How to Encourage Cooperation Through Board Games

This blog was written by Tiffany Malloy who writes a beautiful Mommy blog  at Eat, Play, Grow. A grateful acknowledgment to Tiffany for sharing her blog with me–and you!Malloy 1 Cooperation

“Beat you to the door!”

“Beat you upstairs!”

“Look, I have the biggest carrot stick!”

“She has 8 grapes, but I only have 7….”
Competition is everywhere we look. The other day I was at a parent’s meeting for a (non-sport) evening activity, and the coordinator talked about the importance of teaching our kids to compete well, and how part of their program was designed to do just that. While I’m sure that holds some amount of water in some parents’ minds, I began to wonder- why can’t we intentionally be teaching our kids to cooperate well too?

My husband and I have set out to do our best to help our kids’ reflex be to cooperate instead of compete. One way we are starting to do this is through board games. Our family really loves to play games (of course, there are those times when game night goes bad… :)), so we’ve decided to turn our play time into a time of cooperation and collaboration instead of competition.

As we set out on this quest, I stumbled across a website called This website is an EXCELLENT resource if you are curious about the idea and value of cooperative gaming. I spent several nights on the website, reading and learning more about the various cooperative games that are on the market. The owner of Cooperative Games, Suzanne Lyons, is a mom and an educator who cares deeply about this as well, and has written a great free ebook that you can find on the website here.

Board Games
To help give us an encouraging start in our cooperative board game experiment, Suzanne not only sent me a list of her favorite cooperative games, but a couple of the games themselves. One of the games is called Max the Cat, and is intended for elementary kids. In this game, the players work together to get squirrel, mouse, and bird to their homes before Max the Cat eats them. Players have to work together (making decisions, etc.) in order to succeed!

Not only did we LOVE to hear our kids play a game together without yelling (or pouting at the end when they lost), but they had a great time playing it. It’s fun to hear them strategizing together, and all being excited at the end if they get all the critters to their homes safely. If they aren’t successful as a team, they are determined to do better the next time, and talk about what they should have done differently.

We’ve become a bit of cooperative board game evangelists with this one– we’ve played it with family, friends, neighbors, and each other. :) I was a bit concerned that perhaps cooperative games wouldn’t really be…well, fun. But the kids love it and don’t mind not competing! :)

Turn your Existing Board Games into Cooperative Games
While all board games cannot be turned into cooperative games, Jake and I have been working on doing just that with a few of the games we already have while we slowly build our cooperative game closet.

MEMORY: Instead of seeing who can get the most matches, we see how many tries it takes (collectively) for us to find all the matches. We use an abacus to help us easily keep track.

CANDYLAND: This game is a staple in most game closets, and actually lends itself quite well to collaborative gaming if you read the story on the inside of the box before you play. The kids are working to find King Candy– not competing, but together! So, we play according to the rules, but instead of cheering when someone gets a card that sends them back, we encourage them that they can catch up! Then, whoever wins invites the other players to come up and feast on King Candy’s castle.

BLOKUS: We use the gameboard and pieces to complete various challenges together, such as
Can we place all the tiles in such a way that no colors are touching themselves?
Can we place all the tiles on the board so that there are no holes?

Play Freestyle
There are lots of games that do not have to be bought, but can just be played freely! Cooperative Games lists a lot of them, and most of these I got from them. :)

Doing puzzles
Building with blocks or making a sandcastle
Going on a scavenger hunt
Story dice

Even if your family is a fan of competition, a little break from it every now and then would probably do everyone a bit of good! :) Be sure to check out Cooperative Games’ website for some of the games that are out there. You might be really surprised! AND stay tuned for another game review on Wednesday, Preschooler in the Kitchen as well as some reflections on cooperation and the Kingdom of God on Friday.

Happy Playing!

