Cooperative Learning Strategies for Preschoolers

Instructor: Della McGuire

Della has been teaching secondary and adult education for over 20 years. She holds a BS in Sociology, MEd in Reading, and is ABD on the MComm in Storytelling.

In this lesson, we will look at a variety of learning games and activities that provide an opportunity for both small and large groups of preschool-age children to practice social skills and learn to work together in a Cooperative Learning environment.

Let the Games Begin!

One of the wonderful things about preschool is that as the teacher, everything you do has the potential to help the children build socialization skills and learn how to function with others. This means that even games can be powerful learning tools.

Cooperative learning refers to learning to work cooperatively with other people in helping to achieve some goal, rather than doing activities that emphasize elimination or competition. Let's take a look at several games and projects that work well in helping preschool students learn to work together. These all emphasize and help develop the skills of listening, following directions, problem-solving, and motor development. According to psychologists, the peer support provided by cooperative learning activities also increases children's motivation to participate.

Large Groups

Some techniques work better when they're done with a large group or the whole class. The following games would work well with large groups, or with more than one classroom in a gym or playground.


In this game, children have an unfolded paper napkin placed on their heads. They must move around the room slowly enough to keep the napkin from falling. If it falls off, that child is 'frozen' and must be tagged back into the game by another player in order to begin moving again. Make sure to emphasize that the objective of the game is to keep all the students moving. Make sure the students don't let any of their classmates stay frozen for very long.

Spider's Web

This game works well with groups of ten or more. Take a ball of thick white yarn and ask the children whether they think they could spin a web like a spider. Have the children sit on the floor in a circle, and begin by holding one end of the yarn, then tossing or rolling the ball to a child. When he catches the ball, remind him to hold tight to the yarn before tossing the ball to someone else. Soon a large web will form. You can also ask the children to say the name of the child they throw the ball to, along with a trait they admire about that person.

Children can learn a variety skills by playing with a parachute together
Children can learn a variety skills by playing with a parachute together


Playing games with a parachute can help children learn to coordinate movement, improve their teamwork and ability to follow directions, and practice motor skills. One way to play is to seat the children at evenly spaced intervals around a parachute or a large, round table cloth. Then throw a ball in the middle and watch where it rolls as half the group raises the cloth and the other side lowers it. The children must all do their part for this to work! Once students have learned how to do this, you can also try to launch the ball high into the air from the middle of the parachute or table cloth. You can count down to liftoff together then have all of the students lift and stretch the cloth at once.

Small Groups

Some games work better in smaller groups, or in pairs. Arranging a variety of activities -- in large groups, small groups, and in pairs -- is a way of providing the children with different experiences that also helps you, the teacher, with classroom management.

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