You’ve spent a day cleaning like a maniac. You have a selection of nutritious, tasty, and Instagram-worthy snacks prepared. Everyone is dressed in clothes that say “I’m put together, but not trying too hard.” Now you’re all sitting very still—not taking any chances that something will be put out of place or someone will get messy—waiting for the doorbell to ring.
What could occasion this frenzy? A holiday dinner? A birthday party? Are the in-laws coming? Great-Aunt-Ethel? Nope. Your child is having an indoor playdate and you have just deep-cleaned your house top-to-bottom because a kindergartener is coming over to play. As you’re waiting for their arrival, you realize something: In all the craziness of preparing for the big event, you forgot to plan any activities! Oh. Snap.
Don’t let this happen to you! Check out these easy, inexpensive indoor play date ideas.
Pizza. I just did this activity and it was a big hit. We had a late evening play date that included dinner, so I made up some pizza dough (feel free to purchase premade dough, we’re not here to judge) and set out bowls of toppings. Because I was dealing with younger kids, I did prepare their crusts for them, but they got to poke the holes in the crust and top their individual pizzas however they wanted. This turned out to be genius, because our guest does not like sauce on her pizza, which I never would have thought to ask. Also, let me suggest squeezable pizza sauce, which is one of the most brilliant inventions ever.
Make crayons. Ever since I learned that restaurants usually just throw away the crayons they give to your kids if you leave them behind, I take them home with me and toss them in jar. Then, when it’s playdate time, I have tons of extra crayons laying around so that the kids can make their own crayons in fun shapes! (You can also head to the dollar store and buy some cheap crayons; you don’t have to deplete your supply of fancy non-broken Crayola for this.) It’s a neat project that lets the kids be creative, gives them something to do once the crayons cool—they totally have to try the crayons out, right?!—and even provides your guest(s) something to take home.
Play dough play date. This one is so simple and the opportunities for open-ended play are endless. Buy or make play dough. Set out accessories: pony beads, pebbles, coffee stir sticks, chenille sticks, rolling pins, cookie cutters, play (or just small) baking pans, a garlic press, or play dough mats. Let your (or your child’s) imagination run wild for this set-up! If you want to do something more permanent, you can use salt dough and the kids can make a keepsake instead.
Camp YourHouse. One of the room parents for my daughter’s preschool hosted an indoor camp play date and it was so much fun! Set up a tent (your child’s play teepee or even your real camping tent) and break out the sleeping bags. Build a fire using old paper towel tubes and tissue or construction paper—or better yet, have the kids create the logs and flames and build their own fire. Turn off the lights or close the shades and use lanterns and flashlights to light your space. Make fresh popcorn, and roast marshmallows for s’mores over the stove or in the microwave (the microwave is less campy, but the kids will love watching the marshmallows blow up). Sit in a circle around the fire and tell stories, scary or otherwise, or read books about camp.
Dance party. Don’t forget about the dependable old dance party! There are so many options for this one. You could just turn on some music and let the kids go to town. Put out instruments so your child and their guest(s) can play along to the music, and add ribbons (these are my favorites) or play silks to encourage movement. Give them glow sticks and balloons! Provide costumes and let them choreograph a show. Or play DJ for a rousing game of Freeze Dance. And if you’re hosting a group, don’t forget about other musical games like Hot Potato and Musical Chairs.
Maybe one of the most important activities to “plan” for play dates, though, is play. So many of our children—even our youngest—have very structured, scheduled days. Resist your urge to plan every minute of the play date. It’s great to have an activity planned and some back-ups ready to go in case the play date isn’t going well (it happens), but don’t feel the need to have something going on every minute. Let your child show their friend their room and their toys. While the kids are camping, leave them time to explore their “camp ground.” (I mean, you did just clean the whole house, right?) They’ll come up with their own fun, I promise. Watch games of Hide-and-Seek and Grocery Store and School and Artist happen without any input from you.
You’re ready now, right? So take a deep breath, answer the door, and prepare to have fun!