Find playdates for your child

Finally! A Playdate App That Will Rescue You From Parent Group Message Hell

When Laurie Cordova gave birth to her first child, she took a year off from work to care for him. The Arlingtonian had what she describes as a “typical stay at home mom experience” when it came to meeting or hanging out with other mothers and their little ones. There was a weekly playgroup in her neighborhood. However, if she wasn’t able to make it, Cordova felt she missed out on her lone opportunity to meet new people.

When she and other mothers she did know tried to figure out an independent playdate, she recalls, “text chains that could last for hours to work out the details. I had to do more coordination than I wanted.”

After having her second child, a daughter, Cordova realized she wanted a means to simply schedule a playdate, which would be offered up to other mothers in the same zip code or neighborhood. That way she could gauge peoples’ interest in the opportunity – minus the onerous back and forth.

So she worked with a programmer to create the app MamaLeave, which debuted in early June. It’s only open to mothers (sorry, dads!) in the United States, though most of the users are currently in the Arlington area. “I’m trying to establish a footprint and figure out what the engagement model should be, and then taking it from there,” says Cordova, who has a full-time job doing product development in the educational technology field.

The interface is intended to be simple, straightforward and stress free. After logging in with a Facebook or Google profile, moms simply indicate where they want to go, when the event starts and give a brief description of the playdate–“Me and my 3-year-old twin boys are hitting the sprayground to cool off. I’ll be wearing a purple shirt with applesauce stains on it and they’ll be in matching Yoda-themed swimsuits. Hope to see you there.”

Currently, the app allows users to create both public events and private ones limited to selected users. Mothers can also browse and express interest in upcoming ‘Mamaleaves’ in their area or beyond.

“Ultimately, the app is about community building,” says Cordova, who uses the app herself to create and find playdates for her two children.

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Parenting writer

Nevin Martell is a parenting, food, and travel writer whose work has appeared in the Washington Post, New York Times, Saveur, Men’s Journal, Fortune, Travel + Leisure, Runner’s World, and many other publications. He is author of eight books, including It’s So Good: 100 Real Food Recipes for Kids, Red Truck Bakery Cookbook: Gold-Standard Recipes from America’s Favorite Rural Bakery, and the small-press smash Looking for Calvin and Hobbes: The Unconventional Story of Bill Watterson and His Revolutionary Comic Strip. When he isn’t working, he loves spending time with his wife and their six-year-old son, who already runs faster than he does.

Planning Playdates for Your Child

Tips for a successful structured playdate

  • Create a familiar routine so the child is not overwhelmed by the added demand of a peer
  • Keep the activities fun for the children, but simple and familiar
  • Create a physical environment that is friendly—make a clear play space by getting rid of or hiding potential distractions
  • Offer a few choices of play activities that you know your child is familiar with and can do successfully
  • Have on hand only the materials needed for the choices that will be available
  • Use a visual choice board, like the sample shown here,that each child can use to show preference for what to play next
  • Alternate activities between games and activities that involve reciprocal, turn-taking play, and those that involve parallel play which can provide more opportunities to imitate peers and less need to communicate
  • Include simple games that involve gross motor skills
  • Help both your child and her playmate by guiding their play when they need it. Intervene when the children need assistance keeping the activity going, and stand back if the play is progressing. Think of yourself as a camp counselor
  • Model childlike play behavior, use silly language and expressive emotions
  • Keep activities moving, and learn when to end an activity and begin a new one
  • Start small, with one peer for one hour. When you notice that your child and her playmate are able to play together appropriately without your help, you can consider longer playdates
  • Let the peer’s parents know what to expect, and invite them to stay for the playdate
  • Offer an incentive at the end of the playdate, like a special snack or a fun activity
  • Be patient. Your child’s confidence will grow with each playdate, so don’t give up
  • Likewise, don’t be discouraged when a parent declines your playdate invitation; keep trying until you find a parent who says “yes”—you will find that parent

How to Get a Toddler Engaged in a Playgroup or Playdate

Playgroups can be awesome arrangements for both kids and parents. Grown-ups get some much needed social interaction with other adult humans (even if some of those parents are guaranteed to objectively suck) and toddlers get blocks and sand tables and interactions with other kids with whom they need to develop their social skills.

READ MORE: The Fatherly Guide to Socializing Kids

For some toddlers, however, playgroup isn’t necessarily a welcoming incubator of friendship. It can be overwhelming at first, especially for younger toddlers, and parents might find themselves with a child in their lap for the duration of the event. And if the setting and structure aren’t right? It could be a pointless endeavor entirely.

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How To Get a Toddler Engaged in a Playgroup

  • Pair them up. Toddlers do best in pairs, and it helps if both kids are the same age.
  • Take it outside. With plenty of room to avoid or escape unwanted interactions, wide open spaces can make playgroups easier on everyone.
  • Step in when needed. If your toddler is getting too hyped up and running wild, she might need you to intervene and help her calm down.
  • Keep it small. By limiting the size of the playgroup, kids are less likely to be overwhelmed and more likely to get involved.