The World’s First Printable Cooperative Board Game: Preschooler In the Kitchen

PSK  Product Image is thrilled to announce our very first printable cooperative board game: Preschooler in the Kitchen! Preschooler in the Kitchen just might be the world’s most inexpensive cooperative board game at just $2.99!
In the game, young children (ages 3-7) take turns drawing cards that describe a kitchen skill such as eating healthy food or using good manners at the table. When the child does the skill he collects a fruit card and advances around the game board. There are short cuts and possible set-backs along the way, but players cooperate to overcome set-backs together. Everyone wins when they reach the kitchen table with their fruit cards and make a yummy fruit salad together. A recipe for fruit salad is included so players can make a real fruit salad if the game perks up their appetite—as it surely will!
Preschooler In the Kitchen is not just a cooperative game, and not just a printable cooperative game, but it is a PRNTABLE COOPERATIVE FRIDGE GAME! What does that mean? This is a game concept we are pioneering and it works great! You simply download the game from for a mere $2.99. You get the cooperative game board, game cards, and envelope templates for holding the game cards. Post everything on the refrigerator and use your own kitchen magnets as playing pieces. (Be carful though. Kids 3 and under should not play this game without adult supervision because they sometimes put small things like magnets in their mouths!)
With your cooperative game posted on the fridge you can play it over the course of a couple days and use it to teach good kitchen habits as well as cooperation. Note: You can also play the quick version of this game by just playing it on a table top like a regular board game. Whether you play the long version or the quick version, Preschooler In the Kitchen promotes a cooperative kitchen and a love of good healthy food!
Kids and parents agree Preschooler In the Kitchen is a delicious way to have fun. Here are a few reviewer comments:
• … a great way to develop a cooperative attitude about tasks in the kitchen and organically connect that to overall health and safety. Also, the fact that it is non-competitive is a great addition, particularly for the preschool child.
• …we would recommend the game [Preschooler In the Kitchen] It was fun! (and the 8-year-old enjoyed it as much as the 4-year-old)
• I was very intrigued by the game…honestly, I was confused how there was not a “winner” when I first read through it. Then I loved it!… I loved how it made my boys work together and help each other…my sister’s boys need that practice as well!!! LOL!

Of Co-ops and Collectives: Ode to the Universe of We Not Me

Outside the confines of competitive activities, the competitive mindset, and the competitively structured institutions so endemic to modern mainstream culture, there exists a parallel universe of cooperation. This is a joyful place dedicated to joint purpose. Here, conviviality and compassion set the tone. Break through the looking glass of competition—and all the negative emotions and ideas that often accompany it—and enter the Cooperative Zone. You’ll feel at home. Here is Community.
What is the nearest portal to this alternative realm? Look to food co-ops, childcare co-ops, certain online communities, community radio, churches, and volunteer groups, among other settings where resources and ideas are shared. You’ll know you’ve arrived when you feel you’re helping and being helped by other people while contributing to something larger than the immediate self-interests of those involved. You’ll notice lots of sharing and listening in cooperative spaces. Diversity and tolerance are in evidence for, in this world, people avoid judging one another as better or worse. Here, amidst relaxed smiles, eye contact, and pleasant conversation, you detect a sense of solidarity. You are not alone but are among kindred spirits who reject the stressful, oppressive, endlessly striving, and competitive milieu of social structures that pit one person against another in an infinite zero-sum game. Feeling alone and despairing of the rat race? Take a trip to your local food co-op. You just may have your faith in the innate goodness mankind restored while you gather some fair-trade, organic apples and freshly baked bread.

Cooperative Games and the Whole Child

Educating the whole student, rather than engaging the rational intellect alone, is a goal of many educators (myself included.) And cooperative games are one of the best vehicles for engaging the whole student—hand, heart and mind—that I’ve seen.

On an intellectual level, Cooperative games pose challenges that take thinking and problem-solving power to solve. Players share ideas and strategies to win together—so mental faculties are fully activated.

Cooperative games engage the heart too. They facilitate sharing, caring and appreciation as participants laugh and play, overcoming obstacles together and achieving little victories. In playing cooperatively, there is joy in togetherness. This is experiential learning that opens the heart.

Cooperative games make for active, sensory learning, too. Many cooperative board games, certainly the ones we feature at our shop, are visually appealing with lots of art and enchanting game pieces. And there are many free cooperative circle games and active PE games that get the body moving too! For example, we offer a free Cooperative Games PE curriculum that accompanies a nominal purchase of the Pocket Disc—a beautiful, fair-trade flying disc. Check the Educator’s Hub and Fun and Free section of for more on active cooperative games for fun and physical play.

So it’s really through hands, hearts and minds that cooperative games work their magic!