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How to Encourage Collaboration in Kids Through Cooperative Play

How to Encourage Collaboration in Kids Through Cooperative Play

Watching kids work and play together is a wonderful thing, and their ability to cooperate with others can have a big impact on the kind of person they grow up to be.Kids will usually be ready to start playing collaboratively at around two years old, although it’s still a process that they will have to learn and develop skills for. Sharing, taking turns, negotiating, obeying rules and working as part of a team all take time to get used to.It’s a particularly important stage of a toddler’s development as it is only at this stage that they begin to recognise the needs of others. This then continues to improve as they get older and move through each stage of their development.

What is collaboration and why is it important? 

Collaboration is the act of working together to reach a shared goal and it’s an important skill for kids to learn in order to succeed in later life, both socially and academically. As with most things at this stage in their life, children learn most through play – and collaboration is no different. Introducing your kids to cooperative play is the best way for them to develop key skills in their early years.

What is cooperative play, also known as collaborative play?

Unlike competitive games, collaborative play encourages kids to cooperate with each other in order to achieve a shared goal. This often involves taking turns, following rules, sharing, negotiating and compromising – all valuable skills that are important for children to learn. While there are many ways for kids to play together, the key to cooperative play is teamwork.

What are the benefits of cooperative play?

There are many benefits that kids can gain from playing collaboratively with children and adults, as it’s through this kind of play that they learn about other people’s needs and develop key communication skills as well as a sense of empathy. Let's take a look at some of the key benefits of cooperative play in closer detail.

Collaborative Kids Are Better Communicators

Collaboration essentially means working with others, and kids are quick to learn that working together often relies heavily on being able to communicate in order to succeed.This means that collaboration helps kids to express themselves clearly to others and convey meaning while simultaneously making sense of the information they’re getting from their surroundings and the children they’re playing with. As children’s communication skills grow, they also develop an understanding of why it’s important to listen and respect one another and each other’s perspectives.

Collaborative Kids Can Solve Conflict Better

From the day they’re born, parents shower their kids with love, affection and attention. In fact, the world inside their home and family pretty much revolves around them, which is why it’s understandable that kids develop a belief that everything is about them.As adults, we know better, but it can take kids time to learn that everyone is equal and as important as they are.Through collaborative play, kids learn to share and take turns. As kids get more used to how these concepts work, they’ll soon recognise the effort their friends put into achieving the same goal and they’ll respect them for it, which in time will turn into trust. Forming such relationships and developing collaborative skills will help them learn to resolve conflicts as they appreciate the value of cooperation and why it should be prioritised.

Collaborative Kids Learn to Solve Problems

Just as it can help kids learn to resolve conflict, cooperative play can teach kids how to solve problems better. As they collaborate, kids will discuss the task at hand and work together to find the best way of achieving their goal. Furthermore, as kids improve their communication skills and learn to respect other perspectives, they develop the skill of being able to approach a problem from different angles.

Collaborative Kids Learn to Manage Their Emotions

Working as part of a team can be emotional. When you win or reach your goal, it’s exciting, but it can be disappointing when the opposite happens.This mix of emotions can be a lot for kids to take in, and processing so many feelings at once can be overwhelming. As kids expose themselves to feeling these emotions in a collaborative environment, they learn how to deal with them and better regulate their feelings and behaviour.

Collaborative Kids Find Their Place in the World

Through collaboration, children learn the foundations of social structures and how that affects them. As kids play with each other, they develop an understanding and a fondness for other people as they make friends they trust and respect. This can help kids develop a sense of selflessness as they learn to understand and recognise that everyone has their own needs, wants and feelings. As they develop this understanding, they’ll start to learn how they can help people and recognise the feel-good factor that comes with doing good things.

Cooperative Play Examples and Activities for Toddlers (1.5 to 3 Years)

Kids can learn to play together collaboratively from an early age. The earlier kids learn to cooperate, the more they’ll benefit, as this is when their minds are developing the most. The activities that you, your toddler and their playmates embark on together can be simple, but the key is working together (with children leading the way) to complete a shared objective.

Solving Puzzles Together

Solving a puzzle can be a great way to get young kids to work together towards a shared goal. Whether it’s putting together the pieces of an age-appropriate jigsaw or sorting the numbers and letters of toys or solving puzzles, they can teach kids to cooperate while learning to solve problems.

Follow the Leader

A really simple and fun game to play with toddlers is ‘Follow the Leader’ while going around the house, a room or the garden. In doing so, it’s up to the leader to create new actions, like jumping, skipping or waving their arms around as the followers do the same thing. This simple game helps kids learn that there is a time to follow and a time to lead, as well as the value of patience and how to take turns.

