Loose Parts Play, Part 2

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the value of open-ended birthday parties and playdates. In that post, I promised to offer practical suggestions for parents who'd like to try planning one.

Here's my top 10 list for planning a "loose parts" party or playdate.

  1. Keep the guest list short. Many experts recommend matching the child's age to the number of children invited. (For example, a child turning 4 invites 4 friends).
  2. Encourage your child to invite friends with similar interests.
  3. Set a clear end-time for the party or playdate and keep it short. If the kids are playing well, you can always extend it or make plans for another playdate. If your kids have typically participated in highly organized forms of play such as video games or organized sports, they'll need a little practice with open-ended play. Better to have a short successful playdate with the kids asking for more time than a bunch of kids standing around bored.
  4. Plan around meals and naps (if the kids are young) to keep it simpler. For example, meet from 10 to 11:30 for little kids or 1 to 2:30 for older ones.
  5. Provide open space for playing. Possible locations: your back yard (if you have one), a local park, a state park, your child's schoolyard, or a public beach.
  6. Plan for the weather. Advise parents in advance that the party will be outside so they can dress their children appropriately and bring a change of clothes, if needed. Depending upon where you live and the time of year, this may include: applying sunscreen or bug spray, wearing hats, mittens, sunglasses and proper footwear (e.g. sneakers or other sturdy footwear, not flip flops), or dressing warmly.
  7. Don't automatically move the party inside if it rains or snows. Summer rains are warm and fun for kids. Kids love playing in the snow.
  8. Resist the urge to plan games or other organized activities. Rather, provide a bunch of "loose parts" and let them go. (In more natural areas that are not manicured, nature provides all the loose parts they'll need). Examples of loose parts for natural play (taken from Louv): trees, bushes, flowers, sticks, long grasses, rocks, sand, a pond with creatures in it.
  9. Provide lots of drinking water and healthy snacks such as cut up fruit, whole grain crackers and cheese, veggies and dip (hummus is big with my kids and their friends). Avoid high sugar drinks and snacks.
  10. Have a contingency plan in case the weather is too awful. Many state parks have gazebos or other structures where you can take shelter in inclement weather. Some require reservations, so call ahead. For more suggestions regarding what to do in case of inclement weather, come back next week for "Loose Parts Play, part 3."