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It’s not for no good reason that younger toddlers in playgroups are a bit introverted. Kids dedicate the first two years of life to the existential quandaries: “What can I do? What can’t I do? Who am I?” But eventually, toddlers segue from being entirely self-centered and become increasingly interested in other kids — and that is a big paradigm shift.

“Toddlers are just getting to know themselves,” says Dr. Tovah Klein, director of the Barnard College Center for Toddler Development at Columbia University and author of How Toddlers Thrive. “Even as they become aware of others, as in peers, they still don’t understand that other people could have ideas, thoughts, and feelings that conflict with their own.”

RELATED: How to Help a Preschooler Make Friends

In other words, they have not yet developed what’s called “theory of mind.” And this, Klein explains, is why it’s sometimes difficult for the smallest kids to hang out with others their own age. After all, what is enjoyable for one child might be alien and overwhelming for another. So while playgroups are an opportunity to let kids be free to explore social situations, it’s important to pay attention to how a child reacts to this level of interaction.

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“Some love commotion, but many do not. Some love new situations, but many do not,” says Dr. Klein. “We adults go into these situations with adult expectations that children should learn to get along at this young age. In fact, learning to get along with others takes time, and big experiences in big groups do not always work.”

If a parent is experiencing a clingy two-year-old, Klein says, then that’s okay. They should follow the child’s lead when it comes to readiness for social interaction. “Maybe a crowded place is too much for them, and being there is not the right thing,” Klein says. “Or maybe the child needs time to hang back and get comfortable, and then when they feel comfortable enough, move forward.”

MORE: The Dad’s Guide to Getting Another Mom’s Phone Number (To Make a Playdate, Calm Down)

The most important thing is to gauge how the toddler is interacting with peers. By age three, interaction becomes easier because kids are more interested in each other. Wide open spaces are best because they allow a toddler to avoid interactions if they want to, and small groups are still better for fostering tiny friendships. “Having children this age together in pairs is the best idea… toddlers do best with one other child their age,” Klein says. “As they move well into the threes and fours, children gain more skills to play together and have more desire to play together and want to make friends.”

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Parents should stay aware of how their toddler is behaving. Even if they are running around laughing, there’s a possibility of them becoming overwhelmed. Klein says that some kids seem like they are having fun, but they can quickly become too hyped-up and need dad to step in and help them take a break.

Playgroups are wonderful for kids when the fit is good. And when planned right, with a vigilant eye, toddlers will start to play with others, leaving parents a chance to have a conversation and maybe walk away having enjoyed some legitimate social interaction of their own.

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Mark Your Calendar: 8 Parent-Baby Playdates in Portland

Online: newseasonsmarket.com/events

photo: via Hike it Baby Kristin Hinnant

MOMS Clubs® of Portland

Moms Offering Moms Support is a national group with several local chapters, open to all moms and offering a monthly calendar chock-full of playgroups, outings and monthly new member meet-ups. They even organize meal deliveries for parents of new babies and moms night out events.

Complete a simple online form to inquire about chapters near you.
Online: momsclub.org

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If you are looking for options, you can find a full list of Portland moms groups here.

Dads’ Groups

Though the vast majority of parent/baby playgroups are oriented toward mothers, fathers’ groups are becoming more and more popular, and Portland is at the head of the pack. Check out the events calendar at Seahorses, a retailer-turned-nonprofit community center, which hosts a New Dads Group as well as Dads After Hours, both monthly. The community just at the start of the year is expanding to include caregivers of all kinds as well as kids of all ages. Meetup is another great option for finding likeminded fathers through father-child playgroups.

Online: seahorsespdx.com

Other Ideas

Check Meet-up for even more playdate options, or start your own! Get the numbers for a few moms or dads you meet at library storytime or the park, and invite them to a playdate at your house. Set out snacks and beverages for the parents, a few blankets and toys for the babes. Then settle in for a few hours to connect while you play with your babies. Who knows? You might just make a friend for life.

—Kris Wilhelmy

Play dates with new friends might be easier to organise thanks to a new app. Photo: Getty Images

I vividly remember the first day that I spent alone with my newborn baby. She was two weeks old by then and we had enjoyed precious family time before my husband had to return to work. There had been a flurry of callers along with daily visits from the postman who brought gifts and flowers from further afield.

For two weeks my baby girl and I had enjoyed the company of others. And then, with the click of the front door, it was just the two of us. We fell into a routine of sorts, me drinking cups of tea and languishing in pyjamas, her, feeding and sleeping in my arms while the day went on regardless.

