Working Together

Children working together in the classroom in a cooperative play does NOT come naturally.  Children must be taught how to play together.  Many times you have to do things in steps before it all comes in to play.

Today I was in the classroom with some young three year olds.  This is a group of children, very age appropriately, that does NOT do much cooperative play.  One boy, we’ll call him Cameron, was playing with an old typewriter.  He and I were talking about how typewriters work and what they are were used for.

He was “typing” but the most fun of all was putting the paper in and spinning it through.  He kept this up for a long while.  Put the paper in, turn the handle, take the paper out, pick up a different piece of paper, put it in, turn the handle, take the paper out, etc…

Another boy, we’ll call this one Anthony, came over to see what was going on.  Cameron said, “Watch this Anthony!”   He showed Anthony how he put the paper through and turned the handle.  Anthony’s eyes lit up with excitement and reached out.

Cameron immediately told him, “NO!  Only me!”

Anthony tried reaching out again.  Cameron repeated his words.  Now is the time that a teacher steps in to help engage these two children in cooperative play…the teacher was me.

“Cameron, Anthony wants to try this, let’s give him a turn and then you can have another turn.”

“No, it’s my turn.”

“Anthony, ask Cameron if you can have a turn when he’s done.”

“Can I have a turn when you’re done?”

“Okay.  I’ll tell you.”

After the paper that was in there came out, Cameron stepped aside. 

“Cameron, why don’t you show Anthony how to get the paper in, you are so good at that.”

Cameron proceeds to help Anthony and walk him through the steps.  “Okay, put it there and push this, now turn that.  See!”

When Anthony started putting the paper in, Cameron protested, “It’s my turn!”

Here I step in again because now we are on the next step in cooperative play.  “Anthony, it’s Cameron’s turn and then you can have a turn after him.”

Anthony sat with me for a bit while Cameron had his turn.  These children, although taking turns, are not in true cooperative play yet.  They are taking turns, yes, but not working together.  How do we do that?  A simple suggestion.

“Anthony, Cameron is having trouble getting the paper in because he can’t see.  Maybe you can hold the top of the paper so it doesn’t fold over what he is doing to help him.”

Anthony gets up and holds the top of the paper; Cameron gets the paper in, both boys look at each other and smile widely at each other.  The begin taking turns again but now, when it’s one boys turn, the other holds the paper up.

As time progresses, they move past holding the paper but also taking some time in between to find “their letters” (the letters in their names) on the keyboard, and typing them out together. 

It was such a joy and honor to be part of this process with these two.  Their cooperative play was so positive and wonderfully engaging that several other children came by and watched these two play.  None of them engaged in the play; not one of them even attempted to participate.  However, several of them stood by and watched very interested in what was going on.

Baby steps, we initiate experiences like this in baby steps and end up miles ahead of where we were in less than an hour.

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