1. Activity Prep
I always recommend preparing at least one structured activity –especially for our younger friends. Some simple ideas could be an easy cooking activity, a fun craft, an obstacle course, or a scavenger hunt. It’s also best to have a few unstructured activities in your back pocket in case you have little ones over who aren’t quite sure how to get the play started. Easy fixes here could be board games, train tracks, a dollhouse, dress up, or a playdough table. The more prepared you are, the smoother the activity transitions will be!
2. Set the Rules
Your house, your rules! All kids do best when there are clear expectations set for them. Make sure to set the ground rules before your tiny friends start playing. I would say give a maximum of 5 basic rules so that it’s easier for everyone to remember and for you to remind if needed (e.g. inside voices, take turns, use kind words, etc.). Kids learn in context so it is totally appropriate for you to have specific ‘playdate rules’ that may be different than your everyday rules for your child.
3. Snack Right
Everyone behaves better with a full tummy! Make sure to have some healthy, protein-full snacks ready. Check with the other parents for dietary restrictions before you prep. Some easy snacks include: veggie sticks and peanut butter, turkey and cheese roll-ups, Greek yogurt with fruity and/or sweet toppings, smoothies, hummus and pita, or hard-boiled eggs.
4. Hide the Hinderers
We all know the toys in our homes that are bound to cause trouble. Maybe it’s the iPad or maybe it’s the car slide –whatever it is, hide it! Make your life easier and ensure that the troublesome activities are put away. You don’t want to have to deal with a toy that no one wants to share or an activity that causes a child to tune out and ignore others.
5. Be Ready to Step In
Depending on the children’s ages, you may have to be actively involved or you may be able to hang out in another room. Either way, be ready to step in if need be. You always want to make sure you can hear what is going on so that it’s seamless if you need to intervene. Having to ask “what happened?” and hearing varying stories is not fun for anyone and often leads to an unnecessary back and forth. We want to make sure that everyone is getting along and following the rules. It is way easier to prevent an incident with a quick reminder than to have to deal with the aftermath of a struggle.
Molly Dresner is a Speech-Language Pathologist based in New York City.
She recently authored The Speech Teacher’s Handbook, an engaging parent guide that includes practical and easy-to-follow tips and activities to help you help your little one!