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Searching for Playdate Ideas? Why You Should Not Plan Your Child’s Playdate

Playdates are a vital part of growing up. We all remember the excitement and anticipation we felt at school, knowing that when the bell went, your friend would be coming home with you.

Looking for Playdate Activities and Ideas?

But here’s the question. As a parent, do you look forward to having some time to yourself while your child plays with their friend, or have you been up all night planning how you are going to keep the kids occupied all afternoon?

Is the afternoon going to go something like this?

13:00    Make lunch

13:30    Thread beaded necklaces

14:00    Finger-paint cards

14:45    Snack time

15:00    Take the kids to the bunny park up the road

16:00    Make bunny biscuits

17:00    Set up the tent in the living room

Tent in the living room

Sound exhausting? That’s because it is. It is also totally unnecessary.

I once had an interesting chat with the occupational therapist who worked at the school I used to teach at. We were discussing why so many children were in various therapies nowadays, such as:

  • Physiotherapy
  • Occupational therapy
  • Speech therapy
  • Remedial therapy
  • Play therapy

It seemed that so many children needed some form of support or intervention and were struggling to cope in the school system.

We discussed what I believed to be the main reason so many children are struggling to cope – they don’t play enough. She agreed wholeheartedly but added something that really got me thinking.

Children’s playdates have become almost completely adult-guided which means they do not really reap the same benefits that children used to get from such important play sessions.

She was 100% correct.

Parents plan these fun afternoons with the best of intentions. They want their children to have fun and they want the friend to feel welcome and enjoy being around their child.

Sometimes, there can also be pressure to “put on the best performance” and make sure the child does not go home and say they were bored.

In some cases, children don’t even have these play dates at home anymore. They are taken from one exciting, stimulating place to the next.

Think back to a time when you as a parent had playdates. Who was in charge of the activities? Did you often end up fighting and in tears? What did you do to stay entertained?

I have such great memories of my playdates, though there is one thing that was almost never in this memory – my mom! She would pick us up from school, help us make lunch, and then pop her head into my room a while later to say my friend’s parents had arrived to fetch her.

So why has this changed so much and are we doing our children a favour by robbing them of these opportunities to be free with their friends? Here are five major benefits children will derive if they are left to their own devices on playdates.

The Value of Playdates

1. Social development

When children play together they develop many social skills.

Conflict resolution is the ability to sort through problems without needing adult guidance.

During playdates, children will frequently disagree or have fights, and they often end up in tears. They argue over what to play, how to play it, whether the rules are fair, etc.

Children being disciplined

They also learn how to compromise, manage each other’s feelings and fix problems so they can continue playing. When all their activities are planned, the prep work and negotiating are already done for them.

Also, when parents intervene too often, their children do not learn how to solve problems independently, but rather they depend on them and expect them to solve them.

It is not the worst thing in the world if the kids have a fight. Let them do it – they are learning!

Social development involves learning to collaborate with friends and work together as a team. It entails learning skills such as how to be assertive about your own needs, without being bossy or controlling, and how to compromise when making decisions.

Children must be given chances to figure out for themselves what behaviours are socially acceptable.

Why you should not plan your child's playdate - Pinterest image

2. Motor skills

The best way for children to develop their gross motor skills is through tons of free play.

There is a place for adult-guided movement activities (such as obstacle races and sports with rules) but there is so much value in allowing children to move freely.

Movement skills such as catching, pushing, leaping, running, balancing, galloping, climbing, etc., are very important gross motor activities that children should be encouraged to do on a daily basis.

Gross motor skills must be developed in a child before the fine motor skills are tuned. So, basically, if your children are going to learn to read and write, they must develop their gross motor skills first.

Don’t be afraid to send the kids outside to invent their own games and run around freely.

3. Imagination and Creativity

When two friends are searching for an exciting game to play, they often land up inventing a world of their own and engaging in fantasy play. This is one of the most beneficial types of play there is.

Setting up this fantasy world involves delving into the imagination and working the creative mind in many ways. This can be lost when a perfectly packaged game has been set up by a well-meaning parent.

Creativity and imagination are skills that adults need in order to be successful in their careers as well as in their life.

4. Cognitive Skills

Playing something as simple as a board game involves many cognitive skills. Children have to understand the rules and purpose of the game, and develop a strategy for playing it.

Children playing a board game

Your amazing store-bought tee-pee may be lots of fun for a while but just imagine how much thinking and problem solving would go into trying to make a tent, fort or castle out of the blankets and chairs in the living room.

They would need to find a way to hold it up, make it balance, block out the light, create height, etc.

It sounds harmless but just how many learning opportunities would have been lost on the store-bought tee-pee?

5. Independence

When children run their own playdates they take ownership of entertaining their friends, making sure they are happy and managing the situation. They develop a sense of independence and will not automatically look for a parent to solve conflicts and find entertainment.

Allow your children space to be and you are giving them a message that you trust them to take care of their friend. They will enjoy having this role.

There is really no harm in occasionally planning a fun activity for the kids to do, however, when this is done in an attempt to fill up every two minutes of the day in order to avoid boredom, your children are missing out on the real value of these play sessions.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this and will be inspired to let your kids take the lead next time! 

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Monday 24th of April 2023

Can I ask you a question, Tana?

Is it good idea for a 4yr old boy to have exclusive father-son time say, once a fortnight? If yes, what should it consist of? Games? chat?

Would it be good to use this time to instill some values in the child? If so, how do you go about without it getting boring or preachy? Are there games that can be used to instill values?

I would greatly appreciate any suggestions. Thanks

Tanja Mcilroy

Tuesday 2nd of May 2023

Any time spent with a child, where a parent gives undivided attention is always beneficial! I wouldn't try too hard to turn it into a lesson but you could certainly play some games that are educational and bonding at the same time. games like "I spy with my little eye" or "simon Says" are a good idea. Values are almost always learnt by watching parents and caregivers, so model the behaviour and values you both want to see you son develop. All the best!


Monday 24th of April 2023

Great observations and a lot of sensible advice for parents. Keep up the good work, Tanja.

Tanja Mcilroy

Tuesday 2nd of May 2023

Thanks Anita!


Sunday 8th of November 2020

Read it with interest even though our kids are now 15 and 13! Such good advice as always, Tanja. What a great resource your articles are.

Tanja Mcilroy

Wednesday 11th of November 2020

Thanks so much Louise!

Samantha T

Tuesday 19th of May 2020

Hey Tanija,

This is an awesome post. I appreciate the schedule shared in this post..One more thing I do agree with you that there has been a significant difference between playdates we had during our childhood and what we do now with our kids these days...

Great post! I connect with it so much

Tanja Mcilroy

Friday 22nd of May 2020

Thanks for your comment Samantha. Glad you enjoyed the article! Tanja

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