Teamwork can be fun. And a child with solid teamwork skills faces a world full of rewarding opportunities and experiences.
However, just try to tell kids they’re learning about “teamwork” and watch their faces fall. You might as well tell them they’re going to the doctor to get their annual shots, because that’s about as much fun as “lessons in teamwork” sounds to most sets of young ears.
Luckily, you don’t even need to use the word “teamwork” in order to share these critical life success lessons every day. Here are three tips for teaching kids the importance of teamwork in ways that will be both fun AND rewarding for them.
1. Teach the lesson inside a fun play game.
Have you ever played follow the leader? Or musical chairs? Or hide ‘n seek? What parent or educator hasn’t, right? According to NPR, positive play literally creates a better brain for a child, as it does for the young of any species.
In fact, scientists are now looking at the benefits of time in the classroom versus time on the playground and re-evaluating which has the most to offer. (Hint: The latter is emerging as the clear front-runner.) While much more research still awaits, early evidence shows that it is kids’ own ability to take charge on the playground that may enhance the learning benefits.
For example, when playing follow the leader, kids must tackle head on who gets to be the leader, when each child’s turn in that role is up, how to resolve disputes, and what the official rules of the game are.
In the midst of making these game-specific decisions, kids will also be challenged to learn general team-based life skills such as emotional self-regulation, negotiation, problem solving, compromise, and patience.
2. Engage the child in a team sport with a good coach.
Another way to teach teamwork lessons inside an appealing, fun activity is through team-based sports.
According to Psych Central, team sports offer an incredible array of social skills lessons, including learning to compete against their own personal best versus against their teammates or competitors.
But it is critical here to have a good coach, a leader who understands the delicate balance between making and breaking a child’s confidence and ability to create social bonds with fellow teammates.
A coach who inspires passion and personal confidence, emphasizes the team’s unity over individual “stars,” and creates a focus on progress rather than perfection can make a lasting positive impact on each player that will endure throughout each child’s life.
Here, it’s important to note the difference between a sport where a teammate is a fellow competitor who’s on the team versus a teammate who is part of a competitive unit competing against other teams.
Examples include diving or gymnastics instead of soccer or softball. The former may actually work against this goal, while the latter will reinforce the lesson of teamwork on a daily basis, whether the activity of the day is selling personalized stadium blankets as a fundraiser or doing practice drills to improve on-field communication.
3. Introduce other fun team-based activities.
Not all kids enjoy or excel at team sports. For example, if a child is introverted and loves books, how can you teach them about teamwork?
The good news is that there are plenty of ways to get the message across, no team sports necessary! Any team-based activity can do a great job of instilling social confidence and skills in a child, whether they are athletically inclined or not.
For instance, take baking. Instead of teaching the child to bake cookies solo by following a recipe from start to finish, you can organize it as a family or group activity and assign each member a role. One member may be in charge of assembling the ingredients, and another in charge of assembling the equipment. A third may monitor the baking cookies and ensure that they don’t overcook—you get the idea.
By giving each child a responsibility to take part in during the baking process—whether the process involves cookies or pizza or oven-fired pottery—you can help each child build their confidence and social skills over time.
This also works really well when you invite a few of the child's friends to do a fun craft together or some kind of activity that takes (or can accommodate) a team.
Finally, another great non-sports activity that can convey teamwork lessons is simply watching a movie or reading a book about team-based situations. Movies or books about sports teams or choirs are great choices, since they often showcase common team situations such as conflict and resolution, negotiation and compromise, support of the weaker as well as stronger links in the team, taking turns in leadership roles, and other valuable lessons.
If you’re a parent, you can turn these into interesting family discussion opportunities, such as doing a weekly movie night or book group where each family member shares what they learned and how they plan to apply those lessons in their own lives.
These three options for teaching kids the importance and value of teamwork showcase that it isn’t the specific activity that matters as much as it is the mentorship and modeling you and other committed adults can provide for kids.
When you facilitate a daily atmosphere of team-based learning, kids will absorb so many lessons about how to conduct themselves in team-based situations—most of them without even realizing they’re learning!
Only later in life will kids look back on those earlier experiences and perhaps realize just how critical baking holiday cookies, family movie night, their middle school soccer league, or those early games of musical chairs really were to their social confidence and leadership skills.
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