Supporting collaboration and group work in preschoolers: Here's what to know

Cooperation is an important part of relationships, and children learn to respect others and to control their emotions through collaboration.
Group of five kids hanging on a fence

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By Michelle Balani

Peer interaction and collaboration start early in life and helping your child to understand the value of working well with others is the key to encouraging cooperation in group activities. Studies have found that families who play together are more cooperative and supportive, and have better communication skills. You can begin to teach your child about the importance of collaboration by taking time to play with him or her.

Having your child help you with younger siblings or with everyday household routines is a natural and realistic way to show the benefits of collaboration. When you are doing these activities, ask your child “what if” questions that will get them thinking about the importance of teamwork. You can ask things like, “What if your friend doesn’t want to share his toys with you? What would you do?” Or you can ask, “What if you get mad at your friends while you are playing with them? How would you solve that problem?”

Include your child while you are running errands to teach about collaboration. When you are out, point out what’s happening, who the people are, and what they’re doing. For example, if you are at a grocery store, point out what the stock person is doing as she places items on the shelves. Children at this age notice everything, and you can take advantage of this by pointing out the roles that people play, and how they have to work together toward collective goals. In doing so, you are showing teamwork in action.

Invite your child’s friends to join your family on outings or just an afternoon at home. When children are given the freedom to engage in play together, it helps them learn how to work well with others, make decisions, and solve problems. Make sure that playdates with other children involve actual free play, and not too many structured activities or playing video games or watching television, as this will help your child use his or her imagination while learning about teamwork. New York City-based teacher Anne Harlam says that the best hands-on method to teach collaboration is to provide your child and their friends with a large-piece floor puzzle, as children this age enjoy them and they offer a great opportunity for a “team goal” group activity. If you support your children's play, you will help them develop abilities that they will need as a future citizen of the world and you will help them be better prepared to cooperate with peers, resolve conflicts, and build and maintain friendships.

Parent Toolkit resources were developed by NBC News Learn with the help of subject-matter experts, including Anne Morrison, Pre-Kindergarten Teacher, Lycée Français de New York; Maurice Elias, Director, Rutgers Social-Emotional and Character Development Lab; Jennifer Miller, Author, Confident Parents, Confident Kids; and Michele Borba, Author and Educational Psychologist.