It’s easy to fall into a slump when planning play dates for your kids. They need a variety of activities to keep them  engaged and excited.  When planning play dates, try to think outside-the-box and brainstorm new and interesting play date ideas. Here are a few simple tips to spice up your kids’ play dates:

• Even a simple outing like walking around the block or going to the park can be exciting to a toddler. Play “I Spy” while you walk and look for specific items such as  butterflies, bird nests or even dandelions. Get them involved in experiencing the wonders of being outside. Equip them with a pail and go on a scavenger hunt.  Send them on a mission to collect rocks, leaves or pinecones. Then you can even use these items to make a simple craft when you go back indoors!

• Tiny tots are little balls of energy. If weather is keeping you indoors, turn on some age appropriate music and let the kids dance it out.  Encourage them to boogie woogie to high energy music, then find a seat when the music stops. Unlike Musical Chairs, no one is left out. Include their favorite doll or stuffed toy to join the game. If you have room, you can even have them play musical freeze tag. Once a child is touched, they have to stand still until the music stops.

• Making a simple craft is always a hit with little ones. Helping toddlers use crayons or yarn to create a mask, or trace their hand to make a turkey provides fun entertainment and it helps to engage their imagination and work on fine motor skills. Keep construction paper, glue, pom poms, stickers, crayons and scissors on hand for rainy days.

• If you need to dial down the energy of a play date, build an indoor tent for story time. Line the floor with a fluffy blanket and throw pillows for everyone to get comfy and read some great books like Sandra Boynton’s Blue Hat, Green Hat or Dr. Seuss’ Red Fish, Blue Fish.

• Kids love to play ball, but it takes some practice to master catching and throwing. Have the kids sit or stand in a circle and practice throwing balls of different sizes and textures to each other. Practice counting as each child passes the ball. Cheer when each child catches or throws the ball. If room permits, let the kids practice gently kicking a rubber ball to each other around the circle.

• Build a castle with small empty boxes. Kids love boxes! Let the kids stack them into shapes and supply colored chalk for the kids to decorate the sides by drawing bricks, windows and entry ways. They can even add flowers and grass to the bottom of the walls. This can be a fantastic indoor or outdoor activity that will keep them busy for hours.

• Bring back the classic outdoor games. Remember wheel barrow races, capture the flag, potato sack races, flashlight tag, kick the can, running through the sprinkler, hopscotch, spud and so many more!? These games have stood the test of time and are sure to fill a play date with fun and laughter, not to mention burn off some energy!

Talk with the parents in your play group or the friends you play with and discuss what kinds of things your kids enjoy, then brainstorm ideas that the kids can also benefit from. Plan activities that help kids practice a new skill while playing to help get them ready for pre-school and kindergarten. Create a calendar of planned activities and be sure to include which parent will be responsible for hosting each week. Play dates are more fun for kids and parents when there is structure and an objective.

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