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Key Takeaways:

  • Cooperative games teach kids to work together in a productive and non-judgmental manner. Playing these games can make them feel like they are accepted and appreciated.
  • Good cooperative games should be age-appropriate, fun, inclusive, educational, and emphasize teamwork.
  • Some enjoyable cooperative games you can play at home or in the classroom include escape rooms, barnyard, lineup, gratitude hopscotch, and many more.

Cooperative games for kids are the stepping stones toward teamwork and future success. While competitive games appoint winners and losers, cooperative games encourage conflict resolution, self-advocacy, and decision-making skills in a group effort to achieve a common goal.

Cooperative play begins early, at around four or five, and enhances a child’s communication skills, improves their trust in others, and instills a sense of belonging. This article will explore 20 cooperative games for children, teachers, and parents to enjoy together.

Benefits of Cooperative Games for Kids

Cooperative play is essential in a child’s developmental years for the following reasons:

  • It reduces aggressive tendencies: Collaboration enables children to perceive differences amongst one another, demonstrating positive behaviors like politeness and mutual respect. Thus, tendencies toward aggression and violence decrease [*].
  • It creates a sense of belonging: Because combined play is inclusive, no one is left out. Participating players feel they belong within the group, regardless of their skill level.
  • It teaches children to self-regulate: As children master the art of problem-solving, they learn to regulate their emotions more effectively. By restricting immediate gratification, children become more patient and are less disappointed when they experience a loss.
  • It improves communication skills: Children learn to convey messages and listen when working together. Structured play reinforces organization and improves social skills, encouraging children to agree on rules and decode information to perceive various situations [*].

Characteristics of the Best Cooperative Games for Kids

Cooperative games for kids are more than just entertainment; they foster crucial skills like teamwork, communication, and problem-solving. The best ones share these key characteristics.

  • Emphasis on Teamwork. Cooperative games thrive on players working together, pooling their strengths, and supporting each other's weaknesses. By promoting cooperation, these games help children develop essential social skills like communication, empathy, leadership, and conflict resolution.
  • Age-Appropriate Games. The best cooperative games consider the developmental stage of the children, ensuring that the game's complexity aligns with their cognitive and emotional abilities. Younger children might benefit from games focusing on simple tasks and straightforward rules, while older kids can handle more intricate challenges that demand strategic thinking and coordination.
  • Inclusive Gameplay. Inclusive games accommodate players of varying abilities, backgrounds, and skill levels. They promote an environment where every child feels valued and can actively participate.
  • Educational Elements. Many cooperative games for kids integrate educational elements seamlessly into gameplay. These games offer opportunities for learning while having fun. They might teach math concepts, encourage critical thinking, enhance problem-solving skills, or introduce scientific principles without feeling like “work.”

Best Cooperative Games for Kids

Here's a diverse list of 20 cooperative games for kids across various ages and interests.

1. Tower-Building

Age range: 3+

Tower-building is a cooperative game appropriate for the entire family. It reinforces teamwork and develops your child’s counting skills. It also improves hand-eye coordination and strategic thinking skills.

How it works:

  1. Create teams of two.
  2. Roll a die. The number on the die indicates the number of blocks you must stack on the tower.
  3. The team with the highest tower after every die roll wins.

2. Just Keep it Up

Age range: 3+

Just Keep it Up is a fun, fast-paced game that requires at least two players. It’s an excellent way to foster coordination and improve your child’s agility. All you need is a balloon and a lot of energy!

How it works:

  1. Gather in a circle and hold hands.
  2. Throw one or more balloons into the air, trying to keep them up using different body parts.

3. Airplane

Age range: 3+

Airplane is an excellent game for improving your child’s speaking and listening skills. It also teaches them to become more aware of their surroundings. Here’s how to play.

How it works:

  1. Blindfold the “pilot.” Select another player as the navigator.
  2. Have the other members stand in different places. They will be the “trees.”
  3. Have the navigator guide the pilot through the runway without hitting the trees using only

4. The Boat is Sinking

Age range: 3+

This timeless game is quick-paced and requires lots of energy. It helps improve your child’s listening skills and coordination. It’s best for many players in school or party settings.

How it works:

  1. Put a few pieces of newspaper on the ground. Each piece should be one page large.
  2. Yell out, “The boat is sinking! Group yourselves into…” then indicate a number.
  3. Each member must huddle together on a piece of newspaper—they can’t stand outside the boundary.
  4. Players outside of the sheet are eliminated.
  5. Fold the papers in half for every round.

5. Name Ball

Age range: 3+

Best played outdoors, Name Ball is a fun game that enhances listening skills and agility. It also allows kids to get to know each other and remember names.

How it works:

  1. Each player stands in a circle.
  2. The first player tosses a ball into the air and names someone in the circle to catch the ball.
  3. Once the named player catches the ball, they will toss it into the air again, naming another player to catch it.

6. Barnyard

Age range: 3+

Barnyard is perfect for introducing young children to different animals, and it’s great for bigger groups. Here’s how to play.

