Let the Games Begin!

parachute play 001

If you want to be incrementally better: Be competitive. If you want to be exponentially better: Be cooperative.

–          Author Unknown

A few weeks ago, a reader wrote in that she was hoping to find resources for quick social skills games that she could teach her kids to play. Thanks Shannon for the inspiration for this article. As the weather grows warmer and there is more opportunity to play outside, there will be more opportunities for playing games with other children. In our area, there is no shortage of opportunities to participate in organized competitive sports from soccer to gymnastics to baseball. But as you think about introducing games to your friends and neighbors, consider introducing cooperative games. In addition to teaching valuable skills in working together, they can also build trust, deepen friendships and add lots of laughter and fun to your summer play.

My favorite book on cooperative games is Adventures in Peacemaking; A Conflict Resolution Activity Guide for School-Age Programs[i]. Each page contains one 15-20 minute simple cooperative game with the age appropriate level listed. Skill categories for the games include cooperation, communication, expressing feelings, appreciating diversity and conflict resolution. Some require materials you likely have around the house but many require no materials at all. I’ve written out some of my favorite games below. Also included are ways to reflect on the game. You certainly do not need to guide a reflection each time the game is played but if you do it at least once, it gives your children and their friends the benefit of thinking through their experience and offers opportunities for greater and deeper learning.

Balloon Bop[ii] – All should stand in a circle with chairs and all obstructions behind them. Participants need to link arms (holding hands is another alternative). A balloon (not helium) is passed into the circle and participants need to keep it up and inside the circle for as long as possible without unlinking arms or letting it touch the ground.

Telephone – Do you remember the old game? You could call it “Cell phone” to contemporize this classic communication game. Stand in a circle without obstructions in front of you. You can begin the message. Here are some potential starters. “Five fabulous friends are frolicking in the field.” Or “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers for Porky Pig” Or make up your own! Pass it around with a whisper to the person next to you. Have the last person say what they heard aloud. It’s ideal if you can go quickly and try it a couple of times. Then you are able to see if listening and communication improves with practice and focus. Reflect on the activity: What was the message at the beginning? What did each of you hear? What did you notice about the message as it’s passed along? Do you think you could improve if you tried again? What would you do differently?

Rainstorm[iii] – Stand in a circle without tables or chairs in front. Tell the group that you are going to begin a motion and expect that they will not do the motion until it comes around to their turn in the circle. Give them an example by clapping your hands and the person next to you passing on the clapping motion to the next and the next. They must continue that motion until it is changed and comes around to them again from the person next to them. When you do this series of motions together, it sounds like you create an indoor rainstorm (though let them guess after you’ve done it, what sounds you’ve made together). Lead with the following motions:

  1. Softly rub your hands together back and forth palms facing one another;
  2. Snap your fingers moving back and forth from one hand to the other;
  3. Pat your thighs one at a time from one thigh to the other;
  4. Stomp your feet loudly from one foot to the other;
  5. Reverse the moves by going back to patting your thighs, then, snapping your fingers, to softly rubbing your hands;
  6. Finally hold both hands up, palms out in silence.

Reflect by asking: What did we create together? What did it sound like?

Big Wind Blows[iv] – Sit in chairs in a circle. You will start by saying, “The big wind blows for all those…who wear contacts or eye glasses, or who are going in to third grade or who live on our street.” Each person will add their own commonality. Explain that all individuals who share that common trait need to get up and move to a different seat (and it cannot be the seat directly to the right or left of them). One chair is removed so that one person ends up without a seat in the middle. That person is the next one to call out, “The big wind blows for ….” It’s fun after playing it a few rounds for the facilitator to call out a commonality that everyone shares so that all are forced to move.  Reflect by asking: What did you like about this game? What did you find out you had in common with others? Did you learn something new about your friends? (Listed as “A Warm Wind Blows” in The Morning Meeting Book)

Commercials – Write out value words like “friendship” or “teamwork” or things found in nature like lakes or ladybugs on separate strips of paper. Put the strips of paper in a hat. Sit in a circle and have one person select a word out of the hat. The group should work together to create a commercial for television to advertise the value or natural phenomenon. Have them develop and rehearse it before showing it to you and any another other adults you can round up for the audience. It’s an even better and more exciting game if you video tape their performances! My Dad led this game in our backyard with the neighborhood kids when I was young and I still remember our commercials for telephones and rainbows and have the video to show my son.

Here are a couple of great books that list cooperative games.

Correa-Connolly, Melissa (2004). 99 Activities and Greetings. Turner Falls, MA: Northeast Foundation for Children.

Lattanzi Roser, Susan (2009). Energizers; 88 Quick Movement Activities that Refresh and Refocus, K-6. Turner Falls, MA: Northeast Foundation for Children.

There are a number of sites that provide a variety of cooperative games with short descriptions for easy implementation. Check them out:

National Association for the Education of the Young Child, Games

Responsive Classroom, Games for Younger Students

Learning for Life Games

Mr. Gym Cooperative Games

Ultimate Camp Resource, Cooperative Games

Peace First, Digital Activity Center

Team Building Cooperative Games on Pinterest

Creative Kids at Home, Cooperative Games


[i] Kriedler, W.J., & Furlong, L. (1995). Adventures in peacemaking; A conflict resolution activity guide for school-age programs. Cambridge, MA: Educators for Social Responsibility.

[ii] Freeman-Loftis, B. (2010). Cooperative games for younger students. Responsive Classroom, http://www.responsiveclassroom.org/blog/cooperative-games-younger-students.

[iii] Kriete, R., & Bechtel, L. (2002). The morning meeting book. Turner Falls, MA: Northeast Foundation for Children.

[iv] Kriete, R., & Bechtel, L. (2002). The morning meeting book. Turner Falls, MA: Northeast Foundation for Children.

7 Comments on “Let the Games Begin!

  1. These are fantastic! Thanks for being so responsive. I think “Commercials” will be first on our family’s list =)
    I also found this website: http://www.familypastimes.ca/. I have not tried these games, but they seem promising.
    As always, thanks for the stimulating ideas!

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  5. Cooperative games are wonderful. I love how they take the pressure off of winning and therefore reduces opportunities for frustrations and melt-downs while you are reinforcing the cooperative skills. Also, check out http://www.makingplaytimecount.com/games for character building board games that teach specific skills and strategies for real world application.

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