At first I was content. I talked to my baby, and provided a running commentary (more for my benefit than hers “I’m going to put the kettle on! I’m going to have a shower!). I listened to the radio and talked back to the DJ. When my husband got home from work I would talk to him – or rather, I’d talk at him, so starved of human interaction I would unleash a days conversation in one go.

It is very obvious to me now that I was lonely. I didn’t have many mum friends, and the women I did know weren’t local. I knew that I would make friends at my local mothers group, but I wasn’t scheduled to start that for a while. In the meantime, I had the company of my gorgeous baby and the four walls of our lounge room.

Loneliness is a common problem for new parents, but perhaps in the ‘app for everything’ era, it doesn’t have to be. Two mums from the UK, Katie Massie-Taylor, 33, and Sarah Hesz, 34, have recently launched a new app that allows women to make contact with like-minded mums in their neighbourhood.

Mush lets users see all the mums that are in a nearby radius along with their interests, age, how many children they have. The app will also tell you if you have any common connections. If you think a mum looks like a potential friend, you can see if she is free for coffee right now or organise a meet up in the future.

The two women behind the app met in a playground during their maternity leave.

“We were the only ones in this drizzly playground, such was our desperation to get out of the house.

“There was a really awkward exchange of small talk and before we left Sarah just said: “Can I have your number so we can hang out?” It was so cringey, but I was so grateful.”

During the coming months the pair realised they weren’t the only mums who had busy lives pre-children but now were struggling to get out of the house: “People give you attention for the first 4 weeks or so, but then you are left to your own devices,” said Massie-Taylor.

The pair wanted to create something that would help others mums find their tribe and so Mush, was born. So far the app has been really well received by users. “Someone said the other day that they couldn’t have imagined maternity leave without it, another called us ‘a lifeline’,” said Massie-Taylor.

Although the app started in the UK an Australian version launched in June, and already has thousands of users, I just wish that it had been available when I was a new mother.

Even if the friendships didn’t last, it would have at least given me something different to talk to the walls about.

5 Great Ways to Meet Mom Friends in the Greenville Area

Looking to meet other moms? Local mom Shawnee Colabella has put together this great list of places to meet other moms around the Upstate. If you’re looking for a group of moms to meet at a local park with or a group of moms to exercise with we’ve got the information you want!

Mom Escape event at Lake Cooley in 2019

If you’re new to Greenville you might be searching for a good way to meet other moms in your new town. Or if you’ve been here your whole life but are new to being a mommy you might want some new friends who also have children. No matter what your situation is, making new friends can be challenging and requires some effort. But luckily for all of us moms there are some great resources that can help you connect with other moms in our area.

Thank you to Greenville Homes Realty for sponsoring this article.

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Out and About Moms of Greenville

Out and About Moms of Greenville (OAMG) is a local group of over 2,000 upstate moms from all walks of life with children of all ages. In order to ensure that all moms are welcome joining OAMG is completely free! OAMG was spearheaded by one of KAG’s contributors Desiree Hempe. Out and About Moms of Greenville currently runs through Facebook. Due to the limitations, as well as, for safety reasons members are required to maintain active participation. Active participation is defined within the guidelines you agree to upon joining.

The OAMG administrators hold weekly playdates, as well as, encourage each mom to create events which suite her needs and schedule. The administrators for this group consistently offer an up-to-date calendar of private events, local happenings, and deals. This forum allows moms in the Upstate the opportunity to get to know one another, plan and attend playdates, provide emotional support, as well as, offer and receive much needed advice. Join for FREE by searching Out and About Moms of Greenville on Facebook.

Moms of Preschoolers (MOPS)

Another great resource for moms is the International MOPS group which is short for Moms of Pre-Schoolers. There are a several local chapters in the Upstate which are run separately. This Mommy Group is for Mothers of children birth to kindergarten. Read about the local MOPS group in Greenville from mom Rachel here.

Here are a few local MOPS Groups:

Seacoast Church, Greenville
Buncombe Street United Methodist Church, Greenville
Boiling Springs First Baptist Church
Mt. Carmel Baptist Church, Easley
Upstate MOPS
Anderson MOPS
North Greenville MOPS
Community Bible Church
Palmetto Gymnastics

Find the nearest MOPS chapter to you HERE.

Moms of Preschoolers (MOPS) does require yearly dues; the amounts as well as further information on this annual fee can be found on their website. The Administrators of each local chapter will offer bi-monthly meetings, monthly play dates, and a monthly moms night/day out. Each chapter provides free pre-school modeled Child-Care through the Moppets program for the bi-monthly meetings. Although MOPS is church affiliated, you do not have to be a member of the church to join.

Meetup

A great resource for moms to find a variety of groups directed at parents and mothers is Meetup. Each group is run separately and has its own rules regarding membership, as well as, if any dues are required. You can search for local parenting, playdate, mommy and me groups, exercise groups, support groups, etc on Meetup. and you will find groups like The Greenville Stay at Home Moms Playgroup.

