Collaborative Learning

Teaching Cooperative Play in Prekindergarten

Five activities early childhood educators can use to introduce the concept of teamwork to young kids.

Preschool students drawing together with chalk on a large slate board
©iStock/Rawpixel

The early childhood classroom is a great place to teach important social and emotional skills, like how to play with other children—which eventually becomes collaborating with others in work. What better way for teachers to start forging teamwork skills than with games and activities?

For early childhood educators, introducing the concept of teamwork can be both challenging and fun. Here are some prekindergarten teamwork activities teachers can use to help students learn how to work together. It’s important to remember that activities like these are all about the process—the most important thing is how children accomplish them.

5 Collaborative Activities for Prekindergarten

1. Follow the leader: This oldie but goodie gives children the opportunity to learn the importance of when to lead and when to follow. When doing this with your class, rotate the leader every few minutes so everyone experiences being a leader. Start by choosing a student to hop, skip, jump, etc., while everyone else follows his or her actions. Encourage leaders to make big gestures that others can easily imitate.

2. Relay races: Use relay races to encourage teamwork while also getting kids to be active. If you haven’t done relay races with your students before, you might want to have them practice first to learn the concept. Focus on having everyone finish rather than who wins.

Send children through a simple course and have them hand off a flag or simply tag the next member of their team. Keep this going until everyone has had a chance to do the course.

With this activity, all students can see themselves as teammates and positive contributors to a team. An important part of teamwork is encouragement—get everyone excited by having the students cheer for their teammates.

3. Parachute games: Parachutes offer many possibilities for teaching teamwork. For example, have children stand around the edges, holding the parachute with both hands. Put a plastic ball in the center and have them move back to stretch the parachute and launch the ball upward, and then catch it and launch it again. See if they can get a streak going by not letting the ball touch the ground.

This game teaches children to sync up their movements with the actions of others, so that all of them are catching and then launching together. The teacher can help children test different ideas to get a streak going so that every voice is heard.

4. Group maze: Get a large, shallow box or box lid and create a colorful 3D maze with foam or rubber strips. Have a group of children stand around the box, holding it by the edge. Place a toy car or a ball (use an age-appropriate object, for safety) at one end of the maze and have the children work to move it through the maze by raising, lowering, and tilting the box together.

You can also do this without a maze by instead having students roll the ball around the edge of the box and not letting it roll into the middle.

This activity is great for practicing conflict resolution skills. Observe how children identify the problem—moving the object—and see if they can work together to try different solutions until they find one that works. After observing for a few minutes, help facilitate different ideas and solutions by asking questions so they can see that in many instances there’s more than one right answer.

5. Collaborative art: Collaborative art is perfect when you need an indoor teamwork activity. Allow children to decide on a theme for a picture and give them a large piece of butcher paper and crayons or markers.

Split children up into groups to tackle various aspects of the picture. Allow for as much self-direction as possible, but step in if needed to assist with problem solving. Are they sharing ideas and designating tasks? If one student asks to draw with blue and another asks to use red in the same area, as the facilitator you might ask, “Well, what happens if we mix both colors together?” Talk it out if there are problems and validate all ideas, but again, the process is more important than the end result.

This helps teach children how to communicate and talk through what they’re going to do to complete a project. They’ll love seeing the artwork they create together—once the picture is finished, hang it up in your classroom.

Cooperative play teaches prekindergarten students teamwork and problem solving, two crucial skills they’re learning at this age. These activities are also ideal for reinforcing gross motor skills development, an important aspect of their physical development.

Beyond games and activities, you can reinforce teamwork in other ways in class—by talking about it and using encouraging statements when you see children working together in other ways, such as putting away toys and books. You can also incorporate books about teamwork at story time—students can see how their favorite characters use teamwork.

Finally, provide parents with ideas for how to practice teamwork and cooperation at home. The more children have opportunities to collaborate with others, the more they’ll begin to understand and practice these important social and emotional skills on their own.