How it works:

  1. Write various animal names on different pieces of paper. Include at least two or more pieces of paper for each animal name.
  2. Ask each child to pick a piece of paper.
  3. Ask the children to scatter around the play area. Once the game starts, each child must make their assigned animal’s noise, finding all members of the same animal group.

7. Balance Game

Age range: 3+

If you have preschool-aged children, the Balance Game is a fun one! It tests your child’s coordination skills and encourages kids to work together to achieve a shared goal.

How it works:

  1. Create teams of two.
  2. Have each pair balance a lightweight ball on a piece of paper, aiming to place it in a basket on the other side of the room.
  3. The team that fills their basket first wins!

8. Pass the Message

Age range: 4+

This classic game requires no materials, so it’s easy to play anywhere! It’s a tried and tested way to improve listening skills and makes for a good laugh.

How it works:

  1. Arrange the players in a line or a circle. The first player thinks of a simple phrase or sentence. For instance, “It’s sunny in the park today.”
  2. Player 1 whispers the phrase to Player 2.
  3. The game ends when the message reaches the last person. The last player announces the message they heard to the entire group. Sometimes, the message changes significantly, often leading to comical alterations.

9. Relay Race

Age range: 4+

Relay races are often a big hit with kids; you can add variations for older children. Kids have to collaborate and play to their athletic strengths.

How it works:

  1. Create a fun relay race in a spacious area. Use cones, ropes, balls, or whatever materials you have.
  2. Assign team members—don’t forget to demonstrate your race before you start!

10. Lineup

Age range: 4+

Lineup is a great way to encourage communication and listening skills. It makes for the ideal icebreaker on the first day of school and inspires children to get to know each other.

How it works:

  1. Have each child stand in a line.
  2. Announce a category, such as lining up according to birthdays from January to December, increasing height, or the first letter of each child’s name from A to Z.

Lineup is one of many empathy activities that enables children to appreciate their similarities and differences.

11. Jigsaw Puzzles

Age range: 4+

As children recognize patterns, jigsaw puzzles can help reinforce critical thinking and problem-solving. In addition, they encourage spatial reasoning, promoting patience and concentration while fostering persistence in tackling challenges.

How it works:

  1. Pick an age-appropriate puzzle to try with your child.
  2. Look carefully at the photo, picking out pieces that go with a certain person or object in the puzzle.
  3. Start by putting the corners together, working your way inward.

12. Gratitude Hopscotch

Age range: 4+

Cooperative games like Gratitude Hopscotch provide opportunities for children to reflect on what they’re thankful for. 

How it works:

  1. Instead of using numbers, write out things children might be grateful for when you make your hopscotch layout. For instance, you might write “Play time,” “Delicious breakfast,” or “Learning.”
  2. Have your kids hop onto the squares they are most grateful for.

13. Storybook Drawings

Age range: 5+

Storybook Drawings is a creative way to introduce arts and crafts. When children collaborate to craft a story, they learn to listen, respect each other's ideas, and build upon shared narratives, fostering teamwork and social bonds.

How it works:

  1. Gather your art materials, including paper, crayons, pencils, and paints—whatever you prefer.
  2. Have one child draw a picture to “start” the story.
  3. Each child will draw the subsequent picture until they create a full storyline.

While you can let your child’s imagination run wild here, you can use this activity as one of your classroom kindness activities. Take inspiration from picture books, supplementing this activity with toys.

14. LEGO Copycat

Age range: 5+

Kids love LEGOs, so why not gamify their play? This game will test their observation, memory, and communication skills.

How it works:

  1. Divide kids into groups of three. Assign a builder, messenger, and second builder.
  2. The first builder puts together a simple model.
  3. The messenger describes this model to the second builder, who must build a replica of the model according to the messenger’s instructions.
  4. The group with the most accurate replica wins.

15. Wheelbarrow Race

Age range: 6+

A classic Wheelbarrow Race is perfect for older kids who love to play outdoors. It requires agility, balance, and a lot of gusto.

How it works:

  1. Assign players to be the “wheelbarrow” and the “pusher.”
  2. Designate a start and finish line. The “wheelbarrow” partner gets on their hands, similar to a push-up position. The “pusher” stands behind their partner, holding their ankles or legs.
  3. Once the race starts, the “pusher” steers the “wheelbarrow” along the course until someone wins.

16. Escape Room

Age range: 6+

Escape room exercises allow kids to explore new concepts and inspire them to collaborate. Generally, escape room games are also excellent growth mindset activities.

These environments promote creative problem-solving, adaptability, and teamwork under time pressure, nurturing resilience and confidence in tackling complex problems. You can use pre-made escape room activities online or as a board game.

How it works:

  1. Choose a theme and story that will interest your child.
  2. Create clues and puzzles like riddles, math problems, hidden objects, or physical challenges.
  3. Prepare the setting.
  4. Set the rules and time limit.

17. Outfoxed

Age range: 7+

Outfoxed is a cooperative whodunit game requiring players to move around the board to gather clues. Players must use these clues to rule out suspects, exercising their critical thinking and deduction skills.

