The Blog

As a newspaper columnist, Nancy Devlin, Ph.D. has written over 700 articles on subjects related to education and parenting. Welcome to her Classroom!

Building Strong Character and Identity

Character   and   strong   identities  are   built   through 
cooperative   experiences  and  not  through   competitive  and
individualistic   experiences.    The  ability  of  children  to
cooperate  with  other  people is the keystone  to  building  and
maintaining  stable   families  and  career  success.   
Parents  can help provide some of these cooperative  experiences
at home this summer through the use of non-competitive sports and games.


Many children learn to hate sports because they  are  not
physically   able  to compete with their   peers.    Since   most
sports  are competitive,  these children experience rejection and
failure again and again.   They are not picked for teams.  If the adult  in charge forces other children to put them  on the  team,  they feel even worse and are often ostracized by their peers when  they  come  in  last and  the prize  is  lost.   Cooperative games  offer  an  alternative  to  these  highly   organized  and strongly goal-oriented sports.

     In  cooperative   games,  the children play  with  one  another  rather  than  against one another.   They  are   working  toward  a mutual  goal in addition to developing skills.    There is also  a sense  of fun in the games.   Children do not have  to be  good  to have  fun and the less skillful  children  are  not eliminated.    An  example   would  be   the   game  of   musical    
chairs.    You  do  not eliminate the child  without  a  chair. This  person  simply sits on someone’s  lap.   At  the  end,   it becomes  a  test to see  how  the whole group manages to  get  on that one chair.

     Almost   any  activity can be made  cooperative.    For example   instead  of  competitive  volleyball  play  rotational volleyball.   In this  version,  instead of rotating  within  the team,  the players rotate through both teams.   When the game  is over, everyone will have been on both teams at least once.   Thi same  concept  can  be used  in  other  games  by  having  entire offensive  and  defensive teams change sides.

     There  are  many cooperative games which families  can play  together  because there is no distinction made  because  of age.    A six year old can help out an adult.  Families  can  try cooperative Chinese Checkers or Charades.


Mountaineering  is another cooperative game.  In this  game, players  work  as  a  team to get to  the  summit.    They  share equipment,  plan strategies together and handle whatever troubles come their way.  Easy card symbols allow young player to join the older  ones,  while complicated maneuvers  challenge  the  older players.


    One parent commented that she had stopped playing  games with  her  six- and four-year-olds because every  game  ended  in anger  and tears until she discovered the cooperative game called “Harvest Time.”  In  this  game the gardens are all planted  and everyone  takes  turns  rolling  the big wooden  die  to  do  the harvesting.   The  object  of the game is to  do  the harvesting before  winter  comes.  If  you get your garden harvested  before winter  comes,   you  then work to get  your  neighbor’s  garden harvested too.


     Another  interesting game is called “Maze.” It has  the flavor  of  chess  but players need each other’s help  for   both to   win.  There  are  non-competitive card games for the  family to play and  everybody  can participate  from the five year  olds in the family to the adults.


    Instead  of watching television one night  this  summer, try playing some non-competitive, cooperative, family  games.

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