For the last three years, I’ve been a very busy playdate scheduler for my oldest son Marco, now 8 and in second grade. I wasn’t thrilled with this job, but I reluctantly started doing it after realizing that he needed lots of play sessions to help his social skills, and he wasn’t going to be able to organize these by himself.
I’m happy to say that this school year, he’s started arranging his own play sessions. This is a big deal for him, as well as for my wife and me.
He’s become confident enough to approach friends and ask them to play. He asks school friends during the course of the school day, and he asks neighbor friends by going to their house and ringing their doorbells.
Asking school friends, in fact, involves some fairly complicated planning and social skills because these friends aren’t sure of their schedules until they get home and ask their babysitters or parents. So, two days this week, Marco has ridden his bike to friends’ houses after school to arrange afternoon play sessions.
I’ll break down the social and cognitive tasks that Marco is accomplishing by arranging and executing play sessions on his own:
- social invitation: He asks a friend to join him in a play session.
- navigation: He rides his bike to the friend’s house, and later, from there to home.
- negotiation of the play session: He and the friend figure out where to play and what to do.
- phone communication with me: If he spends any time at a friend’s house, he borrows a phone from an adult and calls me using my phone number, which he’s committed to memory.
- time awareness and punctuality: If he stays at a friend’s house, he has the presence of mind to ask an adult what time it is, and he’s always made it home in time for dinner.
In addition, my wife and I are benefitting from not having to arrange play dates for him, or drive him around, every day after school. Imagine that – a second grader engaging in good healthy free play after school without any involvement from parents or babysitters.
Marco’s accomplishing all this now because of all the freedom we’ve afforded him while we’ve been arranging playdates for him these past three years. He’s been riding his bike to and from school every day since the first day of kindergarten, and starting sometime last year, he started riding home on his own every day. We’ve also been letting him ride to nearby friends’ houses and to stores on his own. When he was engaged in his playdates, we always left him and his friend(s) alone to decide what to play and to settle disputes.
So, he had a packed social life, thanks to all my playdate arranging activities, and yet he had lots of freedom as well. Recently, he’s merged these two, so he’s starting to pack his own social life.