How it works:

  1. Take a detective hat and place it on the center of the board. Place the fox pawn here.
  2. Scatter the 16 Suspect cards face down and choose any two to face up.
  3. Shuffle the Thief cards, inserting them into the clue decoder.
  4. Stack the 12 Clue markers in the facedown pile.
  5. Prepare three dice.
  6. Each turn, players roll the dice, announcing whether they will search or reveal suspects. All three dice must show footprints to search and must show eyes to reveal suspects.
  7. Once players have a strong suspicion of who the guilty fox is, they name the suspect out loud.

The game is also highly replayable and perfect for family settings. It has simple mechanics that are easy for younger kids to grasp but is also entertaining for older family members and friends.

18. Cahoots

Age range: 10+

Cahoots is a colorful cooperative card game requiring players to match cards according to color or number. Shuffle the cards to play, dealing a specific number according to the number of participants.

Together, players complete goals by creating sequences of cards in rows that match the goals shown in the goal display. Some goals might include:

  • Play five blue cards in a row.
  • Play cards with values of 1, 3, and 5 in any color.
  • Play cards in numerical order from 1 to 10.

How it works:

  1. Shuffle the deck of cards and deal a hand to each player based on the player count. Each card has a number (1-7) and a color (red, blue, green, or yellow). Place the remaining deck in the center.
  2. The goal is to complete a series of "missions" by playing cards in ascending order for each color. The number of missions to complete is based on the player count.
  3. Players take turns in clockwise order. On your turn, you either play a card into your personal "stack" (in front of you) or play a card into the "center." When you play a card into the center, place it on the matching color pile. If you play a card into your stack, it can be any color but must be played in ascending order.
  4. Players can give limited information about their cards using clue cards. Use clue cards to indicate whether a card in your hand is higher or lower than a specific number. Use these clues strategically to help your teammates without revealing your entire hand.
  5. The game continues until all missions are completed (based on the player count). To win, players must complete all missions by having the correct sequence of cards in the center piles and their stacks. The game is lost if any player's stack contains an incorrect card.

19. Forbidden Island

Age range: 10+

Forbidden Island is a cooperative board game where players work together as adventurers to retrieve treasures from an island before it sinks. Players can collect matching treasure cards corresponding to specific locations on the board.

Sinking island tiles prevent tiles from sinking, while exchange cards help players collect complete sets. Players win when they collect all the treasures and reach the helipad together.

How it works:

  1. Set up the island tiles in a specific pattern based on the selected difficulty level. Place pawns for each player and distribute role cards and treasure cards accordingly.
  2. Players take turns in the following order: Take up to 3 actions, draw 2 treasure cards, then draw Flood cards to make the island sink.
  3. Each player gets up to 3 actions per turn. Actions include moving to an adjacent tile, shoring up a flooded tile, giving a treasure card to another player, or capturing a treasure if you have all its matching cards.
  4. Collect matching sets of treasure cards to capture treasures found on the island. Work together to gather all the treasures before the island sinks.
  5. After taking action, draw two Flood cards and flip over the corresponding island tiles. If a tile is already flooded, it sinks into the abyss. Manage floods strategically to prevent critical areas from disappearing.

Forbidden Island has dynamic challenges that necessitate constant communication and adaptability among players.

20. Castle Panic

Age range: 10+

In Castle Panic, players must work together to defend their castle against a hoard of monsters. Players arrange the circular board representing the castle's walls, placing tower rings and walls in their designated areas.

How it works:

  1. Arrange the castle walls in a circle with six arcs representing defense zones. Populate these zones with monsters from the draw pile, and each player receives a hand of cards.
  2. Players take turns in clockwise order. Each turn consists of 5 phases: Draw up to a hand of cards, trade cards with other players, discard and draw new cards, play cards to attack monsters and move monsters closer to the castle.
  3. Monsters move closer to the castle during the player's turn according to specific rules based on their color and zone location.
  4. Use cards from your hand to attack and destroy monsters. Different colored monsters require specific colored cards to defeat them. Work together to strategize and eliminate the threats.
  5. Players win if they can defeat all the monsters before the castle is destroyed. The game is lost if the advancing monsters breach and destroy the castle.

Castle Panic emphasizes collective success, fostering teamwork among players.

Building Bonds Through Playful Teamwork

Cooperative games for kids provide a healthy and fun foundation to improve social skills. By introducing collaboration early on, kids develop healthy habits, a sense of belonging, and emotional self-regulation.

Explore our other social skills worksheets and handouts for your child’s daily learning experiences.

Sources:

  1. Furse A. “The Effects of Cooperative Gameplay on Aggression and Prosocial Behavior.” Intuition: The BYU Undergraduate Journal of Psychology, 2019.
  2. Loukatari P, Matsouka O, Papadimitriou K, Nani S, Grammatikopoulos V. “The Effect of a Structured Playfulness Program on Social Skills in Kindergarten Children.” International

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