Play dates? Let the kids play!

blond boy playing with the garden hose.
My son playing in the backyard.

I saw a blogger on TV talk about “banishing the play-date.”  You can read his post here.

I reminisced about my childhood. I played in and out of neighbors’ backyards, rode bikes from dawn to dusk — with no adults bothering me.

When I had kids, I found they didn’t have freedom like we did. One of the reasons was there were zero kids in our neighborhood besides mine. Then the nine-year-old boy who was kidnapped from his front yard and murdered — 20 minutes from us. It left moms frightened to let their kids out of their sight.


I went to Mommy and Me with my son at the Palm Springs Pavilion. We learned to sing songs together like “Itsy Bitsy Spider” and “I’m a Little Teapot” with a dozen other moms and babies who apparently needed the coaching. Each week, we took turns bringing snacks of grapes and string cheese. I look back at this as a training ground for the proverbial play-date.

merry go round at the park.
This was what the original equipment was like at our park.

Play-dates developed from the Mommy and Me group. We had a park day, which was fun and healthy. Moms sat together on quilts on the grass and talked for hours while our kids played on the now-banned playground equipment — a super tall, steep slide, a merry-go-round, and a stagecoach that they could climb into, on top of and jump off of. Sometime during their early childhood years, our city tore out the dated, dangerous equipment and put in rubber ground and safe equipment. Our kids never liked to play on the brightly-colored equipment and our park play-dates vanished. We laughed about the slide where the kids would get stuck going down. It was a “sue proof” slide.


One day, I got a phone call from a friend. She homeschooled her daughter and hand-picked her friends for a weekly Friday Play-Group. She hired a teacher to run play-group, and each week included a lesson, theme, craft and snack, followed by 10 minutes of supervised play on her backyard swing set.

I felt honored to have my children chosen for the select group. My kids had made the cut. Months later, she took me to lunch at CPK and told me she had some big news. She was uninviting one of the boys. I hardly saw this is earth shattering, but perhaps there was more to this luncheon. Maybe it was a warning!

Years later, when my kids were in high school, they reconnected with friends from play-group. NOTE: This wasn’t just a play-date, it was play-group. They remembered it as if they were fellow Mouseketeers, having survived a bizarre childhood experience.

FYI, I’m using The Playgroup” as the basis for a manuscript I’m currently writing. It follows the friendships and lives of four moms with their young children. They are all bound by the cryptic “Playgroup.”

When my daughter reached 6th grade, we tried homeschooling. Every Wednesday, I picked up her best friend from the local middle school, and brought her to our house to play until her mom got off work. This was another sort of play-date. We moms thought it was an ideal way to keep their friendship going. Since my daughter loved arts and crafts — homeschooling allowed her to try ceramics, mosaics, and quilting — I said that the two girls could do an art project each week.

But that didn’t happen. I was tired from supervising my daughter’s activities to the half hour, and my daughter just wanted to hang out with her friend. So, I retired to my room and left them alone. After a few weeks, the friend didn’t want to come over anymore. She said she was promised an art activity and she was disappointed that they weren’t doing one.

Child at Carpinteria State Beach.
My daughter on a camping trip at the beach.

That made me think about our kids and their overly structured lives. I love having quiet time. I hope my kids do, too. We need to unplug, unschedule, and let our kids regain their creativity and inner peace. They need us to leave them alone and let them be kids.

What are your thoughts about arranged play dates, play groups and activities for kids? Do you think kids are over-scheduled today? Did you have to arrange play time with friends for your kids or did you live in an area where they could go outside and play?

13 thoughts on “Play dates? Let the kids play!

  1. I had mostly free range kids, there were a lot of them and they came up with activities I could never have imagined. We lived in a neighborhood stocked with kids of all ages. On occasion I would come up with a craft idea. I’d set up the craft supplies and cover the dining room table. Usually it was finger painting or paper mache or decorating blown eggs but that was the exception. I wasn’t big on organizing play dates. The kids picked their own friends and everyone knew they were always welcome at the Oreglia’s! I was the queen of toothpicks and kid friendly appetizers. Lots of fond memories. Hugs, C

    • That sounds so ideal. It was harder raising kids in a kid free neighborhood. My house growing up was more like yours. We lived on a street filled with kids and my mom let us dig to China and build treehouses, plus make forts with tables and sheets in the living room.

  2. When we were going we would play outside with each other and other kids. Those were safe times. My kids had play dates but without parents and now my grandson goes to his best friend’s home whenever he gets a chore he comes over.

  3. My granddaughter spent a few weeks with us this summer and I noticed something. She is used to being entertained. If it isn’t school, or dance class, or gymnastics, other kids, or an adult-led activity, it is the iPad. At my house, when none of these things was available (I work from home and couldn’t take the whole two weeks off), she would pout and whine and complain… and then suddenly, she’d get creative. Once she took ownership of her playtime, she could be creative for hours – all by herself! I wondered if parents are a bit too impatient with the pouting and whining and kids just don’t get a chance to get past it. ???

    • That’s interesting. I do think kids are busy all the time. You’re right that screens add to that. They haven’t learned to be creative and entertain themselves. I was so disappointed that my daughter’s best friend didn’t want to hang out and wanted a supervised art project.

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