Finger painting brings out the creativity in kids.

Toddler Play Date Themes

by Shara JJ Cooper

You may feel like pulling your hair out or locking yourself in the bathroom if you don't get to socialize with other adults, but your kids need socialization just as much as you do. Even though toddlers tend to play near each other, rather than with each other, they get as much out of play dates as you do. You can help kids interact on a play date by planning themes. The kids will catch onto the theme quickly, which helps them explore the activities more. A successful play date will leave kids socially sated and give you some well-earned quiet time.

1. Physical Activities

If your goal for the play date is to have children that are so exhausted they'll go to sleep at 7, then physical activity themes are what you want. These themes can be nearly anything that keeps kids moving. Pop some snowshoes onto the kids for a snow-themed winter play date or pull out the Slip 'N Slides for a summer date. You could also set up a carnival theme with games like beanbag and ring tosses, hopscotch and lawn bowling.

2. Music

Musical themes are great for all toddlers but they work particularly well on a rainy day or for kids who love to dance and sing. You can use instruments to create a theme, such as different types of drums, or a musical kids group. You can make musical instruments for each child, like shakers, drums and tambourines. Staple two paper plates together and put holes on both sides with a hole punch. Tie bells to the holes with string or ribbon to make a tambourine. You can turn almost anything with a lid into a shaker. Try an empty jar filled partway with rice or beans. Once you have made the instruments, have the kids march around like they are in a marching band and sing songs like "The Ants Go Marching One By One."

3. Crafts

Craft play dates can take a little extra planning because you need enough supplies for all the toddlers that attend. You'll also end up cleaning a big mess so make sure all the parents know the kids might be getting wet or covered in paint. Try cutting potatoes and apples to make stamps or give them sponges and cooked noodles to add more texture. Some toddlers do not like to get mucky in the paint. For these kids, pour two or three paint colors in a freezer bag and seal it tight. Tape the bag to the table. They can drag the paints around inside the bag without getting dirty.

4. Book Club

Book clubs aren't just for adults. Even toddlers can enjoy a book club that is created from their favorite game. You can use Dr. Seuss books, Eric Carle books or any other toddler favorites. Make up games for the kids to play. They might have to find the animals from the brown bear books or feed a hungry caterpillar. Cut out felt figures from the books and use them to make the story come alive. If you don't have a felt board, the back of an upholstered couch works well. You can also make a green caterpillar from a sock and feed it toy fruit and vegetables from "The Very Hungry Caterpillar." Read the book to the toddlers before and after the activities to help with their association.

5. Numbers

Number games can be so much fun, even for toddlers. The theme can simply be counting from one to five or ten. For young todders, draw a hopscotch on the sidewalk and write the numbers one to five on each square. Help them count the numbers as they jump. Cut out numbers and place them around the house and yard. They can run to the numbers as you call them out. Sing number songs like "Five Little Monkeys" to reinforce this learning activity. They can hold up their fingers or find the numbers as you go through the song.

6. Colors

Encourage toddlers to learn their colors with a play date themed all around colors. You could have each child show up completely dressed in one color, or have them all come in the same color and reinforce that color throughout the play date. For a "red" themed play date, have the children wear a piece of red clothing. For a warm-up activity, find the red on each child and call out the item. For example, "Suzy has a red skirt, Billy has a red hat." Hide red objects around your playroom for the kids to find. Each object can be its own activity, such as red play dough, red paint, red crayons and red snacks. As they find each object, you can set up a play station for them. Kids are thrilled when they catch onto an idea that soon they will be finding "red" everywhere around them.

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