Liven up group time by heading outside for some cooperative games.

It's spring and children's attention has moved back outdoors. They're eager to get out and play - stretch their wings, use their bodies, and shake out the winter cobwebs. If only you could take group time outside! Well, why not? There's nothing like a break in the routine to spice up your program. Being outdoors is also a great way to revive a sense of collaboration and group process which may have become frayed during the long winter children spent in the same room together While we frequently talk about cooperation at group time, actually putting it into practice makes the concept more concrete and meaningful. Now is a great time to play some cooperative outdoor games!

Getting Started

  • Before you head for the door, it's important to explain to the children why you're taking group time outside and what you expect of them.
  • Talk about what you usually do at group time. How might it be the same or different outdoors?
  • Set up ground rules to let children know what you want them to do - and not do. Invite children to suggest rules of their own.
  • Define the area you want children to stay in, identifying boundaries such as trees or other landmarks.
  • Have children bring their carpet squares, or take a large blanket or quilt, to designate the space. This helps children understand that it's still group time even though they're outside.
  • Keep it short! Your children won't be accustomed to the distractions outdoors. Keep your first meetings brief so children can enjoy the experience and feel a sense of success.

Explain the Concept

Once you've laid the groundwork for your first outdoor group time, tell children that they're going to play a game in which everybody wins and nobody loses. Cooperative games are different from other movement or gym activities and may be a new concept for children.

Ask children to define cooperation. How do they help one another in school? How do they help at home? What do they think it will be like to play a game in which they don't compete but actually work together?

Let the Games Begin!

One simple game to start with is Cooperative Musical Chairs. Because you'll be outside, you can use children's carpet squares instead of chairs. (If you don't have carpet squares, any set of appropriate objects about the same size will do - how about hula hoops?) The object of the game is to work together to get everybody on a carpet square.

Place the squares on the ground. Then, as you beat a drum or play another instrument, encourage your children to dance around the area without touching the squares.

Alert children that when the music stops, the have to find a place to stand on the squares. Take away a square, and beat the drum again. Keep removing carpet squares. As children face the problem of fewer squares, the need for cooperation become more apparent. Among the issues that will arise: how to get everyone to fit, and how to help someone who doesn't have a place.

Children will erupt in giggles as they discover just how few carpet squares they can all squeeze onto!

Reflect on the Experience 

Now that children have cooperated in a new way, gather them on the grass and hold a post game discussion. Ask them what was difficult and what was easy about the game. Remind children of the different ways they cooperated to help one another to fit on the squares, such as moving over to make room or grabbing others' hands to help them keep their balance. Invite children to share what they noticed.

When children are back inside, be sure to celebrate good examples of cooperation throughout the day.

This article originally appeared in the April, 1998 issue of Early Childhood Today.