Working with many 3-6 year olds, I am often struck with the challenge of moving kids beyond parallel play towards cooperative play. We try familiar duck-duck-goose and tag games. Inevitably everyone is out to be the winner, be the best, and in the end, that’s all that matters to them. We don’t tend to see kids rise up as leaders in that they don’t help organize or negotiate for the sake of the game. Some may appear to be leaders as they boss each other around but they are typically trying to work the situation to their advantage. Empathy for the “loser” seems non-existent.
We have found one of the simplest of all childhood games helpful in illustrating the importance of “teamwork” to children. Follow the leader is a cooperative game that has two, clear roles…the leader and the follower. The game absolutely cannot be played without individuals to play both parts. Because kids understand the concept of leader (e.g. They often want to be the leader as they walk to lunch, recess, or circle time), follow the leader teaches the value of the follower. It feels good to be the leader and have others follow along. It is also clear to kids that they won’t have others follow them if they don’t take a turn following their friends. This is a game that cannot be played in parallel with others. It must be cooperative and is a fun and familiar way to help kids understand the concept of teamwork experientially.
by Jill Perry, MS, MHA, OTR/L