5 playdate activities for kids
These super-fun playdate themes will keep kids entertained for hours – and help their brain development too!
Play may seem like nothing more than an entertaining pastime for tiny tots, but research shows that it serves a greater purpose than keeping them busy while you cook dinner. Many experts believe that play is more important than classroom time for children’s brain development, and the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights has declared play a right of every child.
How can a make-believe game of Princesses and Pirates be so important for your little one’s development? Scientists think that free play – where kids make up the rules without adult supervision – is solely responsible for critical changes in the prefrontal cortex of the brain. These changes then play an essential role in the development the brain’s executive control center, which helps us regulate our emotions, make plans and solve problems.
But despite the important body of research demonstrating the wide range of physical, social, cognitive and emotional benefits of play, our busy modern lifestyles often prevent our children from getting enough unstructured play time.
Say hello to free-play playdates
If you’re struggling to find time to let your child’s imagination run free, try incorporating free play into their playdates. Pick a theme and set them loose to play with their friends – you’ll be amazed to see where their developing minds can take them.
Here are five engaging pretend play ideas and toys for toddlers through to age six.
Shopping at the market and cooking in the kitchen
- Play kitchen: Hape’s All-in-1 Wooden Kitchen will delight mini master chefs with its incredible array of appliances and features, including an oven, dishwasher, microwave, sink, cooking utensils and more. 3 years and up.
- Pizza Kit: Toddlers love pretend pizza making! This beautiful felt set from Papoose is great for working on fine motor skills and encourages imaginative play. 3 years and up.
- Mixer: Your baker in the making will be able to whip up delicious make-believe treats for all their friends with Hape’s Mighty Mixer. The four-piece set includes a mixer, removable bowl, brown sugar and flour. Ages 3 and up.
- Farmers market kit: Seedling’s 13-piece Farmers Market Playtime Kit allows tots to choose plush fabric vegetables, place them in their cotton tote and pay for them with felt dollars. Ages 2 to 4.
- Spaghetti: This mouth-watering Spaghetti Play Set by Plan Toys looks good enough to eat! Your little one will love mixing the ingredients made from recycled rubber wood to create yummy pasta dishes for their playmates. Ages 3 and up.
- Play food set: Plan Toys’ Wooden Play Food Set will inspire your child’s creativity and encourage imaginative play. The set includes orange juice, water, milk, ketchup, jam and honey. Ages 3 and up.
- Garden salad: If Hape’s scrumptious Garden Salad set doesn’t encourage children to eat their veggies, nothing will! It includes 36 brightly colored wood and felt pieces that will allow them to chop and toss to their hearts’ content. Ages 3 and up.
- Kitchen starter set: This sustainably sourced wood Gourmet Kitchen Starter Set contains a pot, a pan, plates, cutlery and more to inspire your child’s imagination and engagement in the kitchen. Mix and match with the Play Kitchen or Garden Salad. Ages 3 and up.
- Dessert tower: Nom nom! Hape’s Dessert Tower comes with nine delectable desserts for all your youngster’s friends to enjoy. It’s never too early to learn to share our favorite things! Ages 3 and up.
- Sushi kit: Seedling’s Let’s Roll Sushi Kit will turn your half-pint into an instant sushi chef. Includes a cotton sushi mat and soy sauce packet; felt sashimi, sushi rolls and gyoza; and bamboo chopsticks. Ages 2 and up.
Doing arts and crafts
- Veggie crayons: Lay out large sheets of paper and let the little ones express their artistic sides with these enticing Wee Can Too Veggie Crayons. Made from vegetable-based ingredients and free from nasties, they’re safe and easy for small hands to grasp. Ages 1 and up.
- Art pad: These 50-page Eco-art pads are made with FSC-certified paper and are certified by the Rainforest Alliance. Ages 2 and up.
- Finger paints: The perfect accompaniment for the Eco-art pad, these bright Eco-finger paints are made with natural and organic fruit, plant and vegetable extracts. Five colors per pack. Ages 2 and up.
- Felt pens: OMY’s Ultra Washable Felt Pens take the worry out of coloring time. If ink gets on skin or clothes, a little soap and water will get it right out! 16 bright colors per pack.
- Sculpting dough: Wee Can Too’s Veggie Sculpting Dough is vegan and free from toxic chemicals, dyes and lead. It promotes tactile stimulation, hand strength, dexterity and motor skills – but all the kids will care about is that it’s fun, fun fun!
- Coloring poster: Hours of coloring fun are guaranteed with OMY’s Giant Coloring Poster featuring magical and prehistoric scenes printed on recycled paper.
- Mermaid Vest and Tail: Little ones can flip their fins on dry land, while having a ball. This vest and skirt come from Lovelane Designs and are suitable for ages 2-7.
- Butterfly wings: Even the tiniest of tots will delight in fluttering about with these magical quilted Lovelane Designs Butterfly Wings on their back. Available in pink or mint. From 12 months.
- Dragon wings: Watch out for the fire-breathing dragon behind you! These beautifully designed Dragon Wings are made of natural cotton canvas and printed with child-friendly ink. Ages 3 and up.
- Unicorn Mask: Let mythological creatures come to life with the Opposite of Far unicorn mask. Ages 3 and up.
- Pirate vest: Ahoy, matey! Wee pirates will love dressing up in this Pirate Vest with Removable Parrot and sailing the high seas in search of hidden treasure. Ages 2 and up.
Rockin out in a band
- Banjo: Little ones will love making music with the Plan Toys Banjo. Made from organic rubber wood. Ages 3 and up.
- Guitar: Watch your child’s face light up as they create their first melodies on Schoenhut Piano Company’s eye-catching Red Acoustic Guitar. Age 6 and up.
- Musical shakers: A must for any playdate jam session, Brio’s Musical Shakers each make a different sound. They’re 100% FSC-certified beech wood and free from PVC, lead and phthalates. From 6 months.
- Piano: This beautiful wooden Playful Piano by Hape will not only look great in your toy room, it will encourage musical creativity and be loved for years to come by your mini pianist. Ages 3 and up.
- Xylophone: Kids love banging out tunes on this colorful Musical Xylophone and they’ll develop their hand-eye coordination in the process. From 18 months.
Outdoor fun & adventures
- Mini golf set: Your kiddo will love challenging their friends to a friendly game of mini golf in the backyard with this beautiful Plan Toys Mini Golf Set made from sustainable rubber wood. Ages 3 and up.
- Watering can: What better way to entertain your small guests than with a gardening sesh? This Watering Can Set includes a watering can, rake and shovel made from 100% recycled plastic milk jugs. From 18 months.
- Recycling truck: Forget garbage trucks – Recycling Trucks are where it’s at in 2017! Made from 100% recycled plastic and featuring different compartments to sort bottles, cans and paper, it’s sure to capture your tot’s imagination. Ages 1 and up.
- Seaplane: Green Toys’ Seaplane is not only super-fun to handle and zoom through the air, it really floats! Perfect for your next pool party. Ages 1 and up.