Just because it's scheduled time doesn’t mean it lacks imagination.
Kids need to play in order to practice creativity and flexibility, solve problems and learn ways to regulate emotions, and I’ve already addressed the importance of play in this blog post. A new phenomenon in play has evolved since I was a child, the scheduled play date. The play date has been getting some negative press recently, with people listing all the things they don’t like about them. There are pros and cons to everything, so I decided to explain why I appreciate play dates. I’ve found them to be helpful for a number of the children I‘ve worked with over the years, and I schedule play dates for my own children from time to time.
Some kids simply don't live in neighborhoods with other children in their age range. The children can’t just go out and play with the neighborhood kids because they don’t exist. Or maybe there isn’t a play area around your immediate neighborhood, like in the middle of a city. If you want them to play with others, it takes a little bit more planning and coordination.
The reality is that most kids participate in at least one activity, and you have to work around schedules. Sometimes kids have Occupational Therapy appointments, Doctor’s appointments or Social Group that also factor into their schedules. We also need to work around sibling’s schedules and parents work schedules, etc. This is a major reason why I plan play dates for my older child. We have a neighbor she loves, but between their different activities, we have to figure out times they can get together and play.
Kids have different abilities when it comes to play. Some kids need more structure to play. What about those kids who don't know how to play naturally? The ones left out because they don't know the social scripts of play yet? If they are left on their own in an unstructured environment, they are the kids that get made fun of, that get left out, and end up isolated. This is the very opposite of what we’d like to see happen.
Just because it's scheduled time doesn’t mean it lacks imagination. In all honesty, for my daughter, I don’t plan any special activities for her and her neighborhood friends. We usually meet at the park, or pick a house where they’ll play. In fact, for a lot of our play dates, we meet at parks. I see a lot of creative, imaginative play at the playground. They have each other, then maybe even find other kids and start to play different games. They play on structures and they pretend. It’s awesome to watch!
I plan play dates for my three year old so he can get better at playing and being around other kids, and people in general. He's shy, super attached to me and has a hard time transitioning. I do make sure to set out certain toys and put away others, but sometimes they don’t play with what I put out at all and that works for me too.
Parenting is a hard, lonely job at times. I recently read an article about missing your village. It resonated with me and made me realize that, in some ways, I try to create my own village by finding people whose kids can play with mine. I’m kind of particular about who I have play dates with, I think there have only been 4 or 5 families over the last couple of years. It is refreshing to talk with another parent about funny kid stories or coffee or gardening, etc. It can be a great way for not only children to connect, but for parents to connect as well.
These are just a few of the pros about having play dates. What are your thoughts on the play date? Do you have them? Or do you avoid them? Let me know what you think!!
This blog post is featured on the Weekend Wind-Down linky party, see it here!