A Short History of Cooperative Games

Are Cooperative Games a recent innovation? Or is there a history behind this concept? Here is a capsule history.

The cooperative games movement in North America—the conscious attempt to use inclusive games that are based on cooperation rather than competition in order to have fun and promote healthy relationships and community—dates back to the 1960’s and 70’s. Early pioneers of the movement include Terry Orlick (Canadian professor of kinesiology, cooperative games inventor and researcher, Olympic coach, and personal performance expert); Jim Deacove (owner of Family Pastimes games company and pioneering designer of cooperative board games); Stewart Brand (author of The Whole Earth Catalog and Vietnam war veteran who invented New Games to provide games that emphasized playfulness and joy rather than winning); Dale LeFevre (author of several New Games books and inventor of and globe-trotting teacher of cooperative games), Pat Farrington who was connected to the New Games movement but added the insight that trust and cooperation could be built into games so that her games were “not so much a way to compare our abilities but to celebrate them”, and Ken Kolsbun (previous owner of Animal Town Games, the first manufacturer of cooperative games in the United States and designer of the classic board game Save the Whales). Thanks to these fun-loving social innovators and other contributors too, resources for playing cooperatively has grown over decades. Cooperative games of all sorts (circle games, board games, PE games, ice breakers, educational games, etc.) caught on and spread organically to schools, classes, schools, camps, churches, and other settings around the world syncing up in Europe with a long-standing tradition of “friend games.” Still, cooperative games have remained relatively unadvertised and have not been promoted at a mass scale. This is a mixed blessing, but is perhaps a positive for the integrity of the field. They’re a bottom-up rather than a top-down “movement”, evolving as more and more people creatively adapt the idea to their own uses.  Join us!

This little bit of history comes from Come visit us to learn more about cooperative games, pick up some free games, and shop for games for home, schools, and other organizational settings.

Take Care!

Suzanne Lyons (a mom, teacher, & founder of

Natural Easter Egg Dyeing with a Cooperative Flair

NaturallyDyedEggsST3 (1)Here is a cooperative play idea for the upcoming Easter holiday. You can make beautiful naturally dyed Easter eggs like the ones shown here using natural plant-based dyes. This works great. I did it last year and will do it again today. I got this method from the National Cooperative Grower’s Association (NCGA) website (­, my go-to information source for everything related to food co-ops. Directions:

  1. The first step is to hard-boil your eggs. You’ll want to use white eggs. Use a stainless steel or glass pot. The water level should be a couple inches above the eggs. Let the eggs boil then simmer for about 15 minutes. Remove them with a slotted spoon and let them dry.
  2. Refer to the chart below to decide which dye colors you will be using. Then make make your dyes.
  3. If you are doing this project with kids, I strongly recommend covering your work surface with newspaper and providing aprons for everyone.
  4. Dip your eggs into the dyes. Let sit until the desired shade is reached. Remove them and let them dry.
  5. Decorating Tips: You can wrap string around eggs before dyeing to make stripes. You can draw designs on the cooled eggs before you dip them too.
  6. The Cooperative Flair: Make egg dying a cooperative game activity by letting multiple people contribute to decorating the same egg. Remember Mr. Potato Head? Make Mr. Egg Head!  Everyone draws different features on the same egg with crayon before dying. With a little flour-water paste, stick some Easter Grass or shredded paper on Mr. Egg Head to make wacky hair. Make a full family of Egg-Heads too—Mr. and Mrs. and all the Egg Head children. Enjoy!

Easter Egg dye chart


Cooperative Storytelling

Combine story telling with collaboration in this cooperative game.  Great as a party game and easily adaptable to school classes, especially language arts.

Cooperative Storytelling

Materials: None needed

Time Estimate: 15 minutessun and kids

Number of Players: 5 or more

Object of the Game: To tell a progressive story

Skills: Cooperation, Memory, Creativity, Speaking, Listening


To Play:

This is a well-known cooperative game suitable for all ages. Children sit in a circle and build  a story together. One child starts the story, his neighbor provides the next installment, and so on. The story is over when every child in the circle has had a chance to contribute. It’s helpful to brainstorm with the kids what the story will be about before you start. For example, you could make a story about Halloween, or a fictional character who takes a trip to the Moon, or a puppy that is born with purple fur, etc.



For older children, you can play “Fortunately, Unfortunately” in which one story teller describes a positive story development then the next player describes a negative development. For example, Player One starts a story about a kitten named Bilbo. She says: “Fortunately, it was a beautiful day and Bilbo was playing in the garden.” The next player continues with: “Unfortunately it began to rain and Bilbo got wet.” Player 3: “Fortunately, Bilbo found a watering can to hide in.” Player 4: “Unfortunately there was water in the watering can and Bilbo got even more wet!” etc. This is a fun game that carries the message that life has its ups and downs but it all seems to work out in the end.

Cooperative Games and the Gamification of Education

paperdolls in grassThe public has become much more aware of cooperative games in recent years. These days, when people ask what I do for a living and I say that I started the small company (click they usually say “Cool” instead of “What’s a cooperative game?” Part of the surge in popularity of cooperative games is due to the gamification of education.

