Why You Should be Playing Cooperative Board Games

The work of a child is play.  Play is what drives learning and development.  Play comes in many forms, each with its own developmental benefits for children.  Family game time is one of my favorite ways to play with my children (and one of my favorite occupational therapy treatment tools).  It gives parents a chance to share in the joy of play and to model skills.  My favorite games to play my children are cooperative board games.

What is a cooperative board game?

A structured game in which players are working together towards a common goal.  All players are on one team that is trying to bet a goal set by the game.  Everyone works together, focusing on teamwork to defeat a common obstacle.  Either everyone wins together, or everyone loses together.cooperative board games

Who?  Children of all ages (great for mixed ages and abilities) and families.

cooperativeboardgame1Why?  Cooperation and team work, social skills, inclusion, building confidence.  Stronger players support by teaching and modeling skills, learning leadership and kindness.  Weaker players are stretched to learn new skills in a supportive environment.

Doesn’t taking the competition out of the game ruin the fun?  

It takes a bit of getting used to playing a game where there isn’t one “winner” and the rest of the players are “losers.”  However, the enjoyment and fun is really in doing an activity together, not in winning or losing.  There is enjoyment in trying to “win” by beating a goal, but doing this as a team seems more enjoyable for parents and children.  For younger children and for parents playing competitive games with their children, the competition doesn’t make much sense.  Young children simply don’t understand the competition, and when parents play games with children, the difference in abilities really makes the competition unfair.

What is the benefit of playing cooperative games over traditional board games?kidsboardgames

Young children- most games for young children (like Candyland or Chutes and Ladders) are games of only turn-taking or games of chance.  Children learn basic social skills and direction following, but not much else.  No one wins or loses because of a well-played game, so the focus on winning seems misplaced.

  • Benefits of cooperative games for young children- working with an adult allows the game to be a little harder, usually with a cooperative goal in mind and simple strategies to implement.  The team wins together because they thought through their choices and worked together well.  Positive social skills are rewarded.

Older children- until children can fairly compete with an adult at a game (which widely varies depending on the game and child), it isn’t really fair to focus on winning and losing in normal games.  Either the adult ends up “playing dumb” or the adult wins, neither of which teaches a child much.  There is a lot to be learned from playing traditional competitive board games when a child is developmentally ready.

  • Benefits of cooperative games for older children (and even adults)- parents can model higher level skills, such as goal setting, strategy use, and monitoring and changing plans as needed.  Playing together with an adult also allows children to attempt games that may be more complex than they can handle on their own, really stretching their cognitive abilities to higher levels.  Positive social skills are rewarded.

Another opinion from Parenting Science on cooperative games for children.

Where to find cooperative games?cooperativeboardgameexamples

Looks for these brands that make cooperative games:

Example of how to turn traditional games in cooperative games:

  • Candylandcandyland– Play all 4 colors as a team, racing to the castle.  Take turns drawing and moving characters.  Team loses if all the cards run out before all the players reach the castle.
  • Matching card game- Set a timer or define a specific number of turns to try to find all the matches as a team.
  • Jenga- work together to beat a certain height, keep a score board of your best heights and work to beat your best score.
  • Hungry, Hungry Hippo- slow down and work on control, try to have each hippo eat the same number of balls, or for even more challenge write numbers on the balls and try to each them in order.
  • There are some games just won’t work as a cooperative game- checkers, Connect 4, Battleship, or Uno- but that is ok.  There are great benefits to healthy competition as well, as long as the child is developmentally ready.
Paige Hays is an occupational therapist who provides in-home, pediatric occupational therapy services in the south metro area of the Twin Cities, MN. She is a mother of 2 girls, avid DIYer, and a highly skilled and experienced OT. She specializes in working in pediatrics, with diverse expertise ranging from cognition and sensory issues to working with children with neuromuscular disabilities or complex medical needs.  www.paigehays.net