collaborative play

Why Is Collaborative Play Important?

Collaborative play is essential for some reasons. It helps kids develop skills like sharing, taking turns and empathy. 

It can also help them learn how to resolve conflicts without resorting to violence. But the most crucial thing about collaborative play? It’s fun! 

Collaborative play, also known as social play and cooperative play, is a type of play that typically begins at around two years of age when toddlers are mature enough to start taking turns with playmates, sharing playthings, following rules and negotiating with others — for instance, offering a playmate their Superman toy for their playmate’s Winnie the Pooh toy.

As children grow, they move through distinct developmental stages that impact how they interact with the world and their people. 

While parents are often quick to note developmental milestones like learning to sit up or sleeping through the night, there are also critical social milestones your child will move through.

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What Is Collaborative Play?

The final stage of the six stages of play is cooperative play. Cooperative play occurs when children engage in activities where effort and responsibilities are equally distributed to reach a common goal. 

This can be seen in activities such as organising and performing theatrical performances on stage, building dens and delegating tasks amongst children. 

These activities encourage children to work together, sharing ideas and coming up with different play scenarios. 

Naturally, children begin to practice independent learning, which is another critical stage of early childhood development. 

Play helps children to learn from very early on in their development. Thus, developing mental, social, emotional and physical skills. 

These skills are crucial at this point in their young lives. Children have the opportunity to pick what roles they want to play, i.e. leader or follower. 

They begin to understand what’s involved in these roles and which one they prefer. 

Being able to participate in cooperative play is extremely important.

 It means that your child has the skills they’ll need later to collaborate and cooperate at school and in other typical social settings, like sports.

Cooperative play doesn’t happen overnight, though. So before your child reaches this stage, you should expect to see them move through five earlier stages of the game.

Collaborative Play

Stages Of Play

Unoccupied Play

Unoccupied play, the first stage, is when an infant begins to experience the world through their senses. 

They move their body and interact with objects simply because it’s interesting or because it feels good.

At this stage, your little one enjoys things with exciting textures and patterns or items that they can touch or see.

Solitary Play

After the unoccupied play, children move into the independent or solitary play stage. During this stage, a child will play independently with little to no regard for what other adults or kids around them are doing.

During this stage, your child might stack and knock over blocks, line up or move around objects, flip through a book, or enjoy shaking a noisemaker or other similar toy.

Onlooker Play

During the onlooker play stage, children will observe the play of other kids while not playing themselves. 

Motivated by an intense curiosity, little ones might sit and observe others for long periods without trying to jump in and play.

During this stage, your child observes how the play “works” and learns the skills they’ll need to jump in when they feel ready.

Parallel Play

After mastering onlooker play, a child will be ready to move into parallel space. 

During parallel play, children will play beside and in proximity to other children without playing with them.

Children often enjoy the buzz that comes with being around other kids, but they don’t yet know how to step into others’ games or ask other kids to step into their games.

You may feel awkward when you head to a playdate, and it seems like your child ignores the other children, but often they’re just engaging in an earlier play stage like this one.

Associative Play

The final stage of play before cooperative play is associative play. During associative play, children will play with one another but don’t organise their play toward a common goal. 

Kids might be talking, laughing, and playing together but have different ideas about the outcome of the game they’re each playing.

Your child and their friends may all be playing a game that involves cooking, but one may be a chef, a daddy cooking dinner, and one may be making a snack for their dinosaur.

Cooperative Play

Finally, after lots of practice communicating and collaborating, a child moves into the final play stage, cooperative play.

You will notice your child has moved on to cooperative play when they can communicate desired outcomes with others and collaborate towards a common goal, with each person having a distinct role to play.

Collaborative Play

Toddler Collaborative Play And Playing With Other Children

Until this point, toddlers engage in parallel play: when children play near each other, not with each other.

The characteristics of collaborative play aren’t just niceties that show a child is beginning to realise they aren’t the only person in the world. 