Strong Mommas Mommy and Me Workout Group

This group run by FittnessbyJess is for local moms who want to get fit and live a healthy lifestyle. Jess has partnered with the city of Greenville for this class/group which is geared towards all women but in particularly moms who want to become/stay fit while connecting with their children. The Strong Mommas Mommy and Me Workout Group offers a one week trial period. After that, there are various ranging options from individual classes, to personal training, all the way to 6 months of unlimited classes. If you would like to take a class with Jess the first class is always free and you can find the pricing for individual classes, as well as, other packages at FitnessbyJess Strong Mommas.

Kidding Around Greenville Community

It goes without saying that Kidding Around Greenville is an amazing resource for all things family related within the Upstate. However, you might not have known that Kidding Around Greenville has its own community on Facebook for its members to connect. Kidding Around Greenville Community is a wonderful forum open to all readers of Kidding Around Greenville!

Do you live on the Spartanburg side of town? Check out our list of Mom Groups in Spartanburg on our sister site Kidding Around Spartanburg.

Do you have a resource for meeting other moms to add to our list?

The 6 Moms Who Make Playdates Unbearable (For the Other Mom)

1. The One Who Riles Up the Kids: She walks in, spies the kids, and makes a beeline for them. After first whipping a roll of Smarties out of her pocket and passing them around, she then proceeds to get them all worked into a frenzy before finally coming to settle by you. Yeah, thanks a lot. I really needed my dog to spend the rest of the week peeing behind the couch out of utter fear that those two wild 6-year-olds might still be in the living room.

2. The Kids Should Be Seen And Not Heard Mom: Almost as bad as the “makes ’em nuts” mom is the one who brings her kid over, and then throws a hissy when my kid dares come to check in with me because her time with me is being lost. Sorry lady, but unless you come out of my lady parts, you’re never going to rate above my kid.

3. The Bragger: It is perfectly acceptable to mention in passing that your smarty pants was nominated to the gifted and talented program. When kids do great things, no one is going to appreciate it quite like another mom. But there’s a difference between sharing and rubbing one’s nose in it. Not sure where the line is? If your 5-year-old is whipping up his own Hollandaise sauce and bringing you breakfast in bed on a tray with a flower in a jelly jar, please refrain from sharing or you won’t be getting an invite back. If I needed someone to make me feel like my life sucks, I’d open a fashion magazine.

4. The Smoker: Sorry, I don’t care if you only do it outside. You’re not bringing that stank around me or my kid.

5. The Judgearoo: It starts with a running commentary on the toys my daughter brings out of her playroom for her buds to play with. “We would never buy Precious something pink and plastic, we prefer all, natural, wooden dolls that require imagination,” she says. Then we settle the kids around my dining room table for lunch, and she proceeds to critique each item procured from my kitchen for the kids to eat. “Cheddar bunnies, really? You know they’re still junk even if they’re organic,” she says.

And finally, the mom who really kills a playdate plan like no one else:

6. The Weirdo: Pretty broad category, I know, and as someone who wholeheartedly embraces her lack of “normalcy,” I almost feel bad saying it. But sometimes there are people you just can’t bring yourself to hang out with. They’re so unlike you that it’s painful. Maybe they’re really low class, and you shudder to see them around your kids. Maybe they’re racist and mean. Or maybe they are just so different from you that you cannot even hold a conversation for 5 seconds.

Since pushing a person out of me, I’ve learned the universe loves to throw two women together because they have kids . . . as if that’s enough. But having a kid didn’t change me that much. There are are still some people who just aren’t my cup of tea!

How about you? Are there moms who you have found are just impossible to hang out with, no matter how much your kids get along?

Image via JanetR3/Flickr

When my oldest daughter was in preschool, I beat myself up for not putting more social energy into weekly playdates planned by more extroverted parents. My daughter sees these kids every day at school, I thought. Why would they need extra time to play?

The truth is that I feel awkward at playdates. I worry about everything from my inability to make small talk to how well my children are behaving. All that anxiety sucks the fun off the playground, and I leave feeling totally embarrassed and drained.

I started using any excuse to pass on an invitation: one of us has the sniffles, we have another obligation later that day, I need to catch up on the laundry, my tire pressure is low. But then I started to wonder if I was doing my daughter a disservice. Were playdates vital to her development?

The simple answer? Play is absolutely vital. Playdates … not necessarily.

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“Playdates are not absolutely necessary if a child is getting daily exposure to children in preschool, school, and park playgrounds,” says Emily W. King, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist in Raleigh, North Carolina who specializes in working with children of all ages. Kids may also get good doses of play time with peers in organized activities, community events, and free play with siblings, cousins, and neighborhood children. “In other words, what is necessary is regular social exposure to same-age peers, so they can work on play skills at a similar social developmental level.”

