How Parents & Therapists Can Use Cooperative Games to Build Essential Developmental Skills
By: Amy Smith, OTR/L
Cooperative Games- these are a few of my favorite things! As an occupational therapist, I try to challenge the children I work with, supporting them along the way while working on their areas of need & sneaking in some fun! Using cooperative games has brought with it smiles, full-on giggles and children that are working on oodles of skills!
What Is A Cooperative Game?
It’s a game where everyone plays together, no one is left out, and everyone has fun! Unlike a traditional game where there is one winner and one (or many) losers, in a cooperative game the players work as a team against a common obstacle, not against each other. This model emphasizes play, not competition. Kids experience shared decision-making, build self-esteem & confidence, learn to share and to work as a team. Cooperative games also encourage inclusion, eliminate stress and teach kids that playing together can be fun!
Why Children Benefit:
They are perfect for children who need a boost in confidence because the pressure of winning is off. Peaceable Kingdom has a variety of preschool skill builder games that target children age 3-6. These games have 3 levels of directions. As a therapist, we often grade a game and/or activity up or down to help meet the needs of each child-essentially making it easier or harder (this is already built into the game). In a 1:1 therapy setting, a child can begin a game at the 3-4 year old level and as they gain understanding of the game and build skills they can progress to the age 4-5 and/or age 5-6 set of directions-they can grow with the game and the game can grow with them. Adults playing can play at the most advanced level of directions and/or work at their child’s level.
In group settings these games can be used at the level of each child present without separating games for each individual. Children improve comradery as they together strategize and attempt to beat the game. Children’s faces light up when they know we are both on the SAME TEAM and WE are going to try and beat the game. It’s not about me giving them a challenging task and sitting back- it’s about joining them.
For families, many children are 1-3 years or so apart from their siblings. With 3 levels of directions designed into each game, one game can suit the needs and developmental skills for siblings that are even 3+ years apart-encouraging a family to sit down for a game that is both fun and therapeutic! Games are designed to be played in 15 minutes- an appropriate duration for this age group.
Feed The Woozle: My Favorite!
Children roll a dice to see how many snacks they get to select for the Woozle. Options include: chocolate-covered flies, hairy pickles & other silly/yucky snacks. You can set up the Woozle close by or place it in the next room (added challenge). Children load the snacks on a spoon and then spin the spinner to determine what move they need to do while bringing the spoon of snacks to the Woozle’s mouth (march, go crazy, hula dance, spin, walk backwards). Get the snacks to the Woozle’s mouth without dropping them & you get a yummy card! Once the group has collected all 12 yummy cards, you win! The silly snacks cause some serious giggles & children love to see their therapist, teacher, parent, sibling and/or friend trying to hula dance or spin without dropping the snacks before the Woozle can gobble them up! This game is great for children who don’t like to sit still and like to be on the move! It has the silly factor, yet is challenging. I’ve seen that children are very attentive since they get to use their whole bodies (helps children obtain & maintain appropriate level of alertness/arousal needed for new learning).
Some skills addressed through use of these games:
- Turn taking & social skills
- Body awareness
- Motor planning & coordination
- Modulation of motor movement & impulse control
- Sequencing of multiple step directions
- Development of fine/visual motor skills & dexterity
Although the game designers did not develop these games for children with special needs, I’ve found them to be a new invaluable resource for therapists, families and teachers.
Amy Smith, OTR/L has over 12 years experience as a Pediatric Occupational Therapist. She shares Kids Development Studio with Elaine Westlake, MA, PT in San Francisco, California. Check out Amy’s Website for help Maximizing Your Child’s Potential!