In honor of the homeschool track and field day I’m organizing today, I thought I’d re-run this post on hosting a playdate without loosing your sanity. Do you host large gatherings of children at you house? What advice would you offer?
Playdates; they’re not just for the under five crowd. Sure, if your kid is in school, you don’t need to distract him / yourself from the drudgery of being at home ALL DAY. But for us homeschoolers, playdates are not only sanity savers for our children but an excuse to drink with friends before five. And now that summer is upon us, I know all my non-homeschooling readers will be looking for advice on “WHAT CAN I DO WITH ALL MY KIDS NOW THAT THEY’RE HOME FROM SCHOOL AND I HAVE 67 WHOLE DAYS UNTIL THEY GO BACK????”
So whether or not your kids are seven or seventeen here’s some quick takes to help you host the best playdate EVER.
1. Set a clear start and stop time. This is a must if you’re hosting a new family and you have no idea how the temperaments of the kids will mesh. You can always extend the time if things are going well, but if not, you’ve got an out. Some moms are really lonely and need the social time more than others. Be sure to schedule something for the near future or keep in touch online frequently. Knowing other moms are within reach will prevent some moms from overstaying their welcome.
2. Get to know your kids’ friends; then you’ll know which ones can’t be trusted around the electric train layout before you spot the Lionel in the swimming pool. Or you’ll recognize another child’s “I need to go pee but forget where the potty is” dance when his mom is busy in another room. I know most of my kids’ friends pretty well so I’m able to help generate ideas to keep everyone occupied and suggest what toys should probably be put away. (Remember what happened last time you “shared” your air soft gun with Bobby? Do I need to show you the scar again? )
3. Always ask about food allergies in advance and remind your guests to bring special snacks if you’re not able to meet their no dairy, no soy, vegan, cage free lifestyle. And make sure your kids understand not to share or give a snack to a little one who might be too young to understand what they’re allowed to eat. When I host a large group of families, I have one large snack table for everyone to graze from. It’s up to the moms and kids to monitor their own families. When it’s only one or two families, I try to establish one snack or meal time and offer the same thing to everyone and then clean up. Except for stuffing puffs in the baby’s mouth to keep him quiet, it’s not open season on my pantry.
4. Think of who you’re inviting; how clean was their house last time you went over? Use that to gauge how much you need to clean. (I’m serious about this folks.) At minimum I try to wipe down the bathroom (not the tub), have the floor picked up and swept (don’t need my guest’s nine month old eating yesterday’s cereal, or Legos, from under the dining table) and dirty dishes in the sink (but not overflowing) or dishwasher. Most moms will understand the state of your home. I just want my home to be comfortable, not necessarily neat as a pin.
5. Create an environment that encourages kids to run free and lets moms socialize. I usually host when it’s warm so the big kids run around in our backyard while the little ones stay on the deck with some toys and chairs for the moms. I also try to keep the living room inviting in case someone needs a quiet place to nurse. Our swing set is also visible from the deck. I always lock our pool, unless we are specifically hosting a family for swimming in which case we’re all in the water or on the pool deck. If it’s cold I never host more than one family at a time and the big kids are asked to stay in the basement or in the upstairs bedrooms. Little ones may play in the living room where it’s somewhat easier to relax. I don’t intervene in disputes between kids unless it’s absolutely necessary. My kids know by now that when I need to get involved in their fights (as opposed to sitting on the deck and eating brownies), it’s not pretty, so usually, they will try to work it out before bringing in an adult.
5 1/2 If you know you’ll have one mom with a mad dash toddler, be sure to invite at least one other mom in the same position. It’s amazing how often the two will wind up in the same place and get to chat despite the constant need to keep chasing their little hooligans.
6. Plan activities or have game suggestions on hand. For warmer months, do I need to mention an obstacle course? Sometimes the kids entertain themselves for hours without so much as a word from me. Other times, having supplies on hand for a simple craft or setting out lawn games and directing kids to them will at least get them to stop bothering you while they decide on something cooler than horseshoes or pony beads. (The croquet balls are not shotput!!)
7.Don’t worry about the mess. I just let the chips fall as they may and deal with it after everyone leaves. Sometimes guests want to help pick up but I don’t insist upon it, mainly because I don’t like making guests work. …and because they never put stuff back where I want and I wind up redoing it all anyway. However, I do make kids clean up spills immediately and litter, like candy wrappers. My kids understand they’ll be responsible for getting their rooms “back to normal” and often they’ll ask for their friends help or tell me which kids they want to invite to playdates because they understand the work involved in cleaning up. (And the messiest kids are typically the least likely to help pick up.) I schedule this clean up time into my playdate so it doesn’t encroach on other activities or allow the aftermath to sit smoldering for hours or days. (If you absolutely cannot sit and relax with other moms while your house and yard are destroyed, consider organizing a playdate at a park, bowling alley or other venue where you can leave the mess behind.)
See, you can open your home to lots of kids and live to tell the tale. Especially if you serve mimosas. And now, before swinging back to Jen’s, indulge me in your own playdate success tips.