Bundle Up, Babe

17 Winter Playdate Ideas That Are Easy, Fun, & (Mostly) Warm

The weather’s frightful, but so is the prospect of your kid cooped up with no outlet for that pent-up energy. Amirite?

Originally Published: 
Kids walk in the park with first snow

It’s flippin’ cold out there, man! Meanwhile, your “spirited” kid desperately needs energy expenditure and social interaction, leaving you scrambling for winter playdate ideas. While outdoor games and playdates at playgrounds and in backyards still feel like the ultimate safe and fun options, the weather doesn't exactly make that easy this time of year.

If it’s not freezing cold and snowing, it’s freezing cold and raining. Which, let’s face it, might sound like a barrel of fun for your little one but is pure torture for parents. Your yard is a muddy pit during winter, too, right? The very last thing you feel like doing is forcing awkward conversation through chattering teeth with another mom while wishing you’d worn your puffer jacket.

Plus, so many outdoor activities in the winter (like snowman building) require a bit of help from parents who’d rather be sittervising. But many indoor activities don’t necessarily seem conducive to playdates, either.

So, what do you do when your kiddo and their soon-to-be-bestie need time to bond and perhaps run off steam? That depends on how adventurous you are. With some gloves and a little patience, though, the options are (almost) as limitless as they are in the summer.

Indoor Playgrounds

Let’s not forget the joys of the ball pits and giant swirly slides. They were germ banks when we were kids, and they probably feel even more ominous with the threat of a "tripledemic" looming. But if you’ve taken all the necessary precautions (vaccines, handwashing, etc.), it might be time to let your kiddo explore these. Bonus: They’re even easier to find than you think.

  • Restaurants. You can find a “PlayPlace” at most McDonald’s restaurants, and while you may not always be about that Happy Meal life, it’s important to remember that play dates are supposed to be special. Besides, shoving a Big Mac into your face is a great way to avoid having to talk to a new mom if socializing isn’t your thing.
  • Churches. No, seriously. Try searching “indoor playground near me” or “indoor play place near me,” and you’ll probably discover at least one church in the area with a community center that is “open to all.” Many of these have great extra perks, like a cafe or free Wi-Fi. While some might request donations to play, many view the community center as an “outreach program” and leave it free to the public.
  • Museums. Got a kids’ museum near you? While they have plenty of other fun, educational things for your kiddos to explore, many also have an indoor playground. Consider investing in an annual pass as a holiday present to offset the cost — memberships can pay for themselves pretty quickly if you plan to go to the museum more than once. And most museums have a “reciprocal” program, so you can use your pass to explore other museums across the state or country. You may even be able to bring a guest for free as part of the membership's perks.
  • Indoor Playground/Entertainment Centers. You know all those places Blippi explores with the soft climbing areas, giant slides, fun shapes, and, yes, ball pits? They were big when you were a kid, and now they’re making a comeback. Even smaller towns sometimes have one, while larger cities usually have several with varying themes, like giant sandboxes or a focus on pretend play. Take note: These are usually a little pricier. However, they’re typically set up safely enough that you can sit down and engage in adult conversation without worrying about your kiddo the entire time.
  • Malls. This is in no way a suggestion that you go to the mall and let your kids run through stores like little maniacs. However, many malls have soft play areas or mini arcades where kids can expend some energy. After, there’s no harm in plopping the new friends in a double stroller and pushing them around while you and your new mom-bestie browse the shops.

Outdoor Adventures

Are you groaning? Sure. Still, it has to be said. If you bundle up properly, a little time spent in the cold can benefit kids. Stick some hand-warmer pouches in everyone’s stocking (including your own) and promise to get your kiddos outside — even when it’s cold. As a bonus, that fresh air and ability to run around in open space will make bedtime so much easier.

  • Trails. The trail you wandered down early summer that was bursting with life? It’s a magical, wintry world right now. You could walk the same easy-peasy path once a season, and it would always feel like a completely different adventure.
  • Playgrounds. Did you know slides work in the winter, too? That’s what they say. Choose a playground with good windbreaks around it, layer up, bring a blanket for the bench, and don’t even mention where you're going until you’ve hit Starbucks for a hot bevvy.
  • Hills. Sledding is mildly exciting and offers a hint of danger. You may not want to take a kiddo yours has never played with before, though — bombing a hill is an adventure best left to playdates between familiar parties. To get the kids to genuinely engage with each other, grab a two-person sled or show up with a bag of sand toys (that are just as useful in the snow).
  • Neighborhood Scavenger Hunts. This requires a bit of prep, but going for a walk around the neighborhood on a scavenger hunt can be a blast. Give your kiddos a list (with images, if necessary) of things to look for on your brisk walk. Stray holiday decor, orange construction tape, a black dog, a mama and baby (animals and humans count), something recyclable, etc. Afterward, head back inside and warm up with hot chocolate.

At-Home Playdate Ideas and Activities

Not feeling like exploring public play places or the great outdoors? Winter playdates at your home or a friend’s home can be a ton of fun, too. You just need the right supplies.

  • Play-dough. Buy two sets. Two of each color. You know the deal! Granted, you can absolutely use this playdate to teach little Milo how to share — or you can enjoy an adult conversation with his parent because you gave the kids the tools they need for a peaceful playdate.
  • Sensory Bins. Kiddos love these things. They get to touch cool textures, find neat objects, and, yeah, make a mess. Maybe set these up on the play table with a sheet underneath.
  • Cookie Decorating. A little sugar can’t hurt the experience, right? This will be an all-hands-on-deck adventure, but it’ll come with a big reward: snacks and giggles.
  • Holiday Decorating. The holidays can be stressful for your kiddo. You’re excited or nervous, and they feel those emotions. The house is also often full of things they can’t touch. So whip out the construction paper and work on making some decor they can handle, like paper chains around the play kitchen. And snowflakes on the windows won’t draw from your more refined holiday decorating.
  • Card Making. While you have the construction paper out, how about working on holiday cards or Valentines? Winter comes with several card-giving holidays. Why not use the playdate to help your kiddos prep for those class parties?
  • Dance Party! Who says you can’t blow off steam indoors? Push the furniture back to the walls, queue up a kid-friendly playlist, and let your kiddos dance their heads off. For extra fun, put a disco bulb in one of your lamps and close the curtains. They’ll sleep well tonight.
  • Movie “Night." Not all play dates need to be full of adventures and activities. They can be as simple as inviting a friend over to watch Cars because you noticed both kiddos love playing with Hot Wheels in their classroom.
  • Slime Party. You’re gonna need slime-making ingredients, along with snacks, juice boxes, and at least one adult beverage (for you). They’ll talk about it for ages once it’s all said and done.

While tailoring your winter playdates to the weather can sometimes be a necessity, it doesn’t have to take away months of fun. With a little thought and prep, you can still have amazing play dates all year long. It's all about going with the flow. Or, as it were, going with the snow.

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