10 Tips for Fun & Stress-Free Playdates

1)  Something to Munch On
So you knew this was going to be number one tip, right? As a mom of a little with food allergies, I am vigilant about knowing and understanding our little friends food allergies.  But it's also important to know a few things they like and will eat.  Playdates are a great time to expand horizons but makings sure that everybody has something that can and will keep the fueled for a fun day of play is a key ingredient in taming tantrums and inspiring fun.

2)  HYPE! HYPE! Hooray!!
There is nothing wrong with a little well timed hype.  Spend some time talking to your children about your upcoming playdate.  Get them excited about some of the activities and free play time with friends. 

3) All hands on deck ...
Involve your children in some of your playdate preparation.  Let the kids help prep the snacks or get craft activities ready.  It's a great way to keep building excitement and it's a great opportunity for them to experience the joy of making things for others.

4)  NOT MY _________!
Put Away Beloved Toys.  Typically, children have at least one beloved toy.  You know ... the bear they sleep with, the ball they got from granddaddy those sorts of things.  Before we have a playdate, I reserve time to walk through our space and ask my little ones which things they are excited to share and which things do they not want to share.  It's a great way to preempt a tear-filled tug of war during your playdate.  My little ones usually only pick one or two things.  If your little one picks everything in the room it's a great time to have a conversation about sharing and can prep them for the reality of other little munchkins in a space that is usually all their own.  Chat up how much more fun it would be to play a game with that ball when Suzy comes over.

5) Space out!
Think about your space and how your guests might interact with it. We have playful learning spaces in our home like our letter writing center.  The first time I had a group of little friends over, post creation of this center, was an enlightening to say the least.  It was used and abused like NEVER before.  We are still missing two letter stamps.  A ream of about 30 sheets of paper was demolished (we recycled but I still cringe) and crayons, markers and stickers were scattered all over the house.  Lesson learned.  The kiddos had a blast and I have no regrets.  But, now I almost completely deplete the available resources in the center.  I limit or eliminate paper, scissors and markers.  I don't do this because I don't want our friends to enjoy the space, I do it so that they can have the same opportunity to learn the rules as my little ones did.  It's important to remember that when I introduced the space to my little ones, we did it one section at a time.  We learned to respect each resource and already know how use our space.  It's not fair to assume that children that just walk into your home will find it easy to remember and use your rules.  So by scaling back this center I'm able to control the traffic to the space.

6) Plan for the Unexpected
Have a plan A and B and C and maybe D. If you have read my blog for any length of time you know I'm all about creating environments that inspire play without necessarily prescribing play.  But when it comes to playdates I think it's a good idea to have a few focused activities in your back pocket to keep things moving or calm things down.  If it's raining outside and the littles start bouncing off the wall pulling out a fun craft, science experiment or game might be just what you need to keep the fun going without loosing your marbles.

7) Let them be, Let them be ...
Give them room to just be.  Free time should be a staple when friends come over.  One of the best things about having friends to your house is that they will play and interact with your space in ways you and your little ones don't.  Give them time to explore and just be.

8) Find your inner GUMBI!
Flexibility is key. Manage your expectations when it comes to the day.  If you cram your schedule full of perfect activities and fill your heart with expectations for a pintrest perfect day just go ahead and through in the white flag now.  Every time I have had an absolutely awesome playdate I always end up with two or three activities in the closet.   You don't have to do it all.  The focus should be fun, bonding and giggles.

9) Crunch loudly!
One of my favorite mom blogs, The Pistachio Project, (I know the irony of the nutty name is not lost on this peanut allergy mama) did a great series on what it means to be crunchy.  I never thought I would be a crunchy mama, but I am.  I am not the crunchiest mama that I know, but I have discovered that I am crunchier than most.  I do things a little differently, we compost and recycle regularly.  We have a worm farm, I make my own house cleaners and we use unpaper towels.  These practices can seem ... a little .... well .... unique to some guests.  So I give a tour, of sorts, to newbies in our house.  The most common thing that happens at my house with my less crunchy friends is their flat refusal to use my unpaper towels.  They never want to "mess them up". Silly but true.  When they do get on board remembering to use the wet bag not trash bin can be a challenge.    Heheh ... so I have to check the trash bins before taking out the garbage.  

