Play based learning is proven to be the most effective for young children. One of the benefits of play based learning is that it allows children freedom of discovery through toys, their environment and their peers. The importance of play dates encompasses everything that is critical about play based learning and it gives moms a chance to socialize as well.
Many people wonder when the importance of play dates takes effect. Is it really necessary to schedule play dates for babies? Here’s a timeline of what to expect from play dates:
0-2 months: You should probably avoid play dates at this young age. Your baby’s immune system is very immature and exposure to too many germs outside the home could be dangerous.
2-6 months: Play dates in early infancy are mostly for the moms, but that’s OK! If you’d be alone at home doing sensory activities or taking a walk in the neighborhood you may as well do it with another mom and baby pair. In fact, this may be a great time to get out and about for an activity that the moms would enjoy, like visiting a museum or heading to the mall. Each new place offers so much for your baby to see, smell, hear and absorb. As long as you continue to engage your baby throughout, doing something for yourself before your baby becomes mobile is smart.
6-12 months: Starting around six months individual play during play dates is a great idea. Your baby will be able to observe other babies and parents while still getting her own mom’s attention. And she may just get some good ideas from what other babies are doing, such as rolling over, crawling or babbling. Make sure there are plenty of toys to go around because babies of this age won’t enjoy sharing. Playing music, singing, dancing and playing instruments is a good unified activity for part of an infant play date.
12-18 months: Parallel play will be in full swing as your child becomes a toddler. She’ll have her own agenda during play time but should be able to peacefully play next to others. You can demonstrate social norms and etiquette by modeling good behavior. If your little one wants a toy that another child has, ask to have a turn after he’s done and say thank you when you get the toy. When conflict arises, quickly explain the appropriate behavior and then distract your child with another fun activity. If you are too nervous to try a messy activity like painting or digging in the dirt on your own, doing it with other moms in a play date may help you brave the chaos.
18-24 months: Your child may now be ready to engage with other kids. Some children easily fall into a rhythm together while others may need some suggestions to help them come up with a mutual activity. Playing with balls, building with blocks or playing simple games like “duck duck goose” are fun for kids this age. Sharing may still be hard but continue to reinforce appropriate sharing behavior and taking turns.
2 years +: The importance of play dates is completely evitable by age 2. Children are usually playing with one another and communicating their ideas, although sometimes not always articulately and effectively. Being around to supervise and ease conflict is a good idea. As your child matures, you can teach her conflict resolution skills to help her resolve play date tiffs. There is no set age for starting drop-off play dates. It is up to you and your child to determine when she is ready for mom to leave for a while. Parents should also feel comfortable with the play mate’s parents’ supervision and their home before agreeing to drop-off play dates.
Tomorrow we’ll conclude our series on the importance of play dates by going over some ground rules for successful play dates.
Sources: Café Mom, Everyday Family, Parents, Mom.me and Education.com