This type of play teaches essential social skills that help children grow during everyday play. For example, children solve a problem in a collaborative space by working together to reach a common goal.

 Unlike competitive play that involves clear winners and losers, everybody wins in a collaborative space.

Play is an essential part of development. It’s how children learn. Play develops the skills children need to advance their emotional, social, physical, and cognitive abilities.

As children grow, they may not necessarily progress through the different types of play in a linear fashion. 

They will likely engage in different kinds of play depending on their personality and play environment.

Keep these points in mind to help a child make the transition into this phase of development:


To help teach your child about sharing, use the term “share” in its most authentic, most real sense: that is, collaboratively.

Asking your child to “share” a cookie that they’ll never see again will only lead them to assume that when they share a toy, they’ll never get that back either.

Taking Turns 

It takes a great deal of impulse control for a young child to be able to give up something they want now and wait. 

Start small by taking turns rolling a ball back and forth, which will help your toddler understand that they will get a chance very soon.

Obeying Rules 

One of the best ways to teach toddlers about rules is not to let them win all the time. It may frustrate your little one sometimes, and it may seem a bit cruel, but it’s an excellent way to introduce the fact that all games have rules, and everyone needs to follow them.


Encourage collaboration over the competition by emphasising the advantages of teamwork.  

Your little one might not be old enough to help with household chores, but you can promote collaborative behaviour by picking up toys together.


This is a skill that is best learned through modelling.5 Give your child a cracker and reach for their slice of cheese. 

It will take a while for a child to understand the give and take, but eventually, it will become ingrained and be tested on the playground.

When Does Cooperative Play Begin?

While every child is different and will move through the stages of play at a different pace, in general, kids begin to engage in cooperative play between the ages of 4 and 5.

The ability to play cooperatively depends on your child’s ability to learn and exchange ideas and assign and accept roles in their play. 

Typically, children under 4 are not yet ready to share their toys for the sake of a game, respect the property rights of other children, or understand the importance of rules and bounds within a game.

You can encourage cooperative play by example. 

Play games that require taking turns discuss assigning roles within the play and encourage communication and feedback.

Examples Of Cooperative Play

Cooperative play allows children to work together towards a common goal instead of in opposition to one another or in pursuit of winning. 

Parents and caregivers can foster cooperative play by creating an environment with tools and games kids can use to work cooperatively.

Outdoors, children can work together to rake leaves, build a snow fort, or plant and tend a garden. 

Children can also collaborate to use playground equipment or outside toys to ensure that everyone gets the opportunity to play, like rotating between the slide, the swings, and the monkey bars.

Indoors, children can construct buildings and cities from boxes or blocks together or use figurines and dolls to act out shared stories.

Children can also recreate scenarios they see in their everyday life, such as playing grocery store, doctor’s office, or veterinarian.

At this stage, children may also begin to enjoy more organised card or board games that allow them to work towards a common goal or point total. 

They may also enjoy collaborative work like building a puzzle together or painting a mural.

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Benefits Of Cooperative Play

Encouraging your child to participate in cooperative play is essential for fostering their long term social development. 

During cooperative play, they can learn and develop several life skills that will help them get along and move through the world successfully.

Encourage Sharing

The meaning of the word share can seem highly complicated for children as they grow. 

It can range from giving up their toy momentarily to never seeing that cookie they gave away. 

Therefore to build the idea of sharing, it is essential to indulge in the fair sharing games appropriate for the age to integrate the word positively in the child’s mind. 

The earlier you integrate the meaning of the word sharing in your child’s mind, the better prepared for collaborative games.

Taking Turns

Taking turns is at the heart of cooperative games, and babies are capable of back and forth interactions as early as 6–9 months. 

Use this opportunity to play games such as pat-a-cake and rolling a ball back and forth to teach them to wait for their turn. 

In the long run, it establishes impulse control as your child can wait for something they desire at that very moment.