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), playing with kids their own age — or adults! — helps children learn social-emotional, cognitive, language, and self-regulation skills. Children with social skills, the 2018 AAP report says, are better able to “listen to directions, pay attention, solve disputes with words, and focus on tasks without constant supervision.”

But this doesn’t have to happen right away. When kids are really little, just who are those playdates for, anyway? “While I do think it’s important for motor and social development for babies to spend time with other babies, playdates during the infancy stage is really for the moms and dads,” Dr. King says.

Since becoming a parent is such a monumental change in our lives, being around other people in the same state of transition can relieve the inevitable self-doubt and fear. Baby meet-ups are primarily for grown-ups to connect and learn from one another, King says. But if those interactions cause me more anxiety than it saves, my time would be better served finding other ways to ease the shift in identity that comes with motherhood.

As little ones get older, though, they need that same kind of connection with kids their own age, going through the same confusing and exciting stages of development. “Toddlers and preschoolers need as much social exposure as they can get,” Dr. King says. Pediatricians recommend parents encouraging 1- to 3-year-olds to interact with peers, and parents should schedule social activities for children ages 3 to 6. “Both children and parents benefit from socialization at this point,” Dr. King adds. “However, preschoolers who are in preschool full time can likely get enough exposure to other kids at school.” So it’s not the worst thing if I avoid them.

The author’s daughter during some unstructured playground time. Courtesy of Anna Lee Beyer

Still, I get it, my mild discomfort in social situations is hardly justification for denying the kids these opportunities to develop useful skills, learn how to be human, and, oh yeah, have fun. But it’s not an uncommon debate among adults. “I avoided playdates with new people because I didn’t want to have to go along,” says Alexandra B., a mom in California. “I always felt bad, however, because I thought I was depriving my girls of a chance to find new friends. I can handle schoolyard chatting, but talking with people I don’t know — for two hours straight — is intense and stressful. When my kids finally got to the age where they could just go and I didn’t have to tag along, it was so much easier.”

In some cases, it may be the child who is not so eager for a playdate, and that’s ok, too. “There is really no reason, or benefit, to push your child to participate in a playdate,” Dr. King says. “If your child is introverted or prefers time alone after a busy school day, they are likely accessing this quiet time for a reason … to recover.”

When they get to the age where they’re likely to benefit from playing with other kids, there are ways to expose kids to socially nourishing interactions without inciting your own anxiety meltdown. Rather than go to a playground, where you’ll be forced to converse with the other parent the whole time, Dr. King suggests activities that are more structured, like an event at a children’s museum or a round of bowling. “Whenever there’s a plan to follow, parents can focus on more doing and less on keeping up adult conversation,” she says.

I like to tell myself that everyone thinks they are the most awkward person in the room.

That’s exactly what I experienced at my daughter’s recent birthday party. An extroverted party organizer got all the kids and parents involved so that we were focused on fun tasks rather than long pauses between forced small talk.

Since then, I’ve made a personal commitment to both say “yes” to more invitations, and to be gentler with myself when I feel overwhelmed socially. I cope with social overload by giving myself some quiet time when it’s over, and I also like to tell myself that everyone thinks they are the most awkward person in the room. My husband and I have even made a game out of it: after a social event, we report back to each other with “the goofiest thing I did or said today.” Isn’t having fun the whole point?

Footnote for parents of my kids’ friends: Please still invite us to do things. And please continue to overlook how awkward I am.

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Anna Lee Beyer Anna Lee Beyer is a writer, mom, and librarian living in Texas who writes about parenting, mental health, and books for Parents, Glamour, Slate, The Cut, and Lifehacker; to read more, visit annaleebeyer.com or follow her on Twitter.

10 Fun Indoor Playdate Ideas for Toddlers

Photo by Santi Nunez / Stocksy

You’ve got two toddlers and three hours. And…GO!

Playdates among toddlers are super-duper adorable: Nothing is cuter than wide-eyed, chubby-cheeked tots playing with, say, a pile of stuffed animals. However, at age two or three, children can’t really play independently—making playdates a little more hands-on and involved for you…the parent host. So it’s totally normal to have a head-scratching moment of, “What are we going to do for three hours?!”

No worries, you got this. And to help you out, we’ve got this: a list of 10 ideas for hours of toddler fun. Some of these ideas are even taken directly from our classroom playbook, which means there’s some learning happening, too—so you can consider yourself a super-parent playdate maker and give yourself a well-deserved pat on the back!

Growing Bodies Need Snacks…Seemingly Every Hour on the Hour

Turn at least one snack break into an activity of its own: Having your charges help out with the snack-making can play a big part in growing healthy eating habits. Win, win, win!

