Children's Health

The Perfect Playdate

Teachers have ten, twenty, sometimes thirty children in a room at a time and every minute of the day needs to be planned out to maximize learning. As a parent, you want to maximize your child's time spent outside of the class and this includes productive and pleasant playdates. Parents know- one tough playdate can ruin a friendship. Teachers know that unstructured time- such as playdates- still require some planning to prevent chaos. So how can communication and a little planning go a long way for your child's playdate? Read on to find out.

Call aheadReach out to the parents of your child's playmate and ask them a few important questions. Ask them about their child's allergies, preferred foods, and favorite activities. There is nothing worse than getting a playmate to your house then finding out the children have nothing in common. A quick phone call will help you get prepared.

Have a game plan Have at least three ideas to offer restless playmates. We hope children will find activities on their own, but as parents, you know there comes a time- more often then we like- that boredom strikes. Keep materials for an art project, a new box of Legos, or a deck of cards in a closet in case the playdate needs a little jump start. Having at least three tricks in your bag keeps you prepared while still allowing the children to have some choice.

Schedule a snack break This is where your phone call to the other parents really comes in handy. You know there's no taming a hungry, picky child so having a snack you know your child's playmate will enjoy keeps everyone happy. You don't have to put out a gourmet spread but it's nice to make your child's playdate feel comfortable.

Be a fly on the wallYou will obviously supervise the playdate for safety but you also want to watch for red flags that signal an unhealthy relationship between the children. Watch that one isn't bossing the other around or being intentionally cruel. Keep an eye on their interactions without interfering every minute of the playdate.

Setting up a successful playdate can be tricky - you're attempting to structure your child's unstructured time. The key to success is to be prepared, organized, and ultimately flexible. Follow the children's lead and do your best to anticipate their needs.

Jennifer Cerbasi teaches at a public school for children on the autism spectrum in New Jersey. As a coordinator of Applied Behavioral Analysis programs in the home, she works with parents to create and implement behavioral plans for their children in an environment that fosters both academic and social growth. In addition to her work both in the classroom and at home, she is also a member of the National Association of Special Education Teachers and the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Jennifer is an educational consultant who works with families and educators to establish healthy and productive routines in the home and school. Adapting behavior management techniques she implemented for years as a special educator, she helps parents and teachers adopt these tools to fit their unique needs and priorities. Jennifer also speaks to parent and education groups on current topics in education and children's health. Visit www.jennifercerbasi.com