Want to teach your child to take turns? Keep reading for 5 fun and effective turn taking games.
From the old standbys like hide-and-seek and I Spy to digital games like Minecraft, it's no secret that every young child loves games. But aside from simply being fun, games can provide a golden opportunity for caregivers to teach kids life skills like cooperation, patience, empathy, and resilience.
Turn taking games can be especially helpful. Not only are they fun and engaging, but they’re also a simple way to learn about ideas like fair play in social situations, building boundaries, and respect for younger kids still learning or kids at different developmental stages.1
So, how can you help your child learn to take turns? One way is to find time for lots of turn taking activities. Here are 5 easy and effective games you can teach your child to help them grow their social, playtime, and communication skills.
Why Use Games to Teach About Taking Turns?
Learning about sharing and taking turns can be a valuable way for younger kids to grow their understanding of their own feelings, set boundaries, and respect those of other children. But taking turns can also bring up difficult emotions, especially when your child or another doesn’t want to share.
At Slumberkins, our approach to sharing is all about validating those feelings. There are times when we adults might not want to share, too—and that’s okay. Instead, we can come up with creative ways to help our children understand their own feelings, practice empathy for others, and understand that sometimes it’s okay not to share given the social interaction.
At the end of the day, it’s important to honor a child’s desire when it comes to sharing. Enforcing sharing may teach kids that they shouldn’t want things or that other kids’ needs are more important than their own. In this scenario, it’s essential for kids to understand the value of their own wants and needs desires so they can feel empowered in their choices and feelings.
Rather than forcing kids to take turns, games can be a fun alternative to build natural turn-taking into your younger child’s playtime. Games let kids experience a different form of sharing, watching play partners take their turn without the stress of handing over a special toy.
Activities that involve sharing toys and turn-taking can include:
- Card games and board games
- Outdoor games like catch and tag
- Building something together out of blocks
- Progressive story-telling games
- Taking turns at any activity
5 Simple Turn Taking Games
There are any number of engaging games that can help kids practice taking turns, and you can start as early as you want with activities as simple as rolling a ball back and forth.
Even toddlers as young as 21 months can learn new social skills by playing turn taking games with another child or an adult.2 By age 5, kids begin to fully understand and use the concept of taking turns and cooperating to accomplish a shared goal.3
Here are 5 of our favorite easy activities to promote sharing, turn taking, and social skills for kids of all ages:
#1 Build Together
Building something together is a wonderful way to practice taking turns and sharing with even the youngest children.4
- As soon as your child has the fine motor skills to stack blocks or play with a ring toy, you can take turns adding pieces to the stack or structure. Local libraries and community centers often have small play corners where you can practice turn taking with your child. And who knows, they might just make a friend!
- As kids get older, move on to other cooperative projects like baking cookies or completing a jigsaw puzzle. Model turn-taking with each step—“You poured in the chocolate chips, now I’ll stir.”
#2 Animal Circle
This is a perfect game to practice taking turns because it’s easy to learn and fast-paced. It can be played with a group of any age, as soon as children are old enough to understand how to copy what the player before them has done.
Here’s how to play:
- Arrange your group in a circle.
- The first player makes an animal noise of their choice.
- The next player repeats the first player’s noise, then adds their own.
- Continue building onto the noises made by the players before you, until someone forgets the sequence.
#3 Cooperative Drawing
This is an easy and silly turn taking activity you can do one-on-one with your child, or encourage your kids to do together. It can be as simple or challenging as you like.
To play this game, follow these simple steps:
- The first person draws any random shape.
- The next person adds one shape to it.
- Continue taking turns adding details and stretching your imagination to see what your drawing can become.
- Add to the fun by making up a story to go along with your creation.
#4 Round Robin Storytelling
Telling a story together is a fun and unique way to practice taking turns. It’s also an easy and fun way to pass the time in a restaurant or in the car, as you don’t need any toys or supplies.
Sometimes called a “round robin” story, this game involves taking turns adding details to the story as you go along. Here’s how to play:
- Either you or your child can start the story with a sentence or two—like, “Once upon a time, a mouse lived in the forest…”
- The next person picks up where the first left off, adding another sentence or two—such as, “One day, the mouse went to pick berries.”
- Continue taking turns as long as you like, or until everyone has had a chance to add to the story.
#5 I’m Going on a Trip…
For kids aged 5 and up, this is a challenging memory game, travel game, and turn taking activity. It’s also a unique way to practice the alphabet.
The steps for this activity are:
- The first player begins by saying, “I’m going on a trip, and I’m going to bring…” They then name an object beginning with the letter A.
- The second player repeats the full phrase, the object beginning with the letter A, and adds an object beginning with the letter B.
- Continue taking turns, with each player repeating the full list of items and adding one more item each time.
Other Ways to Teach Turn-Taking
There are many simple ways you can help your child practice this important social skill—not only through turn taking games, but also in everyday moments and situations. You can:
- Model taking turns – When you are playing with your child, make sure to take turns yourself and mention it as you do.
- Build turn taking into daily activities – For example, when reading a book with your child, take turns reading or turning pages. This is a great practice with our books on connection. Take turns throwing the ball for your dog or petting the cat (if you have one). Once you start looking, you’ll find endless opportunities for turn taking activities.
- Notice and celebrate turn taking – Watch for moments to praise your child for taking turns and sharing. This can help them see turn taking as an easy and enjoyable part of interacting with others.
Support Your Child's Resilience With Slumberkins
Using games and activities to practice taking turns can give your child a chance to practice being playful with others, learn about others’ feelings through positive language skills, and find fun in taking turns together.
Finding the right support and strategies to teach your child the skills they need can be a challenge. But having some supportive tools and ideas can make it a little easier—and, like the activities above, sometimes even enjoyable
At Slumberkins, we’re dedicated to giving you the tools you need to grow strong, confident kids. From practicing calming strategies for kids to building resilience in children, we’ve got the resources to navigate any small or big emotions. Browse our collection of social-emotional learning kits and tools, like our Creatures Full of Feelings Card Game, today to find books and toys that help kids learn and grow.
- Russo Johnson, Colleen. "Tips for teaching kids how to wait until it's their turn." Today’s Family. https://www.todaysfamilymagazine.com/2020/11/23/336303/tips-for-teaching-kids-how-to-wait-until-its-their-turn
- Warneken, Felix et al. “Collaborative partner or social tool? New evidence for young children's understanding of joint intentions in collaborative activities.” Developmental science vol. 15,1 (2012): 54-61. doi:10.1111/j.1467-7687.2011.01107.x
- Melis, Alicia P et al. “One for You, One for Me: Humans' Unique Turn-Taking Skills.” Psychological science vol. 27,7 (2016): 987-96. doi:10.1177/0956797616644070
- "5 steps for brain-building serve and return." Harvard University Center on the Developing Child. https://developingchild.harvard.edu/resources/5-steps-for-brain-building-serve-and-return/
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