1. Host a toddler crudité cooking class

Kids love cutting things themselves: It makes them feel grown-up and gives them a chance to practice their still-developing fine-motor skills. Host a little cooking class by having them make their own toddler-friendly crudité.

All you need is a kid-friendly assortment of easy-to-cut fruits and snacks (like peeled bananas, strawberries, string cheese, or cooked carrots) and kid-friendly cutlery. Provide them a cutting board and a fancy platter to arrange their finger foods on, add some dipping sauces, and voilà…you’ve got a half-hour activity that’s part art, part nutrition, and part confidence builder. (Check out our favorite kids’ cookbooks for even more fun and learning in the kitchen.)

2. Put the “ants” on the “log”

This classic snack made with bananas or celery, nut or seed butter, and raisins is twice as fun for kids when they make it themselves. Make an “ant hill” with raisins on a plate and place in the middle of the table where everyone can reach it. Let the toddlers have a try at spreading the nut or seed butter themselves with plastic knives. If you’re feeling particularly crafty, you could get out some forest-dwelling stuffed animals and set up a little scene (but hey, no need to knock yourself out). Invite your young pals to pretend to be anteaters as they eat their snacks!

Embrace the Mess with Easy-Peasy Painting Projects

These ideas take finger-painting a step further—and the results are pieces of art you can even send home with your guests. This is obvious, but you’ll want to have smocks on hand and some rags, towels, and newspaper to help with the mess.

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3. Make some car tracks

Toddlers love slinging some paint onto paper, and they’re fascinated with things that go vroom! This activity mixes the pleasure of painting with the intrigue of motion.

What you’ll need: tempura paint in different colors, paper plates or paint trays, construction paper or butcher’s block paper, and a variety of toy cars and trucks with different wheels.

Pour a little paint on the paper plates (you don’t need much) and then have the kids run the cars through the paint (they may need your help with this). Once the wheels are good and paint-covered, they can “make tracks” by rolling the cars and trucks over the paper. Caution: This activity can be super exciting for car-enthusiast kids. Paint on floor is not just possible, but likely! An old sheet or cardboard underneath might be a good idea.

4. Go big and paint a whole mural

If you’ve ever read Ramona and Her Father by Beverly Cleary, you might remember that Ramona’s dad gets through several sick days by painting a mural with her. Consider your playdate done and done with a big painting project like this one.

What you’ll need: big pieces of construction taped together or long butcher’s block paper, tape, paint, crayons, pens, glue, and glitter.

This activity works best if you can set it up ahead of time, ideally somewhere out of the way so you can guide the tots back and forth to the canvas during the playdate. Because you’re using a big piece of paper, you can give your painting structure by tracing outlines of the kids and different objects with crayons first. Or structure-smucture: if you’d rather, let them be free! Put out the materials and watch their little minds go to work creating a masterpiece.

This one can be a parent stunner at pick-up!

Sensory-Seeking Activities Always Provide a Special Thrill

From birth to early childhood (and into adulthood, really), sensory stimulation (sight, hear, touch, taste, and smell) plays a key role in helping little brains make all those important neural connections. Age-wise and developmentally, toddlers are smack in the middle of learning about the world through their senses, which is why they love to do things like play in dirt, mush play dough, put bubbles on theirs heads, and throw glitter…well, everywhere. These next options are all about that.

5. Make a magical squish bag

Looking for a super easy way to make a fun, squishy plaything? Look no further.

What you’ll need: plastic baggies, non-toxic kids’ hair gel, and glitter.

Fill a plastic bag with hair gel (make sure to go the non-toxic route) and glitter. Double-bag it for safety and to avoid a mess from any accidental breaks. Done. They’ll stay occupied squishing the bag for a while. (Just make sure that’s all they do with it! No one wants globs of goo everywhere.)

Photo by Sasiistock / iStock

6. Make your own play dough

We know what you’re thinking! Why? It’s already cheap and easy to buy. Well, besides being cheaper, and truthfully very easy to make, homemade play dough can serve a double purpose if you add lavender essential oil to it. Voilà! You’ve got a fun and calming activity for them.

You can find easy recipes for this one online, but we’ve got a few tried-and-true options here. You can add in essential oil once the dough is made (a little will go a long way). Afterward, hand out those cookies cutters and rolling pins, and go to town!

7. Put suds in a tub

Fill a plastic tub with suds, toys, and cups, and you’ve got endless fun for toddlers. (And yes, probably a very wet floor, so get those towels ready.) Cups and whisks and bowls are great for play: Just watch them make “bubble pies” and whip up even more suds with the whisk.

What you’ll need: tub with water, baby soap, plastic baby dolls, pretend play dishes, sponges, rags, and towels.

Beyond bubble play, you can also turn this activity into a lesson in kindness by adding dolls to the “baby bath.” When the babies are good and clean, ask your little helpers to wrap them in towels, dry their hair, and even get them ready for bed. This is a great way to build positive qualities like empathy.

