With spring here, bringing with it a new sports season, I thought it was time to revisit one of my favorite topics: cooperation.
Used here, the term cooperation is not intended to refer to good behavior or compliance. Rather, it means the positive collaboration that takes place between and among children -- as seen, for example, when children devise their own games, alternate turning the jump rope for one another, and play cooperative musical chairs (described in next week's post).
Unlike competition, which research shows can foster antisocial behaviors, cooperation has been determined to promote prosocial behaviors. Steve Grineski, author of Cooperative Learning in Physical Education, says the social skills needed for cooperative learning include:
- Listening to others
- Resolving conflict
- Supporting and encouraging others
- Taking turns
- Expressing enjoyment in the success of others
- Demonstrating the ability to criticize ideas, not individuals
In No Contest: The Case Against Competition, Alfie Kohn identifies a great deal of research demonstrating cooperation's positive effects on both social and emotional development. Kohn says cooperation:
- Is more conducive to psychological health
- Leads to friendlier feelings among participants
- Promotes a feeling of being in control of one's life
- Increases self-esteem
- Results in greater sensitivity and trust toward others
- Enhances feelings of belonging
- Increases motivation
When children are given the chance to work together toward a solution or common goal -- whether creating a game or building a human pyramid -- they know they each contribute to the success of the venture. Each child realizes he or she plays a vital role in the outcome, and each accepts the responsibility of fulfilling that role. They also learn to become tolerant of others' ideas and to accept the similarities and differences of other children. Furthermore, cooperative activities seldom cause the feelings of inferiority that can result from the comparisons made during competition. On the contrary, because cooperative and noncompetitive activities lead to a greater chance for success, they generate greater confidence in children.
Although competition is commonly believed to be human nature, Scott Scheer, an associate professor in the Department of Human and Community Resource Development at The Ohio State University, contends we humans actually have a "cooperative imperative" -- a desire to work with others toward mutual goals that can run the spectrum from conceiving a child to sending a rocket to the moon. He may be right. Using MRI technology to determine the effects of both competition and cooperation, scientists at Emory Univeristy found that when people collaborate, the brain sends out pleasure responses!
To be continued...