“Play is the work of childhood.” –Mr. Rogers


“No fair, you won!” - followed frequently followed by tears and arguing. Sound familiar? These are often the words you hear when playing traditional games with children. They're bound to argue or find games and play unfair.

Cooperative games or play, however, encourage everyone to work together. Skills learned during these types of games include the ability to better express thoughts, problem-solve as a team, and collaborate with others. Children’s physical, emotional, social and cognitive skills all improve. Cooperative play also helps to improve self-esteem. These play skills begins to emerge in the late preschool period, between the ages of 4-6, as it necessitates a greater degree of social maturity and organizational skills.

6 stages of play:

  1. Unoccupied play: randomly explores objects
  2. Onlooker play: observes others but frequently does not interact
  3. Solitary play: children choose own toys and plays near but not with others
  4. Parallel play: children play with same materials, in same area, but work as individuals
  5. Associative play: children participate in shared activity, but does not work toward common goal
  6. Cooperative play: children work together towards common goal

Ideas to Foster Cooperative Play

*Tip: Adults, try not to lead the play activity!

  • Have children work together to complete chore (i.e., rake leaves, then jump in the piles)
  • Plant and care for a garden
  • Fill a small pool and gather toys for water play
  • Blocks (create group plan for desired outcome)
  • Puzzles
  • Dress up clothes (children create play, discuss roles, props, etc)
  • Relay races
  • Board Games
    • Race to the Treasure, Engineering Ants, Count your Chickens, Feed the Woozle


Chelsea Ritz, M.Ed., CCC-SLP


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