Rush out the door to preschool. Then off to swim lessons. A quick lunch squeezed in between music class and soccer practice. Whew. Before you know it, it’s time for dinner. Sure, all of these activities are fun and educational. But does your child really need all of them – and all at once? At the preschool level, he may prefer to hang out with his friends and just, well, play.

In today’s society, opportunities for children abound. While it’s fortunate to have a lot of options, sometimes parents can go overboard. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by all the choices, your child probably is too. That’s where playdates come in.

A trip to a friend’s house may seem hopelessly ho-hum compared to a ballet class or an afternoon of soccer drills, but it’s just as important. Sure, signing them up for a select number of classes can add to your child’s social and mental development. But there’s something to be said for unstructured, unfettered, unencumbered play. It gives kids the opportunity to imagine, pretend and be silly with peers – without a dismissal bell.

Still, don’t think you can go to a playdate for the first time and tell the kids to play while you chew the fat with the other parent. According to Early Childhood Consultant Sylvia Ford, kids at this age still need parental involvement. Ford says, “The parent needs to make an investment in the playdate for it to succeed.” She suggests planning an activity ahead of time. It can be as simple as setting out the playdough or stacking up the coloring books and then getting the kids engaged before backing off.

Children learn from watching. When a parent shows them how to share by divvying up the crayons, they’re taking that in and filing it away for next time. Children also learn from doing. Practice makes perfect and kids get better at cooperation the more they work their sharing muscles. When you take your child out of your home and into another’s, he gets to work on his manners. He must ask nicely to play with those new exciting toys. Both kids learn to take turns. Your child also has the chance to exercise his right brain. The two friends can make-up games together, have a picnic, play dress-up, or just put on hats and go for safari in the backyard.  
So don’t be afraid to skip that class all the parents are raving about right now. Instead, let your son don his friend’s tutu and spin double axels in her family room. This is one of the very short and precious times in their lives when there are no real rules to follow, no stereotypes by which to abide, and they’re flying below Big Brother’s radar. Your kid can just be a kid, tiara and all.