10)  Leave Your Judgey Pants in the closet!
You know you have them!  We all do.  And if you think you don't ... look down because yours are probably the biggest and brightest in the room.  This whole parenthood gig is intense.  We are all navigating a world full of differing & often confusing research, endless opinions, and mystifying social expectations.   So when we make our choices, we tend to dig our heels in.  Naturally, we start measuring and sizing up our choices against those closest to us.  Some of my closest and best friends have made dynamically different choices from my own.  Every parent and every child is unique and they typically know what's best for them.  Seriously, let's check ourselves... don't we have enough on our collective parenting plates?  If Suzy's mom says no ping pong ball painting for Suzy, it's not a big deal.   Just (refer to tip 6) find something that Suzy can do.  Suzy's mom really doesn't need you to give her a list of all your well intended research about how awesome it is.  (Although, I do think it's awesome.)  Certainly, if someone is disrespecting your family or your house rules speak up.  But in general, back off.  You learn just as much as your kids do by playing with diverse groups of people. 

Play Happy!!


Our Favorite Playdough

I love making our own play dough.  Beyond loving the ability to control the ingredients, it’s just a fun thing to do.  The little ones learn lots of great practical skills.  Although, we have done no cook recipes, I greatly prefer cooked play dough.  This is primarily for two reasons the shelf life it offers and I like to make my own coloring so I'm cooking anyway.  The recipe that I use is a variation of a recipe I first tried from the artful parent.   My proportions are just a little bit different and I often use natural food dyes rather than store bought.

Here is how I make natural play dough colors…

Full disclosure: When I first started making my own dyes, I didn't find it easy at all.  This recipe took a good bit of trail and error and more than once I gave up and just used regular old food dye.  You will find zero judgment here if you make that choice.  Simply skip down to the ingredients list and add your store bought food dye to the water used in the recipe. But, I will say once I realized that I could use peels from my juicer and food stuffs in abundance the process became fun, affordable and easy.   
An important thing to remember is that the flour you add to your mix will significantly lighten the color so you want to create fairly saturated color in your water solutions.  *This is true regardless of your choice to use natural produce based dye or store bought food dye.  The process is really as simple as boiling water.  The basic formula is boil down a pot of water with your selection fruits and vegetables of choice.  I typically start with about 4-6 cups of boiling water.  I bring that water to a rolling boil, then drop in 1-3 cups of produce that will yield the color desired.  I allow that to boil for about 10 minutes.  This is a hugely important step to try to stave off any bacteria that might cause molding to occur.  Then I allow the pot to simmer for 30 minutes.  Finally, I run the mix through a filtered food strainer and boom colored water. Here is a list of some of my favorite produce to use for produce based water dyes:
  • Green: Kale, broccoli, or asparagus
  • Pink: Beets … nothing better than beets!
  • Purple: Purple Cabbage 
  • Blue: Purple cabbage plus 1-5 tablespoons of baking soda
  • Orange: Carrots (I make carrot juice frequently, I use the pulp I collect from the back of my juicer)
  • Yellow:  Orange and Lemon peels and pulp (I also save these from my compost pile when I juice)

*I typically use our non-toxic paints to create brown, red, and black.  When creating these colors I just haven’t found a reasonable/affordable produce based color solution.  If you have one I’d love to hear it! Be sure to leave me a comment! 

  • 2 ½ Cups of Dyed water
  • 2 ½ Cups of flour
  • 1 ¼ Cup of Salt
  • 2 Table Spoons of Cream of tartar
  • 5 Table Spoons of Vegetable Oil

Warm the dyed water on medium low.  If you have just made the coloring be sure that it is well below boiling.  It should be warm but not hot.  Leaving the pot on medium-low add the salt and cream of tarter. Whisk until blended.  Once the mixture is blended add oil.  Finally, begin adding your flour 1 cup at a time. I use my whisk to blend in the first cup of flour into the solution then switch to a wooden spoon when I add the remaining cup and a half of flour.  The play dough should start pulling away from the pot as you stir the final bit of flour in.  Dump the play dough into a large bowl and knead after allowing to cool. The dough should still be warm to the touch when you begin kneading.   As you are kneading your dough it’s a great time to add any essential oils you might like.  I tend to not use essential oils in play dough that smell like food … because frankly I don’t want them tempted (any more than usual) to eat the play dough. 

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The Wasting Nothing Philosophy

Playing, cooking, reading, exploring, loving, laughing, and making a mess with your little one is NEVER a waste of time! It is priority one! It's not just about getting to know your little one. It's about letting your little one get to know you!