“Please work together!” “Please share!” “Please take turns!” These pleas can be heard from parents and teachers in homes and schools every day. Despite the challenges that parents may encounter along the pathway to building cooperative play skills, the effort is undoubtedly worth it given that cooperation is key to relating and building relationships; skills we all hope to foster in our children.
Timing Is Key
During early childhood, children progress through a series of milestones in play as they move from more solitary and independent play, to associative play involving sharing toys and materials. Cooperative play is the furthest along this developmental pathway, and involves not only playing with the same toys, but engaging in active problem-solving as children work together to achieve a common goal.
While many games for children involve “winners” and “losers”, game play involving a cooperative effort takes a slightly different approach. Efforts are divided among a group of children to reach a common goal. This type of play is important because not only does it support physical and cognitive development, it involves a stronger emphasis on the development of language, social, emotional, and problem-solving skills as children express their thoughts and try out ideas.
By the time children reach preschool, the foundation for cooperative play has been established, and many children are developmentally ready to begin to engage in cooperative play opportunities. Integrating cooperative play into the daily experiences of preschool children is something that parents and teachers should consider and it’s easier than you might think. Many of the toys you need to encourage cooperative play skills are already in your home or classroom. With a couple of adjustments in the way you introduce the game or toy to children, you will be well on the pathway to supporting the development of your child’s cooperative play skills.
Board games may not immediately come to mind when you think of cooperative play given that they typically encourage a more competitive, win-lose mentality among children. However, many classic board games can be modified to encourage cooperative play skills and several games designed specifically to encourage cooperative play skills are available as well. Peaceable Kingdom makes fresh and fun cooperative play games that are well worth adding to your child’s board game collection. Some of our favorites include Hoot Owl Hoot, Stack Up!, and Feed the Woozle.
Blocks are a quintessential childhood toy so it may come as no surprise to discover that blocks are also a great toy choice for cooperative play. Parents can facilitate cooperative play skills by encouraging their preschoolers to develop a group plan for what they would like to build. Sharing, taking turns, and negotiating often naturally follow as children begin to work together to build their structure. When it comes to parent involvement during this type of play, less is usually more. However, the presence of an adult is necessary on occasion to help kids navigate disagreements if they arise and encourage less verbal children to participate successfully. Keep block play novel by integrating fun blocks, such as Magna-Tiles®, Pretend People Figures, and some Wooden Vehicles & Traffic Signs.
Puzzles are a fabulous toy for building cooperative play skills when parents and teachers encourage two children to work together to complete a single puzzle. Large floor puzzles are perfect because they give children an opportunity to move around and children can easily be convinced that big puzzles require teamwork to get the job done. We love the Melissa and Doug floor puzzles. These are definitely worth adding to the classroom collection or pulling out when your child has a friend over to play.
Children undoubtedly build important skills during dramatic play, and learning to play cooperatively with others is among them. Children must exercise their creativity and language skills as they create a plan for play. They must be flexible as they negotiate who will play what role. They must problem solve when another child has a different idea about how play should progress. The next time your child has a play date, pull out the costumes and dress-up clothes to encourage cooperative play. Integrating simple props into play, such as this pop-up fire engine, helps younger children mold their play schemas, sparks the imagination, and can help children engage in more collaborative dramatic play.
Encourage children to exercise their motor skills while building cooperative play skills with relay races. Challenge children to race the clock and see how quickly they can pass a bean bag as they race back-and-forth between activity cones or spot markers. Encourage older children to work together to plan an obstacle course then race the clock as they complete it.
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