Toddlerhood is a wonderful, wild and dynamic time characterized by pushing boundaries, testing out language and new motor skills, and learning to socialize. It can be a tricky age socially as the developmental range at a toddler playdate is often vast: some kids are chattering away and stacking blocks independently while others need a bit more stimulation and encouragement. And this is the reason I love introducing playdates at this age—kiddos get a change of scenery, interaction with their peers and a chance to begin boosting those early social skills.
Here are five tips that have worked well for us when planning playdates for toddlers.
1. Make a Toddler-Friendly Snack Station
It’s always a great idea to have a few snacks on hand to break up the day and normalize energy levels (of course you’ll want to inquire about allergies ahead of time). I build a snack station just for kiddo snacks using a few clear storage containers, which I love because you can quickly identify what’s in them and get something healthy into small hands in no time. Keep common kid allergens out of your snacks and opt for fruits like apples, which are easy to quickly core and slice. Our toddlers also love homemade wholewheat cheese crackers, veggie chips, and mini muffins. When in doubt, cheerios in snack cups also work well!
2. Offer Toys Galore for Playdates at Home
While this may seem obvious, setting out a bunch of different kinds of toys is the best start to any at-home play date. Sharing isn’t a concept familiar to most toddlers, so if you have a broad range of interactive toys, books and stuffed animals there should be enough to go around. I love using these clear containers to tuck away all the toys and neaten things up once playtime is over, and teaching the kiddos about toy jail.
3. Plan Playdates Around Naps
We always plan playdates around nap schedules so spirits are at their best, and I like to limit each to no more than two hours (which I learned the hard way). The novelty of a new home and a new friend to play with, I find, wears off quickly for toddlers and ending on a high note with waves and kisses is always preferable to a complete meltdown.
4. Mix Up the Scenery with Outdoor Time
While I don’t think you need to have elaborate plans for toddler playdates, a change of scenery can be good if the kids start to seem bored or fussy. If you have a nearby park, that’s an easy choice, but we’ll often just take a walk around the block to point at trees and birds or head out into the backyard to play ball if the weather cooperates. Even in the winter you can get outdoors and avoid cabin fever with your toddlers.
5. Take the Backseat
Taking a step back and not interfering with spontaneous play is something I’ve struggled with as a new parent, but if the kiddos are playing well on their own, let them be! They may not need you every moment of the play date—so while I keep a side eye on them to ensure everyone’s safe, whipping out my french press and making a second cup of coffee for myself is always a good idea.
Want to make a playdate with your own toddler? Pick up some kid-friendly cooking tools and cook up a mini feast with your tot.