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How to Teach the Value of Cooperative Play Through Children's Activities

By Diane Lynn ; Updated June 13, 2017

If you have ever sat in a playground and watched a child interact with his peers, you have probably seen instances of children playing cooperatively together one minute and screaming the next. Learning to play cooperatively is a life skill that children have to develop. As your child gets older and matures, he has to share with his friends, work with classmates on school projects and eventually hold down a job to support himself. There are many activities that can help your child understand the value of cooperative play, some of which should be scheduled into his weekly routine.

  1. Sit down with your child and explain the meaning of cooperative play. Use words that are appropriate for her age and level of understanding. If she is under three, she may not understand words like goal-oriented or role playing, but a slightly older child will understand when you tell her that cooperative play is when she and her friends work together to achieve a goal. Demonstrate an example by asking her to pick up a handful of pretzels you spill on the table and then showing her how much faster you can pick them up when you work together.

  2. Set up a an experiment so your child and his siblings or friends can "test things out" as suggested by Scholastic's Parent and Child magazine. Use your kitchen sink or a large bin filled with water as your experiment area. Collect household objects like plastic toys, corks, rocks, a bar of soap, pepper and paper. Show the children each object and ask them to collaborate to theorize which objects would sink and which would float. Let one child record the suppositions. After the children place the objects in the water, encourage them to talk about whether their theories were correct. Repeat using a scale and ask the children to estimate the weight of objects.

  3. Invite several children over to your house to play. Gather the kids together after they have had time to greet each other. Tell the children that you have hidden a gift-wrapped box outside. Show the group the safe area and send them on the search. When one child finds the box, she runs to the safe area and then helps her teammates find the box. By working together, every child can find the box and experience success. You can hide several items in the yard for a scavenger hunt instead and have the kids search together. Alternatively, make cookies or muffins together to work cooperatively in the kitchen.

  4. Look through your game closet and pull out age-appropriate games to play with your child to help him learn new skills while improving his ability to play with others. Cooperative play teaches your child how to respond appropriately in social situations. Play simple board games with a young child and more complicated games with an older child. Talk with your child about being a good sport and waiting patiently for his turn. Have the whole family sit down for a game night and divide up in teams to cheer on and work with each other.

  5. Tip

    Use household chores as a way to teach your child to work cooperatively.

    Set consequences when your child refuses to play cooperatively and reward good behavior.


    Be aware of learning disabilities that may hinder your child's ability.

    Consult with your pediatrician if you are concerned about your child's development.

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