Have you ever played a cooperative game? Cooperative games are based on cooperation rather than competition. Players work together to win. Thus, winning becomes a shared experience rather than an individualistic one. When players win, it’s joy for everyone. If they lose, no one bears the disappointment alone or gets labeled the “loser.”
As a former public-school science teacher as well as a former homeschool parent, I have seen great value of cooperative games in teaching. Cooperative play makes learning fun. It also teaches valuable social skills including, of course, cooperation. Cooperation is important for students to learn because it is essential to success in personal relationships as well as in the workplace. In a broader sense, cooperation is important to teach because students will need cooperative skills and an appreciation of cooperation to maintain a just, peaceful, and democratic society.
Cooperative games come in all formats including circle games, board games, party games, active physical games, digital games and more. Games exist for students of all ages too. You can find directions for cooperative games on the internet (for example, I have many free games posted on my site CooperativeGames.com). There are wonderful cooperative games manuals as well. The classic Cooperative Games and Sports by Terry Orlick (1978) is full of fun and easy games to play with school-age children.
There are some particular reasons why cooperative games are well-suited to homeschooling. In this short article, I give you the top ten reasons gathered from my research. Also, I have listed my top ten favorite ways to use them in the homeschooling setting. Enjoy!
Top Ten Reasons to Use Cooperative Games in Homeschool Settings for Students of Any Age
- They can be used to teach specific subject area knowledge, including math, language arts, science, and the arts.
- They teach cooperative behavior (Orlick, 1978).
- They teach many social-emotional skills such as listening, encouraging others, and offering help (Goldstein, 1994).
- They prevent the emotional meltdowns associated with losing competitive games.
- They reduce aggression (Bay et al, 1994).
- There are cooperative games for students of all ages and abilities.
- They can teach problem-solving and other critical-thinking skills.
- They provide a break from excess competition.
- They foster dialogue, communication, and bonding between students or between teacher and student.
- They are fun!
Top Ten Ways to Implement Cooperative Games in Homeschooling Settings
- Have students play cooperative board games with educational themes. Pandemic, created by Matt Leacock, is one very timely example! The game I created with singer Raffi, called The Baby Beluga Game, teaches ocean science. The board game Auntie Ruth’s Apples from Family Pastimes is a fun board game for teaching math.
- Use physically active cooperative games and sports for physical education. (Refer to the Internet or books on cooperative games for active games. Consider Cooperative Volleyball, No-elimination Simon Says, and Blob Tag.)
- Engage students in the many classroom cooperative games that teach academic subjects. (Again, research books and websites for specific games. Examples include: Cooperative Storytelling and Cooperative Words and Pictures, which teach language arts. More examples can be found on CooperativeGames.com.)
- Provide cooperative games that are designed specifically for social-emotional learning. (Again, there are many of these you can easily discover. Partner Walk and Trust Fall are classics.)
- Gather homeschool students together for large-group cooperative games. Sports, social skills, and academic knowledge can all be learned through festive, cooperative games.
- Have students make their own cooperative games to play with one another. If the students are to make board games, you will need to provide materials. But active cooperative games need nothing but imagination, an experimental attitude, and an understanding of what cooperation involves.
- Change the rules of traditional competitive games to make them cooperative. For example, play Cooperative Musical Chairs—a classic.
- To formalize learning, be sure to involve students in reflection after gameplay. For example, pose questions such as: “How did it feel to cooperate rather than compete while playing a game?”; “Why is cooperation important?”; “Could you change the rules of this game to make it more fun next time?”, etc.
- Start the school day with a quick cooperative game as a welcoming practice, to invite the student into a participatory and nurturing version of schooling.
- Parents, Teachers, and Parent-Teachers: Play with your students! In cooperative games, players help one another. Thus, it is very natural for you as the teacher to discuss ideas with students, teach bits of academic knowledge, and coach critical thinking and social skills in the course of a cooperative game. This is teaching through play and intimate encouragement. It is a win-win for students and teachers alike.
Bay-Hinitz, A.K., Peterson, R.F., & Quiltch. (1994). Cooperative Games: A Way to Modify Aggressive and Cooperative Behaviors in Young Children. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 27(3), 435-446. https://doi.org/10.1901/jaba.1994.27-435
Goldstein, A.P. (2002). The Psychology of Group Aggression. John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
Orlick, T. D. (1981). Positive socialization via cooperative games. Developmental Psychology, 17(4), 426–429. https://doi.org/10.1037/0012-1622.214.171.1246