Make a Maze

With the right tools, such as LEGO® DUPLO® building toys and sets, toddlers aged 18 months+ can work together to both build and solve a maze.Using DUPLO bricks, they can build the walls of the maze. When they’ve finished, they can place a ball in the maze and try to move the ball through the maze by lifting and tilting a baseplate together. This activity really relies on teamwork to move the ball in the right direction. If the kids need a helping hand, simply asking a probing question, such as “What happens if you tilt it to the left?”, can prompt them to respond proactively in solving the problem themselves. By encouraging kids to take control and try a different approach, they build confidence and learn that there can be different ways to solve a problem.

Story Building 

Bringing kids together to create a story is a great way to spark their imagination and get them to work together in a way that is fun and entertaining. This can be done with coloured pens and paper or with sets.First, ask one of the children to draw or build something with the materials they have available – it could be a person, a house, a flower or an animal. Then, when they’ve finished, give the second child a similar instruction. The children will create something together and continue to add to it as they collaboratively build a story around their creation.

Puppet Play 

Puppets are a great way to introduce role-playing to young children. There are many different things that can be used as puppets, such as socks, shadows, folded pieces of paper with faces drawn on, or even LEGO® DUPLO® characters. As each colourful brick and piece has been designed with little hands in mind, kids can easily create a story and role-play with the many fun-loving characters. By playing with puppets, kids work together to bring their puppets to life, whether it’s through telling a story or making them do a silly dance to some music.

Collaborative Play Examples and Activities for Pre-school Children (Age 4 to 5)

As kids aged 4+ spend more time away from their parents and in the outside world, it becomes increasingly important for them to develop collaboration skills in order to make friends and thrive in social situations. By continuing to encourage collaborative play at home as they reach their school years, you can give your kids the best chance of being ready for the world.

Building Together

Working together to build something, whether it’s a fort out of pillows and cardboard boxes or a tower out of LEGO® Classic bricks, requires negotiation, teamwork and compromise. You can easily encourage kids aged 4+ to work together by challenging them to build the tallest tower or the longest snake. Kids can also work together to build larger LEGO® sets from instructions. It’s worth knowing though that following rules and knowing how to share and take turns can be a more advanced type of cooperation than open-ended play.

Encouraging Role Play

Role-playing specific situations requires a lot of collaborative skills from kids. When they’re mimicking situations of everyday life, such as going to the shop or pretending to make meals together in their imaginary kitchen, they learn to share responsibilities for tasks and take turns in different roles.Many LEGO® sets can further inspire their imaginations and take their role-playing to the next level. By playing the roles of characters they’ve had little to no introduction to in real life, kids can grow their sense of empathy, which helps them relate to other people.

Collaborative Play Examples and Activities for Kids Aged 6 to 8


Playing games doesn’t always have to involve winning and losing. They can be cooperative as well. For example, working together to complete a treasure hunt helps kids cooperate for shared success. While competitive games can be important for developing certain skills, cooperative games help kids learn that cooperation and mutual respect are important skills and valued in wider society.

Creating Art Together 

Giving kids the chance to work together to create their own masterpieces is a great way to encourage cooperative play. You might consider giving your kids a big piece of paper to draw or paint a mural on, or you can forage your local park for tree branches to take home and decorate.

Collaboratively Creating Music 

Bringing kids together to create their own symphony is another wonderful way to get them working together while experimenting with instruments and making different sounds.While experimenting with instruments to create sound is one thing, working together to actually make music usually involves following rules. As kids practise and learn how to play a new tune together, they can celebrate the shared success and appreciate each other’s effort.

How can older children aged 9+ continue to improve their collaboration skills?

While children develop most of their collaborative skills in early childhood, they can continue to improve their skills by getting involved in activities where they need to share and work with others in a team environment.

Join Team Activities and Competitions

There are many different types of club now that kids can join – from STEM to coding and computing clubs as well as sports clubs – all of which teach them how to be better team players and communicate with others. Some schools also have a LEGO® club, where kids can come together and build.

Share Responsibilities at Home

It’s important for older children to share responsibilities like chores and helping contribute to the rest of the house, whether that be doing laundry or washing the dishes. This helps show them responsibility and how to work with the rest of the family to keep the house in order. Whatever stage of life your child is at, it’s never too early or too late to start encouraging collaboration and using cooperative play as a tool for this.

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