Give to the KCDC

Building Cooperation

This morning two of our girls, K (age 3 ½) and N (age 2 ¾), approached the big blocks and began construction of a house to take care of their babies/stuffed animals. Soon, A (age 3 ½) came up and roared loudly at them because he was pretending to be a meat-eater and seemed to want both to join their play and be a dinosaur. K promptly screamed loudly to go away! This was partly because she wanted to play with N only and wanted the whole block area for their play, and partly because she didn’t want to be a dino meal at the moment. I admire K’s gumption to stand up for herself (no one is going to push her around!), but we have been talking about how to use a talking voice with a classmate rather than yelling. And A needs reminders to ask someone if they want to play dinos and not assume they want to be his next snack. After a short scowl, K resumed stacking blocks and adding short boards; A quietly joined in, deciding that building and playing together was more important than being a T-Rex at the moment, and K didn’t object.

Soon L (4 ¼) wanted to join the building, too, and was told that he couldn’t help with their structure. He shrugged and said he would build his own. He began going back and forth to retrieve big blocks and boards. First he placed a big board between 2 blocks like a bridge and then slid other blocks underneath until the board was supported all the way across. He narrated each step to me as he built. In the meantime, S (4 ¼) had also joined the group. As the block supply dwindled, K and L decide that “Hey, they can go together!” and the 2 structures meld into one. When all the big blocks had been used, there was a moment of competition over who got the last block. I posed the simple question, “So what can we do now?” As the kids glanced around, S excitedly said, “We can use those!” and pointed to the nearby shelf of cardboard blocks. Soon everyone was carrying the colored blocks over to add to their structure. S said “No, guys, it’s too much” as lots of blocks were placed on a board. At this point, the level of cooperation was such that several blocks were promptly moved to another spot.


There wasn’t a lot of play with the structure after it was built. Often the process is more useful than the product. This picture was taken when everyone had abandoned this project for others (like the tumbling room or the snow in the sensory table). The structure survived most of the morning, though, as the kids climbed over, around, and through it. S and D (both 2 ½) sat and talked on it at one point, adding some smaller wooden blocks.

Sharing space and ideas with others can be quite complicated! A common dynamics in social interactions can be that children can want to play with just one favorite friend and find all others to be intrusive or even threatening. Sometimes the child who wants to join is a new friend who hasn’t played with the duo much before, or it could be that 3 good friends are figuring out how you can have more than one playmate at the same time. Sometimes a project can bring together playmates that don’t frequently seek one another out. Decisions are made, like when L decided to build his own structure instead of get upset about not joining the first group. By the time our kids are 4-4 ½ they are often (not always!) looking for ways to cooperate and our 4’s and 5’s are modeling that cooperation for our 2’s and 3’s as they work on projects together.

And don’t forget that in the midst of these social interactions they kids were experimenting with building, construction, balance, spatial awareness, matching, and creativity.

Whatever the dynamic, children learn more about themselves, others, and the world around them with every interaction they have. That’s why open-ended creative play with adults who can help facilitate is so very important!

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