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Playdates are so much fun for our little ones – and they should be fun for us grown ups too.  They don’t need to be hugely stressful in any respect.  Preparing for having friends over should be a pleasure [besides panicking that you don’t have a spotless living room or a well organised kitchen] and whilst I know that if you’re like me, the chances are that you’re worrying over what might be down the back of the sofa that needs to be retrieved before your friends arrive tomorrow, having something for the little ones to actually do when they get together can be simple and take seconds.  Well, minutes anyway.

I’ve put together a list of our ten most favourite ways to spend a playdate here that won’t cost you the earth, or your sanity – and if all else fails, the great outdoors always provides a great opportunity for free play.

1. Scavenger Hunt

We adore scavenger hunts!  The last one we had was at Hero’s birthday BBQ this year at the beach.  This idea works really well on special occasions – we do Easter playdate hunts when we pop on bunny ears and hop about the backyard to see what the Easter Bunny has left for our friends, and after the fun of Christmas has passed, our boys always discover a note from Mrs. Christmas to ask for our help.  Father Christmas always leaves bits behind or they fall from his sleigh in the back garden.  For a hunt, just give them little baskets or bags and away they go!  If you have time and a printer, you can make up a little picture checklist of things to hunt for beforehand to give them an idea of the items they are looking for.  Scavenger hunts in any season are so easy to prepare for – and you can search anywhere for something crunchy, something hard, something rough – the possibilities are endless.

2. Planting [with follow on playdates of grass hairdressers or adopt a plant shop]

This one is so easy to get ready for.  A bag of top soil for around £3 from the supermarket, and some little pots and seeds can turn your afternoon into a gardening playdate!  Filling up the pots with soil, picking out a seed and watering is such an accomplishment when you’re little!  If you’re not squeamish you can even teach them how to bring worms to the surface or go on a mini beast hunt.  A few weeks [or days, depending on what you planted] later, there are then little sprouts which are ready to be sold in a role play shop, or grass and cress heads which need a haircut!  We did sunflowers a couple of years ago that the boys gave to their friends when they visited their “Adopt a Sunflower” stall in the backyard.

3. Bubbles Car Test Track

This is one of our favourite playdates ever.  Each child brings with them one or two of their ride on toys from home to the park or to whomever had room in their backyard for hosting a ride-on playdate, and the grown ups put obstacles for them to drive around.  The ride ons are left for everyone to share, because they love trying out a new car or bicycle, and we also turn on the bubble machine as a car wash for them to drive through.  We get through quite a lot of bubble mix and so it’s turned on and off at intervals which makes it even more exciting.

4. Create Your Own Super Hero

If I had to guess which toys were going to be strewn all over the boys’ bedroom floor at the end of every day, it would be the dress up box.  Hats, glasses, clothes they’ve grown out of and proper store bought dressing up costumes, they’re mixed and matched and worn daily.  Their favourites are the Christmas Elf costumes and Halloween masks and other random bits and pieces that have been added in, and they give hours and hours of play value.  Invite the little ones to have a rummage and try on the things that they like, and transform themselves into someone else for the afternoon!

5. Free Play Modelling Clay

If there’s anything that can guarantee silence with my boys and intense concentration, it’s modelling clay .  Homemade is their favourite as it can be coloured, and filled with glitter.  It’s free play and needs no direction.  If you don’t have any modelling utensils a simple spoon and your rolling pin and some cookie cutters are just as good.  We have some little press out cookie stampers that we got online for about 25p each – they cut out the shape and add detail to the surface too!  This playdate also lends itself to talking about colours, shapes, lengths, counting…it’s pretty amazing.

6. The Café Sandpit

My boys love playing shops and restaurants in the sand pit.  They create sandwiches [haha], cakes and drinks, and sell them to customers – or cut them up themselves over and over.  Sand moulds are very inexpensive to find in large stores but have terrific play value and can be washed, stored outside and used for years.

7. The Car Wash Water Play

Water play is even more fun when there’s a purpose – give them buckets of warm, soapy water with soft washing up sponges and get out the big outdoor toys that need a clean. Our car wash is a huge hit as they wash and dry the ride on toys – just remember to let other moms and dads know to pack spare clothes for this playdate!

8. Spoon, Paper Bag or Sock Puppets

There’s nothing more fun than making and naming your own puppet when you’re little.  Decorating a paper bag or sock with large, self adhesive foam pieces and boggly eyes then makes for the best imaginary play.  Get out the ribbons, wool, sequins and buttons, some PVA [with supervision] and glitter glue and there’s an afternoon of make believe ahead with a take home at the end for everyone.

9. Finger or Potato Painting

This one gets messy and is best left for the warmer times of the year when they can really squish the paint through their fingers, but if you are doing it in the house then a water colour palette can create less mess and result in some pretty little pieces for your art wall! We use a roll of paper across the floor and paper plates filled with paint for the big, smooshy paints.

10. What’s hiding? Water Beads Sensory Play

Sensory play is one of my boys’ favourite kinds of activity.  Under adult supervision, playing a kind of lucky dip in water beads is even more exciting. Water beads cost so little and we always have the little packets around the house because they’re so tactile and versatile – this Halloween we’ve used them in apothecary jars as a window display of witches’ potions!  For your fun playdate, simply fill a bucket with water and scatter the beads in the might before they’re needed and in the morning you have everything you need for the base of your playdate.  Add in some little containers and utensils, or hide plastic figures underneath the beads, and you’re ready to go!

If it’s warm outside, we take ours and pour them into one of the water play stands outdoors as they tend to be bouncy little beads – but even if they’re in the house and go everywhere, they simply dehydrate over a couple of days and you can vacuum up any that you find later!

So those are ten of our favourite ideas for playdates – if you have any you’d like to share, we’d love to hear about them!

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