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Here Are Even More Ideas to Keep the Fun Going

8. Have a shadow puppet show

For toddlers closer to three years old, flashlights are one of those common household objects that go a long way in entertainment. (For starters, tots love pushing the on/off switch.) Make a room in your house a little darker, and you can have a light show or a shadow puppet show!

What you’ll need: flashlights toddlers can handle. Optional: Chopsticks, paper, and tape.

For the shadow puppet show, cut out shapes of animals and objects (easy ones like bunny ears and stars!) then tape the paper shapes to chopsticks. Kids LOVE seeing the different sizes and shapes the shadows make.

Photo by FluxFactory / iStock

9. Give them a cardboard box (or five)

Enough said. Just put them in the middle of the living room. You’ll see. Pretty soon, you may have a house or rocket ship or a place for secret tea party with their favorite stuffed critters. (Warning: They might ask for markers.)

10. Don’t forget the dance party

There’s nearly nothing more adorable than watching a toddler shake it with all he’s got. Turn on the tunes and let your little friends unleash whatever wiggles they have inside of them. Taking a little time to dance can also be a great stress reliever if there’s been a squabble (yes, squabbles will happen at this age—toddlers still haven’t developed the social skills they need to share)!

Last but not least, the secret to successful playdates is really all about finding a natural rhythm that works for all the people in the room, including you. We’ve listed some great (and easy) activities above—pick one or two and then let the rest of the afternoon be filled with unstructured activities, like playing with toys and costumes, reading books, or listening to audio stories.

If you can find a good cadence, the kids will have a ball and you won’t feel overtaxed! (And that’s really a playdate win!)

This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of Quaker Oats for IZEA. All opinions are 100% mine.

Playdates have saved me over the years. It’s not only time to get to talk with other parents, but it’s a great chance for my kids to play with other families. Because, let’s face it, I can never play enough with my kids. Even if I play with them for over an hour, they are still begging for MORE! That’s why I’m thrilled to be joining up with Quaker® Chewy® Granola Bars (a Happily Ever Mom sponsor) and their campaign #keepplaying because they truly understand how important play time is for families. Quaker has asked me to talk about fun and simple playdate ideas that will get the entire family in on the fun (yes, that means you too!).

Psst…scroll to the end to see how you can ENTER TO WIN your own play date kit!!

Keep it Simple – Playdate Ideas

Open a pretend cupcake shop with a cold, sensory batter (I promise you have this at home, but you probably haven’t used it this way before!)

If you’ve got science lovers, make pretend erupting cupcakes instead.

Open a pizza shop complete with lemon and herb play dough.

Embrace simplicity and let kids explore water beads.

Or, let kids experiment with water beads and color mixing.

Make a car washing station that compliments one of our favorite children’s books.

Play our simple version of hide and seek with friends.

Let kids stay up late and make glow in the dark musical instruments (or, let them take them home).

Build stained glass in the window with Magna Tiles.

Make an erupting rainbow.

Set up and race balloon rockets – this one’s a crowd pleaser and super simple to set up!

For Little Ones – Playdate Ideas

Put up a gorgeous touch and feel board.

Make an edible rainbow.

Have babies and toddlers that mouth everything? Make a touch and feel spring sun catcher that they can’t eat!

Grab something we all have in our pantry to make edible sand (perfect inside on a rainy day!).

Build a busy board.

Put out mega blocks for little hands with a family twist – this is a great way for babies and toddlers to learn faces!

Make a ball drop.

Or, set up an egg drop – my six month old loved this one!

Turn a box upside down for a simple, but ridiculously addictive baby game.

Play, Paint, and Create – Playdate Ideas

Make a chalk maze.

Or, do chalk paintings with a twist.

Add a few letters to make learning fun with chalk.

Make sticky clouds – great for little ones who aren’t mouthing as much now!

Grab paper bags to make fairy wings.

Make a fairy pumpkin house to decorate.

Then, make peg fairies to go inside the pumpkin house.

Make melted pony bead sun catchers.

Or, personalized sun catchers for older ones.

But, our favorite sun catchers look like bugs!

We loved jingle bell painting, but you could use anything that rolls.

Make sticky art on the light table or in the window.

Or, do mess-free painting on the light table (this is great for little ones, too!).

But, recently, my daughter and son’s favorite was our sticky flower collage.

Grab something that we all have around the house to make these heart-shaped binoculars.

Take kids out on a walk after they dry!

Make watercolor pens to share with friends (psst…this is a melissa and doug hack!).

Keep Kids Playing…

When kids have playdates, they need to eat.

That’s where Quaker comes in. What we love most about Quaker, is that 8 grams of whole grains are in every bar and come in delectably fun flavors like Chocolate Chip, S’mores and Oatmeal Raisin (I LOVED S’mores as a kid!).

