My four-year-old has been asking more and more for playdates lately. She’s a social little butterfly who loves nothing more than playing with (bossing around) friends. But even playdates for toddlers are great for socializing, both for the kids and the parents, and can help prepare your child for sharing with, caring about, and learning alongside others at preschool. Getting together at a local park is always fun, but sometimes weather makes this impractical, or you need a change of scenery. Add a little imagination, and you can make your next playdate the talk of the preschool set.
Sandbox Treasure Hunt
Have you seen those horrible surprise egg videos on YouTube? The one where some adult hypnotically unwraps tiny toys for the camera? They’re brain-numbing, but there is a grain of intelligence behind why the kids love them. They’re just toddler speed – not as fast as a lot of modern television – and kids enjoy the discovery aspect a lot.
To create your own analog version and occupy small hands while honing fine motor skills, fill a large bucket or bin with a mixture of sand and small toys. Start by gathering up things you already have around your house in a variety of textures – plastic army men, rubber balls, wooden blocks, toy spoons, baby doll bottles, etc – and layer them into your container as you fill it with sand. When it’s time for your playdate, set the sand bucket outside and give everyone plastic shovels or small spoons to comb through the sand to unearth their treasures.
If you’re anything like me, finding time to exercise with busy toddlers around is anything but easy. Take advantage of all that preschool-age energy at your next playdate by turning your house (or your yard or the park) into a mommy-and-me gym. YouTube has some great kids yoga channels, like Cosmic Kids Yoga, that are fun and silly enough for any age and keep everyone on the move, or you can always use a DVD like Omolulu Yoga. Set up a video on the big screen or watch a few for ideas and make up your own routine. Kids love making the yoga-pose-name animal shapes with their bodies, and laughing is a great abdominal exercise too.
Getting kids to try new foods can be almost as challenging as getting them to behave for long enough to eat a full meal in a restaurant. Make a game out of exposing young ones to new flavors while putting in a little practice time on table manners by inviting some pals over for a potluck party.
Have everyone bring small portions of their favorite vegetable, side dish, or protein plus another small dish of a new food to try. Set the table with a tablecloth and your best kid-proof dishes (or pretty paper plates) and have the moms take turns serving up bites like a waiter at a restaurant while everyone says “please” and “thank you.” Maybe if you’re lucky your finicky toddler will see his best friend noshing on something new and give it a try.
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Emily Brown is a preschool teacher, freelance writer, and mom to two energetic, funny little girls with a flair for drama and a shared love of cheese and pickles. She’s also written a book on the history and food of restaurants in Birmingham, AL called Birmingham Food: A Magic City Menu.