Promoting Associative and Cooperative Interactions
Parten’s Stages of Developmental Play
Children’s interactions can be determined in part by preference, in part by developmental competence, and in part by what is allowed and engineered by the teacher. In 1932, Mildred Parten described types of play among young children as being solitary (i.e., alone), parallel, associative, or cooperative in nature, and these categories are still widely used.
Children who are playing alone may be in proximity to others, but they have unique materials and are not interacting with other children, or if they are interacting, the interactions are not related to the tasks at hand. Parallel learning occurs when children are using similar materials or engaging in a similar learning activity, but each is working independently. Associative interactions occur when children are sharing materials and interacting, but there is no distinguishable goal for the group. Cooperative play—the most complex of these social interactions—involves children working together with some sort of shared goal, rules, and/or organization.
Benefits of Associative and Cooperative Interactions
Associative and Cooperative interactions require children to communicate and work with peers, to monitor their own behavior and to adapt to the needs and expectations of others to accomplish a certain task. Thus, associative and cooperative play can have positive effects on children’s language development, self-regulation development, and their level of involvement in classroom activities.
Across the first two years of data from MNPS ELC classrooms, children who participated more frequently in social learning interactions demonstrated larger gains in mathematics, self-regulation, and letter knowledge. In a previous PRI study, preschoolers’ participation in these socially complex learning interactions predicted greater social competence and fewer problem behaviors in first grade (Spivak & Farran, 2016).
Strategies for Promoting Associative and Cooperative Interactions in the Classroom
Set up spaces and activities to encourage interaction between children
- Open fewer centers during free play (“We need a lot of people to run our pizzeria today!”)
- Encourage partner work and discussion (“I wonder what kind of house you could make if you put these different materials together!”)
- Limit similar materials and encourage sharing (“It looks like we only have one geo board today. I wonder if you two could work together to make interesting shapes.”)
- Suggest different roles for contributing to an activity (“For this activity we need a counter, a checker, and a recorder.”)
Model and instruct interpersonal skills required for social learning interactions
- Teach respectful talking and listening skills (“You and your partner both have very important ideas to share. How do we show someone we are listening?”)
- Give feedback when things are going well, and encourage children to express how they are feeling when these interactions don’t go as planned
- Demonstrate rules and turn-taking when introducing formal games