“What fun thing can I do?” That is a regular question from five-year old Jordan. As summer approaches and schools let out, parents all over know that this question in its various forms will be posed much more often. As parents, we are not responsible to keep kids entertained constantly; a little “creative boredom” is good for their imaginations. But it is fun for parents and kids alike to have summer recreation ideas ready and waiting. Good thing the regular weekly play day has grown up.
Two years ago, our family established a regular play day for our friends and neighbors. Inspired by summer camps of the 50s and the infamous Mount Wannahakkaluggie from Finding Nemo, we dubbed our play day “Camp Wannalaffalotta.”
It started with an open invitation to practically everyone we knew: Come play at our house every Tuesday morning in July from 9-12. Bring a water bottle with your name on it, a sack lunch, sunscreen, and a lawn chair for Mom or Dad. “Everyone we knew” included about 20 families with 1-6 children, aged 0-18. I added a disclaimer that we couldn’t promise to be super-entertaining for the teenagers, but we would do our best by the preschoolers and school-aged kids. As it turned out, the older kids who came enjoyed visiting with others their age. You, too, can create a weekly day of friends and fun. Here are some guidelines:
Pick a regular time each week
Remember that old Batman slogan, “Same BatTime, same BatChannel”? Viewers knew they could count on watching the Caped Crusader at the same time and station every week. Make your play day the same time and place each week so that parents can spontaneously load up the kids and come play without having to remember what the plan is.
Any family’s schedule will work
Whether you are home with the kids during the day or doing double duty as a working mom, a play date can still fit in your summer plans. We chose Tuesday mornings, but a late afternoon weekday with a picnic supper or even a block of time on the weekend will work just as well. While you can’t accommodate everyone’s schedule, consider the lifestyles of your invitees to pick the best time.
Ask friends to bring their own sunscreen, water bottles, and, picnic lunch
An important practical thing to consider, it makes it easier for you as host and is a great reminder for the other parents that these needs will arise. You might even ask the moms or dads to take turns bringing an adult snack or to contribute to a salad bar. So many times parents are able to get it together for the kids, but not themselves. Food tends to help people relax and enjoy themselves more.
Know that not everyone will come every week
Feel free to invite a huge crowd, because not everyone’s schedule will fit yours every week. We had some families make it a regular part of their week, while others were able to come just once over the summer.
Parents will enjoy the activity as much as the kids. Communicate to the adults that you expect them to join in the fun. While a situation may arise when a parent needs to drop off the kids for a morning, you don’t want this to become everyone’s habit. You’re not a daycare – you’re hosting a get-together for children and parents alike.
Feel free to plan an alternate location
We live on a cul-de-sac and have a fairly large yard, so I felt confident that our house could handle the traffic of potentially large groups.
If that isn’t your situation, don’t let it be a stumbling block. Locate your playtime at a local park. You can pay to reserve a picnic spot, or just take your chances. Be prepared to cancel on rain days, or notify families that you’ll meet at Chuck E. Cheese or some other kid-friendly restaurant. Inquire at your subdivision’s clubhouse or your church or synagogue. Perhaps you can use those facilities free of charge.
Plan activities in advance
While kids are often pleased just to have free play, it is always helpful to have some planned activities up your sleeve. Ask other parents or teens for help in the planning. Some of our activities included tie dying, water fun and a hopscotch tournament.
Be ready to include those you don’t know well
Since we opened our invitation to the neighbors, we had the opportunity to make new friendships. If you have a ton of kids showing up every week, either at your home or the park, you’re sure to attract attention. What a great way to model friendship to your kids by including those you don’t know well or at all.
While it may sound like a lot of work, it entails only a little pre-planning and fellow parents who are enthusiastic about getting together. I was amazed at how much fun we had. Everyone who came said they enjoyed it. I was so glad we did it. You will be glad you did it, too.
Jessica Fisher is a wife, mother, and freelance writer, making her home near Kansas City. She and her husband and their five children enjoy playdays with their friends every summer.