The Mum Network

The importance of play dates, sport and keeping kids busy

The play date mega cubby at our house.

The play date mega cubby at our house.

The text came through last night, “Hi Lara, it’s XXX’s Mum here, from Miss 6’s year 1 class, Miss 7 would like her to come over for a play date on Friday afternoon, would that be ok with you”

I nearly jumped through the phone and kissed her. First ever playdate that I haven’t organised. I was so grateful to the Mum and I told her why. Miss 6 will be so excited she’ll no doubt try to sleep in her play clothes and wear them to school on Friday. You see, Miss 6 could make a full time profession out of whinging about how unfair her life is. Each time a new friend of the boys comes over (typically it’s not pre-arranged and random kids simply end up in our car after sport), she breaks down, collapses and cries (real tears) “NOT ANOTHER BOY COMING OVER – WHY CAN’T I EVER GO TO SOMEONE’S HOUSE FOR A SLEEPOVER”

It’s hard to explain to a 6 year old whose big brothers have someone here every single week or they are at someone else’s house that sleepovers just aren’t the done thing in Year 1 and despite Mum and Dad being open to letting her stay at a close friend’s house, it was only this past weekend where I actually found a close friend I trust who is in a similar situation and more than happy to let her little one come here and viva versa.

Last weekend I asked one of my friends who has many children who are excellently well behaved, social and great communicators what her secret was. She replied without hesitation. “Keep them busy. Sport is a great way to keep the kids busy all the time”. It’s a great tip and I’ve also observed her over the years, her house is open to all, all the time. She’s always let the kids have friends over, the teenagers hang at her house and whilst she has rules they must all abide by, they respect her and adore hanging at her very child and teen friendly house. My Mr 7 calls her home “his brother from another mother’s house” and frequently threatens to move in so clearly she’s doing something right.

I have done some research on why play dates and sports are important for kids and how to make kids feel welcome in your home;

1. Play dates at your house let you see how your kids interact with other kids, how they behave when other kids are around. Do they include their siblings, are they kind and generous with their toys? Does your child have similar interests to their friend, are they a good kid when a friend is around? If most of the answers to these questions are no, you need to look at the child’s behaviour or re-direct their friendships but it’s a great way for parents to suss out what may happen at school or pre-school. A play date shouldn’t have to be hard work, if it is, again, move on and find the kids with similar family values to you or your child.

2. Let them go to other people’s homes for a play. By all means it’s important to suss out the parents and ensure your child is in a safe home with responsible adults. When you are ready to let them play at another child’s home without you being there, it’s a great way for kids to see how other people live, how to respect their rules and spend time in their friend’s environment. I rather like knowing that my kids have worked out not every child is allowed to rip up the cushions on their Mum’s good sofa to make a mega cubby house. It makes them a little more grateful as they realise I am not always the complete ogre they think I am.

2. Introducing play dates and allowing kids into your home from an early age lets kids know they’re welcome in your home at all times. If you make it painful for other parents however, they just won’t let it happen. Be flexible and chill out, yes they’re going to make a bit of mess, if you can’t handle a toy out of place then it’s probably not for you.  Play dates in your home allow your kids to interact with others outside pre-school and school and outside the confines of the small time periods there allowed to ‘play’. Give them ideas on what to do and never accept “I’m bored” when a friend is over. Climb a tree, make a TV show, start a shop, create a sports team – so much to do on a play date!

3. Never let OPC’s (other people’s children) be afraid of your home, rules are important but too many will put a child off wanting to hang. This is very important in the teenage years as I can recall getting into a spot of bother a time or two as a teenager and never once thinking that bringing 10 fellow teens with me would cause Mum one minute of bother. Everyone was welcome at all times and my friends all knew that.

And so we move to sport…..

4. Sport is important for all the fitness and team building skills that we all know about but it also alleviates boredom. Those kids hanging up at the local shopping centre and Maccas are only there because they’re not working nor do they have a netball, soccer or rugby training practise to get to. Boredom leads to drugs, drugs lead to crime, crime leads to jail and well…..this may be a tad dramatic but you get the idea……

5. Hormones. We don’t notice the surge of hormones in kids in the early years, sure there’s tears and a bit of drama but once they hit the pre-teen years, it starts and there is NO BETTER way to move a bit of adrenalin through the body than good old fashioned sport and exercise.

6. Individual sports are great and by all means let them swim, run or chuck a shot put if their heart may desire but get them into team sports as well. Playing in a team gives a child way more than we realise. It teaches them to be part of a team, fairness, generosity, humility and collective highs and lows that can be shared with a win or loss.

So based on the theory that play dates and sports are imperative for kids to be fabulously well adjusted and social kids, I’ve now realised we’re committed to rugby, netball, basketball, Taekwondo, Jazz Ballet, Tap and Hip Hop and I have organised three play dates for the weekend. Erk – busy much, they’ll have loads of friends but no one will want to hang here because I’ll be a psycho from all the driving I have to do to get them there!

What do your kids do to keep busy? Do you let them have friends over for play dates or sleepovers? 


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