Children spend the first few years of their lives learning by observing others and attempting things on their own. As they develop stronger social skills and become more verbal, kids begin engaging in cooperative play around 2 to 3 years of age, according to LearningSeed.com. As the name suggests, cooperative play involves compromise, sharing and collaboration, imaginary roles and fantasy play may also appear. Teaching the value of cooperative play requires encouraging a variety of activities centered around interactive collaboration.
Encourage activities that require having a cooperative partner. Candy Land isn't much fun to play by yourself and sitting on a seesaw without a playmate is just sitting. Group activities that require everyone to work toward a common goal, such as sitting under the parachute, show children what they can accomplish when they work together. Activities like painting and building a sand castle can often blossom into something cooperative for older children, but not always for younger ones.
Point out all the ways that doing a particular cooperative play activity is more fun with multiple people. For example, when teaching two children how to use a seesaw, explain that it only works when both kids cooperate and take turns pushing and rising off the ground. Demonstrate what would happen if one child refused to push so they can see value of their cooperative efforts. When teaching two or three children to play Candy Land emphasize how much more exciting the game is with multiple players.
Praise cooperative play efforts, even when they don't go quite as expected. For example, if one child pushes off too quickly on the seesaw, thereby sending his partner plummeting toward the ground, she may not be eager to try that activity again. Remind the child who fell that she should communicate to her partner if he's doing something she doesn't like, like pushing off the ground too quickly. At the same time, point out to the overzealous seesawer that he needs to watch his partner and if he sees she's crying or getting upset, he should slow down and stop.
Structured activities can be beneficial, but cooperative play should also happen in unstructured playtime during play-dates and recess.
Tailor the activities to the children's age. A group or pair of first graders may be much more interested in going on a scavenger hunt than sitting on a seesaw.