Games are big in education now. Of 20 small business grants provided by the NSF for educational product development last year, 12 of them were awarded to companies making games. Not surprisingly, cooperative games are among the new games being developed under grants for education. Also, there are lots more excellent cooperative games being developed by small, large, and indie publishers than ever before. Why? Well, it’s pretty obvious that cooperation is key in today’s world of increased global communication, a sky-rocketing human population, stressed-out schools, and common environmental and social issues begging for solutions. Insofar as cooperative games nurture a cooperative spirit and teach collaborative skills, cooperative games are an idea whose time has come. Teachers are a population that gets this.

Teachers are, however, inundated with messaging that favors competition rather than cooperation. Schools, with a plethora of competitive activities ranging from sports to spelling bees to grading on a bell curve, are competitively structured as we know. I’m a former science teacher and I attended the National Science Teacher’s Association in Boston last week. Competitiveness in science classes is one of the factors that motivated me to start in fact. It’s interesting how many large corporations sponsor student competitions…and how blatant the message is from the “powers that be” that competition is the preferred way to bestow recognition and rewards on students. Win this, win that. The message is all over the media and it was much in evidence at the conference. Yet, teachers have mixed feelings about the competitive paradigm. I find that cooperation is what everyone really wants despite the harangue that tells us schools should be based on competition.

The cooperative games being developed by university researchers under grant funding is just one of the signs that educators are rethinking competition and looking for ways to engage that are more equitable, more productive, and more fun! As a result of the NSTA conference last week, I am now looking for great, grant-funded cooperative games to review and post on for you teachers out there. Stay tuned! And please get in touch if you know of university-developed cooperative games that should be made available to the public. We’ll see if we can make it happen. Contact Suzanne at

Cooperative Games Summon the Spirit of Cooperation on Halloween. uhooo!

Today is Halloween. Costumed kids will be roaming neighborhoods, huddling in tight groups to giggle and stay safe in the night. Adults join the fun by being ready with bowls of treats…and sometimes even haunted porches! Halloween is a great cooperative play occasion when young and old come together to celebrate and have fun!

My neighborhood in Northern California goes super crazy on Halloween. There’s even a haunted house that artists co-create. Last year it featured a room covered in black and white polka dots with people in matching polka dot suits. They were totally camouflaged—until they jumped out at you! What an amazing community event. Just for the fun of it.

spirit of cooperation

Here are some more ideas to summon the Spirit of Cooperation to your Halloween gathering:

* Play BUILD A MONSTER! But first you have to find all of the pieces. Shred a bunch of old newspaper and create a “haystack” to hide the pieces of the monster. Monster pieces can be cut from felt squares and made as simply or elaborately as you wish. Monster pieces should be no smaller than four inches by four inches so that they won’t be lost in the haystack. Suggested pieces to make: a head, a neck with bolts sticking out, a torso, a brain, a heart, arms, and legs. If you have a felt board, players can assemble the monster as they find the pieces. This is a cooperative game that can be played over and over. Just toss the pieces in the haystack and stir it up to start again. Thanks to party palooza for this game. Their site:

* Dunk for apples. Root for the dunker. Everyone wins!

* When kids return from trick-or-treating, ask them to pour the loot into a big bowl or bucket to make a witch’s cauldron. Play this sharing game: everyone sits in a circle around the cauldron. Each player takes a turn going to the cauldron to select a treat for the person sitting next to them in the circle.

* Kids fill a treat bag with donations from their own Trick-or-Treating booty. Donate the bag of treats to a local food back, or homeless shelter.

* Kids sit in a circle and tell a progressive spooky story. Start it out with a Halloween theme such as this “The night was black, the moon was full, and an old house was very dark. An owl perched in a crooked tree and a cat with green eyes sat nervously on the porch. Suddenly, the door to the house creaked open…” The game is over when everyone has had a turn adding to the story.

• Make or go to a haunted house. Appreciate how much cooperation it took to create such a spectacle!

How do you summon Spirit of Cooperation on Halloween. Share your ideas with us at!

How to Encourage Cooperation Through Board Games

This blog was written by Tiffany Malloy who writes a beautiful Mommy blog  at Eat, Play, Grow. A grateful acknowledgment to Tiffany for sharing her blog with me–and you!Malloy 1 Cooperation

“Beat you to the door!”

“Beat you upstairs!”

“Look, I have the biggest carrot stick!”

“She has 8 grapes, but I only have 7….”
Competition is everywhere we look. The other day I was at a parent’s meeting for a (non-sport) evening activity, and the coordinator talked about the importance of teaching our kids to compete well, and how part of their program was designed to do just that. While I’m sure that holds some amount of water in some parents’ minds, I began to wonder- why can’t we intentionally be teaching our kids to cooperate well too?

My husband and I have set out to do our best to help our kids’ reflex be to cooperate instead of compete. One way we are starting to do this is through board games. Our family really loves to play games (of course, there are those times when game night goes bad… :)), so we’ve decided to turn our play time into a time of cooperation and collaboration instead of competition.

