carrots, and a little red onion are a nice combo), and 1/4 cup sliced almonds (optional).
3. In a small bowl, whisk 6 oz. fat-free plain yogurt, 1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard, 1 tsp. salt-free seasoning such as Mrs. Dash, and 1/4 cup Wegmans Poppyseed dressing (optional). Fold mixture into the chick peas & veggies. Chill for at least one hour to let flavors blend; overnight is better.
4. Serve salad on bread, tortillas, flat breads, or in pitas. Serve with lettuce leaves, sliced tomatoes, dill pickle chips, banana pepper rings, cheese slices, and/or anything else you would put on a tuna salad sandwich.