Cooperative Play

Children engaging in Cooperative Play

Cooperative play focuses on children working together to achieve a common goal, such as building a play structure, putting together a puzzle, or engaging in dramatic play.1 It has been described as the stage where children play in a group that is organized for the purpose of making some material product, striving to attain some competitive goal, dramatizing situations of adult and group life, or playing formal games.2

In 1932, Mildred Parten, at the University of Minnesota’s Institute of Child Development, developed a system for classifying participation in play by children that has been widely accepted. Her six stages were unoccupied play, solitary play, onlooker play, parallel play, associative play, and cooperative play. Her theory was that as children grew older with improved communication skills and more opportunities for interaction with other children, their solitary play would become more social. In the development of social play, cooperative play has been designated as the highest category of play.3

Cooperative play promotes positive socialization into the child’s world. Cooperation is a learned behavior that can be improved and modified, which is especially developed during childhood.4 Relating to others and making meaningful relationships is based on cooperation. A child must learn to respect others and to self-regulate his own immediate needs and wants to effectively collaborate and play as a team member. It is a balance between being a part of the group and still maintaining one’s own sense of identity.5 Cooperation is achieved through effective communication, mutual compromise, individual honesty, fair play, and teamwork.6

Children begin to develop skills to engage in cooperative play between ages four and five as they grow emotionally and socially. Children learn to exchange ideas about the game or toy they are playing with as well as assigning and accepting roles in their play. The rules they set for play may be loosely set, but children learn to respect them and play cooperatively. Successful social skills are observed as children learn to respect the property rights of others and the need to seek permission to play with certain toys and people. Children also become more willing to share their toys for the sake of the game.7 They move from a self-centered view to an understanding of the importance of social rules to develop friendships. In cooperative play they begin to play games with rules and gain the concept that life has rules that everyone must follow.8

Allowing children to engage in free play, where the play is non-competitive and freely chosen by the children, is essential for the social development of a sense of equality, connectedness, and concern for others. Children learn the value of compromise and are able to see the world from others’ perspectives.9 Cooperative play creates healthy behavior helping children communicate effectively, accept the differences in others, and develop the ability to trust others. Children learn better when they work cooperatively, and they feel better about themselves, because their value is not based on a competition. Cooperative games allow children to work together, without creating enemies.10

  • 1. Cecchini, Marie E. “Encouraging Cooperative Play.” EarlychildhoodNEWS. < > 11 Oct. 2016.
  • 2. Frost, Joe L. Play and Playscapes. Albany, NY: Delmar Publishers Inc., 1992. p. 86.
  • 3. Tomlin, Carolyn R. “Play: A Historical Review.” EarlychildhoodNEWS. < > 9 June 2016.
  • 4. Gallahue, David L. and Frances Cleland Donnelly. Developmental Physical Education for All Children. 4th ed. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics. 2003. pp. 131-132.
  • 5. Singer, Dorothy. “The Power of Playing Together.” Scholastic. < http//> 5 Oct. 2010.
  • 6. Op. cit., Gallahue, David L. and Frances Cleland Donnelly. pp. 131-132.
  • 7. Ramseyer, Viola. “Stages of Play.” < > 12 Oct. 2016.
  • 8. Anderson-McNamee, Jona K. and Sandra J. Bailey. “The Importance of Play in Early Childhood Development.” Montana State University Extension. < > 11 Oct. 2016.
  • 9. “’Free play’ for children, teens is vital to social development, reports BC psychologist.” EurekAlert! < > 12 Oct. 2016.
  • 10. Kohn, Alfie. “The Case Against Competition.” Alfie < > 12 Oct. 2016.