In many ways, teaching a child cooperation skills is as important as teaching them cognitive or communication skills.
For kids with special needs, parents often focus on independence, but what about learning interdependence skills? These social skills need to be honed for children to learn to cooperate and collaborate within their family, among friends and in society. Play is a fun way to teach that.
Meal preparation is an opportunity to explore collective efforts. Start by giving kids some control and allowing them to decide their contribution. Let your child choose his role in meal preparation such as planning the menu, making the smoothies or stirring the pancake batter.
Products that can help: Learning Tower by Little Partners is a platform that brings a child up to the countertop level with safety and stability. PowerLink 4 Control Unit by AbleNet is a switch device that allows a child with limited dexterity to operate blenders and other electrical gadgets.
Invite a friend over and have your child learn to share by easing into a group activity like watching a yoga tape and imitating the movements. Yoga calms children and stretches their muscles as well as their minds. Another way is by using puppets, dolls or plush toys. Kimochis by Plushy Feely Corp makes an innovative kit of soft characters with "feelings pillows" promoting a playful way for kids to explore sharing feelings, expressing emotions and establishing healthy relationships.
Music and pretend play are perfect ways for teaching collaboration.
Music can teach the beginning steps of harmony (on many levels) and participating in a mutual experience. Start by giving each child a music-maker as simple as a drum made from an oatmeal carton or a plastic flute-or move up to a quality musical instrument ideal for kids like the five-piece drum set or the six-string acoustic guitar by Schoenhut. Put on a CD to inspire young talent and let the good times rock `n' roll. Record the jam session for later laughs.
Pretend play is another way for children to partake in a cooperative effort. Imaginative play can teach children to act out a story line with another child and share a vision of the world. Roles can be switched, giving kids a chance to change their perspective and participation. Have children create their own characters with fun hats and accessories or try some of the easy to wear and washable costumes from Aeromax.
Role & Play by Thinkfun introduces concepts like turn-taking and acting out emotions. This colorful cushiony cube and card set is a good first step towards cooperative play. Even rolling this cube or a ball back and forth provides a great starting point for shared play.
Dinner offers a lesson on the advantages of an assembly line. Have each person in the family contribute to making a family pizza. Whether you add ingredients to a ready-made pizza or build your own, you can assign tasks like sauce spreading, adding toppings, chopping or grating.
Throughout the day and before bed, remember to reinforce the learning with hefty praise for all the cooperative efforts on this day of play.
Ellen Metrick is a member of Special Parent's advisory board and director of Industry Relations & Partnerships at the National Lekotek Center in Chicago.