Play dates aren’t something parents are supposed to dread. Watching your child bloom, share her toys, use his imagination, and problem solve should fill a parent with pride, savoring the occasion, there to witness the exact moments our children will grow to remember warmly. Should. That’s right, a parent should enjoy hosting a play date. My God, though, does anyone?
Every time I offer to host a play date for one of my children, I pat myself on the back, pleased that I’m reciprocating, as they’re often invited to the homes of others, where the mothers are so gracious and relaxed, with a buffet of food from which the children graze: pasta salads, fresh fruit plates, platters of veggies, sliced melons, toasted pita triangles with a variety of dips. But then the day arrives–the day for which I’d set reminders for picking up fresh fruits and purchasing enough pizza to feed a village–the day when the children will soon stomp off the bus, and I spend that day, more than three hours of it, planning and pissing myself. Okay, maybe not pissing, but the polish is definitely chipped off my posy.
“What are you so stressed about?” friends ask. “They’re kids. They’re seven, at that. They figure it out. They’re inventive. You don’t need to be camp director.” These friends are liars.
When Lucas and his two friends remove their shoes and rip up the stairs to the playroom, Abigail and her friend look to me. I could very well direct them to join the boys upstairs, then brace myself for the territorial complaints: the boys aren’t letting us…, the girls keep getting in the way…
I try to think of things we can all do together, Rainbow Loom, for example, but then I’m involved (not all kids have developed the fine motor skills for it). It’s not organic, unstructured play, and that’s the whole point of a play date. At least to me. I feel like kids are always structured and scheduled to a fault, and I want no part of that. Yet. Yet I don’t want the chaos and intervention that inevitably comes when you cram three boys and two girls into ONE PLAY ROOM, without an adult.
Instead, I leave them to play organically, in separate rooms, but I’m prepared, anticipating the complaints about boredom. See, Lucas isn’t into Beyblades or Ninjago or even the ever popular Skylanders or any video game. He prefers imaginative play, “pretend,” building a world of trucks and trains with Batman figures. When the boys begin to ask for video games, I nudge them toward the Citiblocks, asking how high they can build a tower. This and Marble Run are big hits and keep their attention for most of the afternoon. Meanwhile, the girls are coloring Shinky Dinks and making jewelry with beads. So easy. Soon the boys pad their way downstairs asking for something else to do. Rainbow Loom makes an appearance, but the big save, truly, came in a box of cereal. Chex.
Cooking is gender neutral, and especially enjoyed when they’re each given a task, not exactly organic play, but in these elementary school age years, I think they need a bit of both: organic play, and when they start to lose interest, gentle redirection does wonders. What’s more, once the kids took turns reading from the recipe card and making the Chex, we divided it into cupcake wrappers and boxed them up for them to take home, a parting gift from a winter play date, warm inside with sugar and spice.
Saving the day: Shrinky Dinks & Chex Mix. We especially liked the sugar-cookie recipe:
Everyone left the play date with our S’more’s version of Chex Mix (a bit too sweet for my taste), portioned in cupcake wrappers after 15 minutes of prep, including bake time.
The next play date, I’m having all the kids make their own Story Cubes, and letting them decorate their own glass jars, in which to keep their story cubes. Or we’re making Modge Podge Story Stones. I always have to have a little something fun up my sleeve. And the next time we cook, I’m providing them with fabric markers and blank kid aprons to decorate as their food bakes!
* I have been compensated and sent free products from Chex® for my time & commitment, but all opinions are mine, mine, mine.