As we set out on this quest, I stumbled across a website called This website is an EXCELLENT resource if you are curious about the idea and value of cooperative gaming. I spent several nights on the website, reading and learning more about the various cooperative games that are on the market. The owner of Cooperative Games, Suzanne Lyons, is a mom and an educator who cares deeply about this as well, and has written a great free ebook that you can find on the website here.

Board Games
To help give us an encouraging start in our cooperative board game experiment, Suzanne not only sent me a list of her favorite cooperative games, but a couple of the games themselves. One of the games is called Max the Cat, and is intended for elementary kids. In this game, the players work together to get squirrel, mouse, and bird to their homes before Max the Cat eats them. Players have to work together (making decisions, etc.) in order to succeed!

Not only did we LOVE to hear our kids play a game together without yelling (or pouting at the end when they lost), but they had a great time playing it. It’s fun to hear them strategizing together, and all being excited at the end if they get all the critters to their homes safely. If they aren’t successful as a team, they are determined to do better the next time, and talk about what they should have done differently.

We’ve become a bit of cooperative board game evangelists with this one– we’ve played it with family, friends, neighbors, and each other. :) I was a bit concerned that perhaps cooperative games wouldn’t really be…well, fun. But the kids love it and don’t mind not competing! :)

Turn your Existing Board Games into Cooperative Games
While all board games cannot be turned into cooperative games, Jake and I have been working on doing just that with a few of the games we already have while we slowly build our cooperative game closet.

MEMORY: Instead of seeing who can get the most matches, we see how many tries it takes (collectively) for us to find all the matches. We use an abacus to help us easily keep track.

CANDYLAND: This game is a staple in most game closets, and actually lends itself quite well to collaborative gaming if you read the story on the inside of the box before you play. The kids are working to find King Candy– not competing, but together! So, we play according to the rules, but instead of cheering when someone gets a card that sends them back, we encourage them that they can catch up! Then, whoever wins invites the other players to come up and feast on King Candy’s castle.

BLOKUS: We use the gameboard and pieces to complete various challenges together, such as
Can we place all the tiles in such a way that no colors are touching themselves?
Can we place all the tiles on the board so that there are no holes?

Play Freestyle
There are lots of games that do not have to be bought, but can just be played freely! Cooperative Games lists a lot of them, and most of these I got from them. :)

Doing puzzles
Building with blocks or making a sandcastle
Going on a scavenger hunt
Story dice

Even if your family is a fan of competition, a little break from it every now and then would probably do everyone a bit of good! :) Be sure to check out Cooperative Games’ website for some of the games that are out there. You might be really surprised! AND stay tuned for another game review on Wednesday, Preschooler in the Kitchen as well as some reflections on cooperation and the Kingdom of God on Friday.

Happy Playing!

The World’s First Printable Cooperative Board Game: Preschooler In the Kitchen

PSK  Product Image is thrilled to announce our very first printable cooperative board game: Preschooler in the Kitchen! Preschooler in the Kitchen just might be the world’s most inexpensive cooperative board game at just $2.99!
In the game, young children (ages 3-7) take turns drawing cards that describe a kitchen skill such as eating healthy food or using good manners at the table. When the child does the skill he collects a fruit card and advances around the game board. There are short cuts and possible set-backs along the way, but players cooperate to overcome set-backs together. Everyone wins when they reach the kitchen table with their fruit cards and make a yummy fruit salad together. A recipe for fruit salad is included so players can make a real fruit salad if the game perks up their appetite—as it surely will!
Preschooler In the Kitchen is not just a cooperative game, and not just a printable cooperative game, but it is a PRNTABLE COOPERATIVE FRIDGE GAME! What does that mean? This is a game concept we are pioneering and it works great! You simply download the game from for a mere $2.99. You get the cooperative game board, game cards, and envelope templates for holding the game cards. Post everything on the refrigerator and use your own kitchen magnets as playing pieces. (Be carful though. Kids 3 and under should not play this game without adult supervision because they sometimes put small things like magnets in their mouths!)
With your cooperative game posted on the fridge you can play it over the course of a couple days and use it to teach good kitchen habits as well as cooperation. Note: You can also play the quick version of this game by just playing it on a table top like a regular board game. Whether you play the long version or the quick version, Preschooler In the Kitchen promotes a cooperative kitchen and a love of good healthy food!
Kids and parents agree Preschooler In the Kitchen is a delicious way to have fun. Here are a few reviewer comments:
• … a great way to develop a cooperative attitude about tasks in the kitchen and organically connect that to overall health and safety. Also, the fact that it is non-competitive is a great addition, particularly for the preschool child.
• …we would recommend the game [Preschooler In the Kitchen] It was fun! (and the 8-year-old enjoyed it as much as the 4-year-old)
• I was very intrigued by the game…honestly, I was confused how there was not a “winner” when I first read through it. Then I loved it!… I loved how it made my boys work together and help each other…my sister’s boys need that practice as well!!! LOL!