Play dates provide children with an opportunity to socialize and share in some fun, but when left to their own devices, you might have to send in a search party to dig them out of the play room mess. Fortunately, with a little planning and creativity, you can keep a large or small play date group occupied with engaging activities that might just make you the most exciting play date Mom in the neighborhood.
Occupy kids at a play date with crafts they can bring home when the get-together is done. You can help the kids make ornaments from polystyrene foam spheres -- or any other shape you like. Kids can paint them, poke them with chenille sticks, wrap ribbons around them, or just cover them with glue and colored glitter. Recycle small cups into miniature planter pots instead and help the kids give each one a friendly face. Add soil to each cup and help your group plant grass seeds in the soil so they can watch their planter pot pals grow grassy hair at home. If your child and her friends are a glamorous little bunch, you can show them how to make glitter body gel from aloe vera gel and glitter, and let each child decorate a container for the gel to take home.
You can make food fun without resorting to food fights, and make sure every child has just what he wants. Help the kids make customized miniature pizzas from pizza dough, sauce, shredded cheese, and little bowls full of toppings or have them build subs instead to keep the stove off on a warm day. If you're serving an afternoon snack instead of a meal, cut fruit into different shapes and let the kids make creative faces on small plates. For something a little sweet, make sugar cookies with a small group of young chefs and have the kids decorate cooled cookies with pastry bags of icing, sprinkles and any other toppings you can find in the cupboard. You can also teach the group how to make the best pizza ever, like a chocolate-chip cookie pizza topped with cherry sauce or strawberry jam, vanilla icing, pineapple and gummy candy shapes.
Transform some ordinary cardboard boxes into make-believe forts with your play date group to provide a little lesson in creative recycling, and an afternoon of imaginative play. You can make a giant space ship from a refrigerator box. Just cut the top flaps into triangles and tape them together to make a pointed top. Cut out a door and a few round windows and have the kids help to paint the space ship silver or cover it in aluminum foil. If you have a group of young pirates, turn the box into a seafaring ship instead. Lay it on its side, cut out the center and embellish the ship with a wrapping paper tube and construction paper Jolly Roger flag. Other forts your group can make include a cardboard stove box castle, an imaginative tree house and a fast food, drive-through window.
If your play date group has inquisitive minds, science activities can keep them entertained for hours -- they won't even know that a trip to your house was educational! Help the kids make a vinegar volcano together or show young detectives how to make invisible ink from lemon juice. You can find out just how lava lamps work with plastic bottles, vegetable oil, food coloring and fizzing tablets or make gooey slime from nontoxic glue gel, borax and food coloring if your play date group loves everything gross. If their young minds aren't full yet, make soda pop and mint candy geysers in the backyard or make enormous bubbles from dry ice and dish soap, but be sure to keep little fingers away from the dry ice.