● By Wendy Sipple
In a family with young children, the mere mention of a “play date” typically results in squeals of delight.
And the kids often get pretty excited too. Play dates are set-aside times that give younger children the ability to interact with each other as they learn valuable life lessons such as building friendships, sharing, problem solving and empathy.
But as parents report, play dates can be valued times for adults too. They offer opportunities for parents of same age children to share child-rearing notes and advice, or simply visit and socialize with each other.
Where to Go and What to Do
Fun and effective play dates can be held just about anywhere. While most take place at individual homes, the informal gatherings can just as easily be organized at local parks. Depending upon the age of the children, host parents sometimes provide a theme or organized activity to encourage group interaction. Whether parallel playing as infants or exploring imaginations as preschoolers, children enjoy a unique chance to develop social skills in a safe and supervised setting.
Organized Fun Builds Friendships
When play dates are regularly scheduled with the same group of children, the ensuing “playgroups” provide even more benefits. Many area moms groups, including Sierra Moms, MOPS, MOMS Club and the El Dorado Mothers of Multiples offer playgroups as the main attraction for members.
Kristen Scifres, president of the Granite Bay/East Roseville chapter of MOMS Club, an international support network with six different chapters throughout Placer and El Dorado counties, says playgroups play a vital role in her club.
“Playgroups give children an opportunity to start playing with each other at a very young age,” says Scifres. “Set playgroups allow children one-on-one play time with kids they see on a regular basis, so they really get to form friendships.” And Scifres says because kids in regional playgroups like MOMS Club usually live near each other, they often go on to elementary school together and maintain those friendship bonds.
Scifres is quick to point out the benefit of playgroups to adults as well. “Especially for first-time moms, it can be an isolating experience to stay at home with a newborn or young child,” she explains. “Many moms come from professional careers where they went out to business lunches and socialized with coworkers – opportunities they no longer have. So going to playgroups allows them to network with other adults.”
Tips for Successful Play-Dating
According to Scifres, there are a few simple rules for ensuring a successful playgroup.
- Make It a Priority – “Parents have to be dedicated,” she says. “It’s easy to brush off playgroup to go run errands, but the key to success is having the same kids each week so those friendships are developed.”
- Keep It Fresh – “It’s important to ‘switch it up’ in terms of locations and activities, so kids find it exciting to go to playgroup each week.”
- Stay Close, But Don’t Hover – “Young kids are still learning how to play with each other, so it’s important that parents are nearby to intervene if necessary,” she cautions. “But it’s also a nice opportunity for kids to learn how to work things out themselves.”
- Maintain Good Playgroup Etiquette – Scifres says it’s also important to maintain unspoken policies like keeping sick children home, being vigilant about behavioral issues, rotating hosting responsibilities, and helping children clean up at the end of each session.