Why I’m Anti-Playdate

Okay, I’m as guilty of it as anyone nowadays. A parent suggests that our children get together and we whip out our calendars. It’s time to negotiate the playdate: time of drop off and pick up, snack or lunch or both, allergies, bring gear so they can play outside, etc, etc, etc.

At what point exactly did we start calling children’s time with a friend a ‘playdate’? I would venture to say exactly around the same time that helicopter parenting hit the vernacular. The same time that we all started to carry our calendars on portable electronic devices. The same time that we started to feel the necessity of putting our children’s activities into a schedule. (Check out Wikipedia’s definition of a playdate)

Of course, I’m very pro ‘play’. I’m just a tad resentful of the idea that we need to make play into a ‘date’ – a date that is sometimes planned weeks in advance.

Remember how we would play as kids? We’d head outside to see who was around. If there was nobody there, we’d knock on doors to see who could come out and play. I doubt my parents ever knew exactly where we were. They’d just ask my sister and I to come home in time for dinner. Occasionally they would call around to our friend’s homes until they located us.

Then there were the times that we’d randomly ask our parents if so-and-so could come over. We’d come out of swimming lessons, for example, and I’d ask if a friend could come over for dinner. No warning, no advance planning, just spontaneous company.

I had a quick chat about this with a friend of mine. I wondered if it was because I was raised in a small town. But she confirmed that she, too, had played this way as a child in the city. Distance between friends will always demand some advance planning. But as long as friends are in the neighbourhood, there should be no reason to turn play into a date.

I was thinking about playdates when I wrote this week’s Slow Saturday Challenge. I sometimes shy away from playdates because it feels like a burden when there is a schedule to follow. I get annoyed with an exact amount of time allocated to play. I’d much rather causal playtime…

I love that the Bear is now old enough to go out and knock on a neighbour’s door to see if a friend wants to come out and play. The kids grab their boots and head outside. No advance plan, just time to hang out. Sometimes they only play for about 15 minutes before one of them is called inside. But the children know that they are allowed to have that random, unscheduled, unstructured play between other obligations.

I was glad that we spontaneously invited one of the Bear’s friends over on Monday. It was spur-of-the-moment; just an opportunity for the two of them to get together. And, as I mentioned in the Slow Saturday Challenge, more kids often means less work. They just make their own fun and disappear to invent their own games. The more, the merrier. And spontaneous play will always trump planned playtime.

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  24. 24 Marissa April 21, 2011 at 4:23 am

    I loved the adventure of finding new random friends in my neighbourhood or neighbouring neighbourhoods. It didn’t matter their age or if they went to my school – we seemed to find each other.

    Are kids allowed to bike alone these days? I am pretty sure there were the same amount of predators and creepy peeps now as when we grew up but my friends-with-kids don’t seem to allow the same amount of freedom I remember having as a kid.

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    • 25 Mama Tortoise April 21, 2011 at 9:28 am

      Hi Marissa, Thanks for commenting! Sad, but true, children are not really ‘allowed’ to be alone outside anymore. Unless you’re my kids! Glad that you are gleaning something from the blog.

      -Laura

  25. 26 Mama Tortoise April 19, 2011 at 5:50 am

    Thanks for the comments, everyone.

    I agree that distance between kids is a key barrier to impromptu play. But then MJ told me his story of riding his bike to nearby farms to play with ‘neighbourhood’ kids. When kids are young, it’s harder to encourage impromptu play, but as kids get older, playdates will hopefully become a thing of the past.

    Nra – thank you so much for pointing out about working Moms. You’re absolutely right, this makes playdates an obvious solution. Just as long as planned time is balanced with unscheduled play time.

    -Laura

  26. 27 Nra April 13, 2011 at 2:53 pm

    I never had playdates as a child but I also had enough siblings close enough in age that it was likely never needed.

    I find that playdates tend to happen with kids that live far from my children and those children/parents represent lifestyle choices I don’t often agree with but expose my children to differences I would not have exposed them too.

    I live in an aging neighbourhood and on my street there are not children of a similar age to mine making the impromptu play session not likely to happen for my children.

    Another barrier to the impromptu play session is the rising number of working moms – kids are just not in the neighbourhood. And I think some working moms may use the playdate to have the opportunity to see their children at play.

    And I must admit that playdate is often cover me needing time to chat with other moms and it has little to do with how my children get along with the other mom’s children.

    Great post!

  27. 28 Michelle April 13, 2011 at 1:44 pm

    I wonder if part of the issue is the “spread” of the city? Kids don’t necessarily attend the neighbourhood school or participate in neighbourhood activities, and may not know kids in their area or prefer to play with kids that live elsewhere. As a result of school boundaries our son was given placement in the closest school to our home (argh) and instead goes to a school more than 10 km away. We love the school, but the distance means that his school friends usually live closer to the school. And so we make playdates. Door knocking isn’t an option. Fortunately, we also have a great group of neighbours, including children my sons’ ages and impromptu sunny-weather-get-togethers are becoming the norm. How old do I feel, longing for the “good ol’ days?”

  28. 29 Pamella April 13, 2011 at 12:19 pm

    I too lived in the city and played like this too. Mom and dad never really knew where I was. I would just wander home if I had to eat or use the bathroom.

  29. 30 Daniel April 13, 2011 at 10:34 am

    Thank-you for this. I’m glad I’m not the only one that doesn’t get the whole playdate thing. When I was a kid in the big bad city I went to friend’s homes unplanned all the time.


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