As children develop and advance through school both their play and their learning require them to cooperate with others and work in groups. In this post, we’ll take a look at the importance of cooperative play and shed some light on how schools can facilitate it in order to hasten pupil development.
What is cooperative play?
Cooperative play is any kind of play that involves children working together to produce an outcome. This can be an organised or structured activity that seeks to achieve a specific goal and where roles and responsibilities are shared out, such as taking part in a game of football or, alternatively, a more spontaneous form of play, such as working together to build a sandcastle or even taking part in a roleplay. Typical attributes of cooperative play include communication, the sharing of ideas, the evaluation of strategies, the distribution of tasks and a common goal that everyone needs to work towards.
While cooperative activities are regularly done in the classroom, facilitating them during play helps young children develop those skills even more. Indeed, many forms of cooperative play are best suited to unstructured free time where children can create them on the spot. By being both fun and educational, cooperative play increases enthusiasm for the shared task and increases attention spans, helping to optimise the learning that takes place. At the same time, it also helps to develop other key skills: physical, emotional, cognitive and social.
The other important benefit of cooperative play is that it allows children to participate in, experience and understand different roles. They’ll learn what it’s like to be both a leader and a follower and even discover new roles that they might like.
Team sports tick all the boxes when it comes to cooperative play. There’s a clearly defined goal, everyone has their own role (defender, attacker, etc.) there’s a leadership hierarchy with a team captain and in order to achieve the team’s objective, all the players have to communicate, share ideas and work together.
Providing opportunities for team sports to take place can be achieved affordably through the use of sports markings which are available for a wide variety of team sports, including cricket, football, basketball, rounders and netball. Nets, goals and other equipment are also available to create a finished sports pitch or court if required.
Roleplay involves increasingly complex levels of cooperation. Firstly, it requires all the children in the group to collaborate in order to establish the roleplay. Each must take on a role and agree to step into the imagined reality of the situation, whether that’s at the local supermarket or in outer space.
Once the roleplay has begun, the children have to cooperate to make it work. This requires them to accept and playout the roles of the characters, a situation where there is often a leader and followers and where there are accepted behavioural norms that everyone will expect to be followed. Whether playing a parent, teacher, child or an alien from Mars, the children will need to act and interact accordingly.
What makes roleplay even better for developing cooperative skills is that children can often improvise scenarios where the characters need to fulfil a task, such as rescuing a friend from pirates or taking a child to the doctors to mend a broken arm. So, beyond the cooperation of children working together as an acting ensemble, there’s a deeper layer of cooperation where the characters themselves are working together to achieve a further goal.
While teachers can initiate roleplay, proscribing the characters and roles to be played, young children are quite adept at instigating their own improvisations. Inspiring them to do so is best achieved by installing playground equipment that lends itself to invention. This includes play towers that look like medieval castles, pirate-ship-style play boats, climb-on trains and carriages, shop kiosks, wigwams, tunnels and bridges.
Making things together
The final way to encourage cooperative play is to give pupils opportunities to make things together. Children love to work collaboratively in mud kitchens and sandpits, whether that’s cooking up pretend pies or building sandcastles. Alternatively, drawing and chalkboards placed in the playground provide plenty of scope for small groups to produce jointly made artwork. For the ultimate ensemble, why not install some playground percussion instruments, like xylophones and drainpipe drums, so the children can collaborate in making music together?
Children will need cooperative skills during their education and throughout their lives. Fostering the development of these skills at an early age can have a positive impact on their personal development and academic progress. Hopefully, this post has explained how these skills can benefit EYFS children and how you can facilitate their development through play.
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