Obeying Rules

Obeying rules that are in place for the greater good is a critical skill that children need to learn as early as possible. 

It stops them from self-indulgence that can be detrimental to social play. Ideally, the best way to teach them about rules is not to let them win all the time. 

Although it can be frustrating and even seem unfair, it is an excellent way to teach them that all play has rules that should be followed.


Teamwork is the hallmark of collaborative play, so your child needs to be taught to help and cooperate with others in the activity involved, incredibly collaborative pretend to play. 

Since they are not old enough to lend a hand in chores, teach them teamwork by involving them in picking up the toys after a game or arranging simple items on a shelf.

Cooperative Activities

You can build many essential skills of social play through cooperative games for preschoolers. 

At family gatherings, have painting projects such as ‘blank canvas’, which involves painting a group. 

Gather preschoolers in your community for events such as planting a vegetable garden.

Cooperation is an essential life skill that children will use at home, at school, and in the community, as they grow.

Play that fosters a sense of cooperation in kids shows them that working together allows them to have more fun and more readily reach their goal than working or playing independently.


During cooperative play, children must express their needs and desires and hear and respect the needs and wishes of others. 

Kids learn that their play won’t be as fun if they don’t communicate or listen effectively.

As kids continue to grow and develop, they refine their communication skills through play and carry them into different parts of their lives.


During cooperative play, kids each have a distinct role to play in their game. 

As kids negotiate rules and roles, they learn that they must think from the perspective of others to ensure that the game is “fair” for all.

This recognition that different people experience the same situations differently is one of the earliest forms of empathy.


During cooperative play, children assign roles to play and rules to follow and then must trust that everyone will comply. 

Children learn to value one another’s strengths and contributions and to trust that they’ll each participate in the agreed-upon way.

Conflict Resolution

Reaching the cooperative stage of play does not mean that children will never experience conflict when they play. However, playing cooperatively often creates bountiful opportunities for little ones to practice their developing conflict resolution skills.

As conflict arises, children must learn to communicate the problem effectively and brainstorm compromises and solutions that are acceptable and workable for all parties involved.

Age Range

Parten argues that cooperative play begins at around four years of age and continues for the remainder of a person’s life. 

It occurs during unstructured play, for example, when children come up with their imaginative cooperative games.

As children get older, their cooperation may become more structured and formalised. 

This may emerge during board games and sporting games, such as agreeing to follow the rules of a football game.


The Age Range May Worry Parents

Many parents worry that their children haven’t reached the cooperative play stage soon enough. 

Children develop at their own pace. If a child hasn’t quite hit this stage by four years of age, that’s not a problem! The age ranges are not strictly set.

It’s Not the Only Ideal

Even once a child has mastered cooperation during play, they may go back to unoccupied play, solitary play or parallel play at times

That’s perfectly okay – different forms of playwork in other circumstances.

Social Skills Are Required 

To succeed at cooperation, children need a wide range of social skills. 

These may need to be modelled and explicitly taught through guided practice by teachers. This takes a long time to develop, and setbacks will occur!

Some Examples Of Social Play

Here are some cooperative play examples you can try out with your child at school or in your community:

  • Puzzles.
  • Treasure Hunt.
  • Relay Races.
  • Building Dens.
  • Team Games.
  • Board Games.

The cooperative play child development is a milestone that most children can reach by the age of five when given the right stimulus as they grow. 

As you teach them behaviours that promote cooperative play, they can engage with other children, form meaningful friendships, and eventually build essential life skills.


Cooperative play is the final stage of play and represents your child’s ability to collaborate and cooperate with other children towards a common goal.

Children often reach the cooperative stage of play between 4 and 5 years of age after they have moved through the earlier five phases of the game. 

You can foster cooperative play by setting up your home environment in a way that gives your child the tools and toys they need to create cooperative games.

Children learn through play and, as they play cooperatively with other kids, your child will learn essential life skills that they’ll use now and as they grow!

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