Collaboration : The Power Of Playing Together
We’re often the outsider to children’s collaborative play, but other times we’re a valuable contributor too. There’s the friends, kindy, school, neighborhood kid’s - many opportunities for kids to collaborate, but family time - siblings and parents are also great collaborators and are often the one’s spending the most time together.
I recently came across a research paper which I refer to here that talked about collaboration between kids at play. It helped me to understand what I have been observing with my kids at play, beyond what I’ve encountered as a designer collaborating as part of a creative team. There is certainly the time and place for kids to play on their own, learn to discover what happens beyond boredom, but what exactly is it about the magic of a team dynamic, the process and results of that collaboration?
The Dynamics Of Play Collaboration
‘Playing’ and ‘collaborating’ can be similar things, but collaboration feels much more achieving of something. If I sit with my child to collaborate on something we’re often working towards a goal. Playing together feels much more open-ended, care-free and casual. Maybe it can be as simple as how we think about it.
Collaboration helps to create an outcome that a child could not achieve on their own. Those stuck moments are often a call for a collaborator. My young child’s frustrated screams can be sometimes interpreted as “..here’s where I’m at, now how do I get to the next point with this problem..” Children do need to learn to problem-solve but sometimes it takes more than a lone child to solve that step of frustration.
It’s fascinating to observe how small children initiate, share and maintain the social act of collaboration. Even though they are young, they are already complex social creatures at play. How they communicate and express themselves is a developing skill. When kid’s progress from play-alongside-one-another, to active-collaborative-play they are learning how and when to take control, when to share, when to use their knowledge, and how to step up and take part. They creatively build off each other’s ideas whether they are watching, contributing, imitating, sharing, or copying.
When Play Is A Team Sport
When two or more kids play they solve problems towards a joint and shared outcome. Kid’s play as open, dynamic and self organizing systems making them particularly efficient at achieving a successful outcome.
Make-believe play can be another form of collaboration. Participating in a spontaneous story-telling scenario let’s kid’s explore new ideas and experience life from a different perspective.
Participating and learning to play as a team is about combining other children’s ideas, knowledge and experience, rather than doing by ones self with one’s own limited abilities and knowledge. As a team kids exchange views, critique, argue, resolve conflict issues and form new ideas through the creative problem-solving process of collaboration.
Conflict In Play Is Part Of The Process
It’s no surprise that collaboration between children is often fraught with conflict - we see it all the time with our kid’s. Disagreement is important in collaborating, challenging different thought and knowledge. During the social conflict they are learning about themselves, others and their social world. An argument is like re-organising the collaboration. They invite a response and hopefully head towards resolution. Ultimately the kids choose resolutions and strategies that help to continue the collaborative play rather than end it.
When the children disagree they review their thoughts, ideas and solutions to construct a shared understanding. It takes some experience at the ‘give and take’ of collaboration to learn how to continue the interaction and realise a much greater beneficial outcome. As adults we can help guide kids to find ways to collaborate, communicate, share and negotiate as they grow and develop.
There is a certain joy that is experienced as kids play together with their joint discovery and achievements. With experience they fine tune these skills of collaboration at play and thrive as a team player.
Collaborating In The Digital World
Collaboration is not limited to the physical sense. Online we are seeing many more creative collaborative opportunities involving play and creation. My kids are incredibly motivated to continue creating when using DIY, a site where kids can share what they make, get feedback in the form of stickers, and discover ideas from others motivating them to make their own version and maybe even improve on it.
We also love Storybird. It provides a curiously fun way to create your own story, with a friend, a child, formally or informally and share with others, browse stories others have created, and just get inspired to write with the beautiful artwork provided like prompts.
Fostering Collaboration Skills - What The World Needs More Of
One may be an expert but a team may achieve an even better outcome. The world needs more collaboration. We can help by fostering these valuable skills of collaboration for our children’s future.