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Cooperative Play with Seven Ideas for Toddlers Playing with Others

written by: Patricia Gable • edited by: Tania Cowling • updated: 7/12/2012

Toddlers are emerging from their own little worlds and are becoming curious about the other children around them. However they are still in a developmental stage centered around themselves. Learn ways to help a toddler, playing with others, to play cooperatively.

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    Toddlers are such busy little folks! They are moving from solitary play and becoming curious about the peers around them. Piaget's

    Stages of Development defines this stage as Egocentrism. In this stage the toddler has an "inability to look at situations from someone else's perspective." Cooperative play is new to them and they need to develop control of their impulses. Learning how to communicate what they want and need is a developing skill as well. It is important that the caregiver or parent give the toddler opportunities to practice appropriate social skills. Within their safe environment toddlers should have the opportunity to take risks and solve problems on their own.

    With that in mind, here are ways to promote a toddler playing with others cooperatively. Some involve gross motor skills and some involve fine motor skills. All will give the toddlers practice in social development and cooperative play.

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    Gross Motor Skills

    Mildren Parten, one of the first people to study peer sociability in toddlers, defined cooperative play as play that involves different complementary roles with a shared purpose. Here are some ways to promote cooperative play.

    Row your Boat- Have partners sit on the floor facing each other with legs stretched out in front of them. Grasping hands, toddlers should pull gently back and forth as they sing “Row, Row, Row your boat…" Change the words in the song from “gently down the stream" to other things like “quickly" or “bumpily" or “slowly".

    Relay Races

    This will be new to the toddlers so keep it simple! Have one child stand on one side of the designated area and the other student stand on the opposite side facing the partner. Have them start by the first student running to the partner and tapping hands and then the partner runs back. The partner can’t run till he or she is tapped. Once they have practiced and understand the rules of a relay race vary it:

    1. Walking with a beanbag on your head to your partner

    2. Walking with a potato in a big spoon in your hand

    3. Walking with a small ball or balloon between your legs

    4. Crawling

    5. Walking backwards

    6. Bear crawl

    7. Pushing a car or other toy with wheels

    Ball Games

    Stand facing partner. It may help to put pieces of masking tape on the floor so the children know where to stand.

    1. Toss ball back and forth

    2. One bounce back and forth to each other

    3. Roll back and forth to each other

    4. While sitting facing each other, roll the ball back and forth

    5. Using a safe toddler-size bat, toss the ball and have the toddler try to hit it. Take turns.

    Balloon Tennis

    Preparation: Use paint sticks and attach a paper plate to the end to make a “racket". Have a racket for each child and a balloon for each pair of children.

    Partners can use rackets to bop the balloon back and forth. Supervise toddlers closely when using balloons. Broken pieces of balloons can become a choking hazard.


    Preparation: Fill five empty water bottles with sand to use as pins. Have one ball and 5 pins for the pair of students.

    One child tries to knock down the pins by rolling the ball while the other child sets the pins back up. Then switch places.

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    Treasure Hunt

    Give each pair of students a container like a small tub or basket to carry. Together they must follow the teacher’s directions about what to put in the container. As defined, the toddlers have a shared purpose in their cooperative play. Here are some things to find:

    1. Find five red things (use other colors)

    2. Find five square things

    3. Find soft things

    4. Find something with the letter B on it

    5. Find two books and one toy

    6. Find a heavy thing

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    Let's Cooperate!

    Cooperative activities to do to develop small motor skills with a shared purpose:

    1. Partners work on a puzzle together

    2. String beads together

    3. Build a block tower together

    4. Look at a book together

    5. Coloring a picture together

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    As you consider the definition of cooperative play, try to plan many opportunities for toddlers playing with others. Mix it up when choosing students to be partners. All of this will help a toddler playing with others to develop positive social-emotional skills.


    Jean Piaget-

    Mildred Parten-