Plus, the whole family can have a Quaker bar and still keep playing! Now, for the fun part…

Win Your Own Playdate Kit!!

If you love playdates as much as we do, you can enter to win your own play date kit (worth $100!). Here’s what is in the playdate kit:

· Chewy Playdate invitation pack to plan your next playdate

· A classic Bocce Ball set for endless hours of outdoor summer play

· A Gazillion Bubble Monsoon bubble machine for the whole family to enjoy

· A sidewalk chalk set to get creative outdoors

· A puzzle perfect for indoor or outdoor play

· A red storage bin for storing your family’s favorite toys

· A nerf product

· A variety of Chewy Granola Bars to help fuel family play, including, Big Chewy Sweet & Salty Bars and Chewy Granola Bars Variety Pack

Quaker is providing all of the giveaway items, but this giveaway is hosted by Happily Ever Mom, so sign up below!! The winner will be contacted by Happily Ever Mom directly and we will send the winner’s name to Quaker.

This giveaway is open to US citizens only and will be valid through June 13th, 2015.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Quaker is providing the prizes for this program at no cost to me. This program is not administered or sponsored by Quaker or its affiliates, but solely by Happily Ever Mom.

BONUS!

To help inspire families’ playtime together and fuel fun, Quaker is inviting parents to participate in its Keep Playing! With Chewy promotion for a chance to win $25,000 to make over their family’s play space. To enter, visitwww.ChewyKeepPlaying.com andsubmit a photo of your family’s favorite play space along with how you would like to see that space made over and why.

This promotion is solely sponsored by Happily Ever Mom and has not been endorsed or approved by PepsiCo, Inc. or its subsidiaries or affiliates. By entering, you agree to look solely to Happily Ever Mom for any claims in connection therewith, and not to PepsiCo, Inc. or its subsidiaries or affiliates.

About the author

Katie Joiner is a happy work-at-home Mom. When she’s not busy saving her cats from the kids and trying to figure out what’s for dinner, she can be found taking photos, laughing with her kids, and figuring out whether or not she can sneak in another Starbucks. Kids 7, 4, & baby <1. Come over and say hi at her FB page, @Happilyevermom, or , her favorite spot, Pinterest.

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5 Tips for Better Playdates

Aren’t playdates great? No matter if you’re the child playing or the adults watching, they’re fun for all. Playdates give your children an opportunity to make new friends but also allow you to talk with other grown-ups. This is a great way for your child to not only develop relationships with other children, but also practice social and communication skills, taking turns, sharing their things, and switching between activities.

Children can start having playdates even before they start talking. Babies and toddlers won’t be able to play together as much as older children, but they are still developing important life skills through playdates like being comfortable around other children.

Here are some helpful tips to make playdates that much better:

Shorter is Sweeter
When your child has a playdate with a new friend, it’s better to keep the playdate short and have both parents stick around; an hour is plenty of time for most children. The older the children get, the longer they can spend playing together. But if you’re ever wondering if the playdate is stretching a bit long, it’s better to use caution and keep it short. This way kids part wishing they could spend more time together and looking forward to their next playdate. Always leave them wanting more!

Allergy Alert!
Whenever agreeing to a playdate, be sure to ask if your child’s friend has any allergies, and offer up your child’s own allergies. Consider what food might be served or if there will be any pets present and plan accordingly. Some children may not have allergies, but have a fear of pets or have difficulty eating certain foods, so it’s a good idea to ask parents about preferences beforehand. And don’t be shy with sharing your child’s allergies, fears, or other issues! Sharing them will make for a much happier and more fun play dates for everyone involved.

No Favorites
If your child has favorite toys, consider putting these away during playdates. Your child might not be able to easily share these toys with others. Putting them away can avoid conflicts that might occur.

Time Warning
Sometimes ending a playdate can be difficult if the kids are having a great time. To avoid sudden endings, give the kids warnings when the play date is ending. Let them know when they have 15 minutes left to play, 10 minutes, and 5 minutes. Asking the kids to also help clean up the playdate allows them to see that the playdate is actually ending, and as a result, they become more comfortable with it.

Get Outdoors
Playing outside offers a great sensory experience that can naturally calm children. Visiting a brand new cool place with them like a park, playground, or nature reservation can be fun and open them up to new experiences.

We often forget that playdates are an awesome learning and growing experience for your little one because they’re so incredibly fun. Your child may not yet have the abilities to play with and share with a friend. Use playdate opportunities to allow them experiences for building these important skills. But remember don’t over structure your playdate with too many activities, free play can be just as fun.

So get some playdates on the calendar! Push yourself to invite the new child in class or the child who lives with challenges. Step outside your comfort zone, make the first move, and build a great group of friends to play with!