Have you ever played Candyland with a preschooler? It sucks. I mean, it should be a fun game because…candy. My son was SUPER excited when he received it as a gift because…candy. But even though the rules are easy to understand and it holds their attention (…candy!), if your child doesn’t get to the end first, there will be a tantrum. They will be upset that you got to King Kandy before them. Why? Because it’s a competitive game where there can be only one winner. That is just not a fun concept for a four year old. I had pretty much decided never to play a board game with him again when I discovered cooperative board games!
A cooperative board game is one where there is no winner or losers. Instead, all the players work together to accomplish a common goal. And if done well, they’re fun to play over and over again. They’re also easy for a child to play by themselves, so are good for only children. Plus, many cooperative board game makers use eco-conscious materials with minimal plastic packaging and have a useful educational component.
Here are our family’s tried and true favorite cooperative board games for preschoolers:
This was the first cooperative board game we ever bought. It has an age range starting at 2 years old, yet still holds the attention of our 5 year old. First Orchard teaches colors and basic counting among other skills. An added bonus is that your child can also use the good-size wooden fruit pieces for kitchen play!
Count Your Chickens!
This one obviously teaches counting, as you work together to bring the hen’s babies home to safety. My son’s interest is really engaged by having the fox as the common enemy and what feels like a bazillion small cute chick pieces scattered around the board.
Eye Found It!
We have the Disney version of this game, which makes it especially engaging for our Mickey-loving family. Disney aside, this is still a fun loooong game that teaches basic counting, early clock reading, and attention to detail.
Though not technically a cooperative game (there is a winner in the end), Chicky Boom gets honorable mention because it requires teamwork to set up the pieces on the balance beam (which is half the playing time). That helps de-emphasis the competitive aspect of it and makes it more about your ability to complete the task of carefully adding/removing pieces. It also is a great subtle way to practice fine motor skills and counting. Children with sensory processing dysfunction who crave loud noises may especially enjoy the satisfyingly dramatic sound of the (wooden) pieces falling off at the end.
For dinosaur lovers in particular, this is a clever twist on a traditional memory card game where you work together to save the dinos from a volcanic eruption. As an added bonus, it comes with little dino figurines that can be used later for imaginative play. My son can play this one all day long.
While not exactly a board game, this wooden puzzle game provides the fun challenge of matching the various shapes to 48 different configuration pictures, which is a skill that tends to show up on intelligence tests. It can also easily be played by one child or in cooperation with others.
We are especially big fans of Peaceable Kingdom’s cooperative board games, and they are sold everywhere including Target and Amazon so are easy to find. The best part about playing cooperative board games is that as a parent you don’t have to worry about a meltdown if your child doesn’t win. And you don’t have to try to lose so that they can feel like they’ve won. This makes them so much more fun and stress-free to play with a young child.
And it seems to me that if more children learned at an early age that the point of playing was to learn and cooperate with each other rather than have a winner and a loser, our adult world might be a happier, more peaceful place.