Play Dates: Entertaining For Success
It may sound a little strange to start measuring the success of your young children meeting others when you are the host. On the other hand, just like 2nd language training or early mathematics, it never hurts to ensure that you have put together the best environment for students to succeed.
What should the environment be like?
In order to host the best play dates, it isn't really that important that you have a large home. In San Diego, no one has a really large home because there are 300 days of sunshine, which means that most families spend a few hours in the yard each day. Of course, in Seattle, where it is more common to have 300 days of rain each year, having a larger space is probably a good idea.
Ultimately, regardless of what the size of your home is, it is a good idea to optimize the space that you do have so that children can use their imagination. Having said that, if you are in a safe environment and your children are no longer toddlers, it is also okay to set limits on your personal space so that you can accomplish something while they play. They should be within eyeshot and earshot, however, so that you can be a referee and model citizen when necessary.
There are a lot of different options for children. If you are fortunate enough to have a family room in a home that you own, you might consider adding a playhouse or castle. There are designs available online that can be printed and used as stencils for the plywood designs that front the castle, while a two by four interior can be used as a playhouse with a ladder loft.
The nice thing about putting this type of sturdy playhouse together is that in 10 years when your children have outgrown the playhouse, you can completely remove it without wrecking your family room. In fact, by reclaiming your family room for tween and teen activity, you are helping set their environment up for their next phase.
If you would like to encourage arts and crafts, setting aside a workroom for the kids to dig in and get started on art projects will give them training that will stay with them for the rest of their lives. If you don't have the space to create a studio, working with the children outside should work just as well.
Don't worry if all your endeavors are not successful:
Just as you are not quite the same as other parents, children are not completely the same either. You might find to your surprise through trial and error that your children actually get along with a different type of child than you imagined they would. So although the mantra normally doesn't talk to strangers, it is obviously fine in a safe, public or private activity environment for your children to meet kids they don't know. If they like them you can consider setting up playdates with them.
Once you do bring children over for playdates, it can sometimes be the case that despite the environment that you create, there isn't the chemistry or the synergy that you would like.
So although it certainly isn't a starting point, you'll find that movies are actually a good equalizer. If you can get the children interested in a movie that is on Amazon or Netflix, you can see how they norm to messages that are usually akin to the type of universal noise that they do get outside your home. If they all end up sharing the same experience, they may norm as a group in ways that help them bond as friends. Movies as a shared experience can also be used as an activity for helping child with anxiety, overcome their shyness, or learning how to share.
Entertaining for success as a playdate maven or meister is a slippery slope. You can overplan and get nowhere or sometimes just throw the balls out and be a smashing success. Bottom line, if you create the environment and set the tone with a learning or cultural activity, you have a realistic shot at shaping your group's experience in a way that they will remember.