By Erica M. Zollman, M.Ed., CCC-SLP
Playing and learning go hand-in-hand, as play provides a natural context for
children to practice and reinforce essential skills. Children learn a wide variety of skills
during play including cognitive, physical, language,
social, and literacy skills. Parents can help facilitate play
and learning by arranging playdates for their children.
Here are some tips to help your child’s next playdate go
- Set your child up for success. When arranging a
playdate, carefully consider the characteristics of a
potential playmate, ensuring that the playmate is
around the same age as your child and has similar
interests. As children become older, they can select
classmates or peers that they wish to play with.
Additionally, it is beneficial to schedule playdates
around your child’s sleeping and eating routines.
- Practice difficult skills. Review expectations of behavior and practice skills that may
be difficult for your child. For example, if your child struggles with sharing, roleplay
how to share prior to the playdate.
- Provide structure. Be sure to set a time limit for the playdate that is appropriate
for your child. Make a list of activities, and allow children to take turns choosing
ones they will enjoy. Choose activities or toys that promote social interaction and
cognitive development, such as board games, puppets or blocks. You may also
include toys that encourage pretend play, such as dolls, racecars, action figures,
- Review the rules. Children succeed when they know what is expected of them.
Review the rules with all children prior to playtime: behavioral expectations (e.g.,
no running in the house) and social expectations (e.g., take turns when playing
- Plan a snack break. Try to include a snack or cooking activity. This is a great way to
practice following directions, sequencing, asking/answering questions, turn taking,
and social skills.
- Get moving. Incorporate physical activities during playdates. Go to a playground
or park, or allow children to play in the yard under adult supervision.
- Let children play. At first, children may need a bit of adult support for a playdate.
However, as they become more confident and comfortable, slowly fade adult
support and allow them the opportunity to lead their playdate.
Remember that playdates can be fun for both children and parents. Helping your
child develop appropriate play skills is critical to social development and sets your
child up for success.