Ideas for Playdates and Family Fun

Adapted from JOHNSON'S® Your Baby & Toddler, from Birth to 3 Years, DK Publishing, Inc., 2004 and JOHNSON'S® Your Toddler from 2 to 3 years, DK Publishing, Inc., 2004.

Toddler activities can run the range of organized art and music classes at your community center to a simple outing at the park. Structured activities are a relatively new concept. Past generations of parents didn't take their toddlers to music classes and prearranged playdates, but as times have changed and parents can no longer rely on an older generation or the neighborhood group of kids to provide entertainment, they find themselves organizing activities for their toddlers to enjoy.

Keep It Simple, Keep It Fun
The important thing to remember is to keep it simple - don't over structure your toddler's day with one activity following another. There will be plenty of time for that when she begins school in a few years. Keep an open mind and try many different activities - now that she is able to express her likes and dislikes clearly, she'll let you know which activity works and which doesn't! Here are just a few options:

Join a music or art class: Most communities have music classes geared toward babies and toddlers where they can learn the basics, and have fun dancing, with simple songs and instruments. It's also a great way for toddlers to watch and mimic one another - something they LOVE to do. Or, if you imagine your toddler to be a budding Picasso, sign up for an art class. If your community doesn't offer music or art classes, maybe you should consider starting one yourself!

Sign up for swimming lessons: Public pools usually set aside time for a parent-toddler hour and some even provide swimming lessons for toddlers. It's a good idea to teach your child to swim, for safety reasons alone, but also for the sheer fun of it. If your toddler has never been in a pool before, take it slowly. Some find it quite daunting to be in a bathtub that's bigger than a house!

Join story time at your local bookstore or library: Bookstores and libraries often hold story time where parents and toddlers can drop in, join the circle and take turns (parents, that is) reading from a variety of books. It's a wonderful way to get out of the house and meet other parents and toddlers.

Neighborhood Playdates
If joining a class is not an option, consider setting up a playdate with other toddlers in the neighborhood. The best rule of thumb is to keep the numbers even - as in groups of two or four - so nobody gets left out of a pair. Remember, a playdate is not a version of babysitting, so don't expect to drop off your child. It is a wonderful time to teach your toddler the early rules of socialization (before they head off to school in a few years' time), especially if they don't go to daycare or to other group activities. Limit the date time to no more than a couple of hours. It's also a good idea to allow for at least one structured play activity, even if that's as simple as doing art or making cookies.

Coming Clean
As much as you love that special outfit that Grandma sent, save it for portrait time. Instead, dress your toddler in comfortable clothing. Chances are, there will be food, paint, sand or other fun (dirty) things involved in your toddler's play activity. Don't worry about the mess - that's all part of the fun. Pack a couple of instant washcloths with a built-in cleanser for quick clean ups. Make sure the cleanser is gentle enough for your toddler's skin - alcohol-based hand gel may be a bit drying to use all the time.. Washing up will be almost as much fun as the play activity! If you prefer bar soap, you may want to try JOHNSON'S® BUDDIES™ Easy-Grip Sudzing Bar a gentle cleansing bar in a patented soft pouch that won't slip from your toddler's hands. As your toddler grows more independent and develops a stronger hand grip, she'll enjoy being able to hold her own soap and help with her hand wash.

Mom - make sure you're looking after your own hands and keeping them moisturized after all that washing up. JOHNSON'S® Vanilla Oatmeal Baby Lotion is a unique lotion which combines skin-soothing properties of oatmeal with the comforting essence of vanilla. Non-greasy and fast absorbing, it moisturizes for 24 hours.

A Simple Outing with Just You and Your Toddler
The play activity doesn't have to be a class or even a playdate, it could be as simple as organizing an outing for you and your toddler. That could include a walk in the park to look at squirrels, a trip to the museum or library or, if the weather is nice, a quick trip to the beach to collect seashells. Each trip can be fun and educational as you talk to your toddler about where squirrels live, look at ancient artifacts, or study different types of seashells. Don't worry if you don't know the answer - look it up when you get home. That will teach your curious toddler to seek answers for her (many!) questions. The most important thing is to give your child your undivided attention - use this outing as an opportunity to further bond with your toddler.

Whatever activity you choose, it's important to keep in mind that your toddler will need to be well-rested and well-fed before embarking on any plan. Be sure to schedule classes, playdates and trips outdoors around your toddler's naptimes and mealtimes. And pack a few snacks and a drink before you head out "just in case."

Have Fun!
The most important thing is for everyone to discover an enjoyable new activity. This is a time when your toddler has energy to spare, and is looking to explore the world beyond her immediate surroundings. So whether it's a class, a playdate, or a trip to the park with mommy, have fun!