Building Sibling Cooperation Instead of Competition


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When I wrote about what my kids wish we’d done differently in our homeschool, I said I was going to write about what I wish we’d done differently. However, after spending a lot of pondering it, I realized that not much has changed since I wrote, 10 Things I’d Change if I Could Have a Homeschool Do-Over.

The changes I mentioned in that article still ring true. With only one exception, any additional changes I’d add are more about parenting than homeschooling.

However, that one exception is a big one, and it’s something that I’d do differently in a heartbeat if given a chance.

Building Sibling Cooperation Instead of Competition

If I could have a homeschool rewind, the most significant change I would make is that I would work on building sibling cooperation instead of competition where academics are concerned.

Don’t misunderstand. I’m all for healthy competition. I’m not a participation ribbon kind of parent. In sports and games, there are winners and losers. Kids need to learn how to be both graciously.

However, academics are not the place to encourage competition between siblings, particularly when one or more of them have learning challenges.

Of course, I didn’t realize that we were dealing with learning challenges in the beginning and it wasn’t my goal to make the kids competitive. We were just playing games to make learning more fun.

I didn’t purposely set out to instill in my kids a need to “one-up” each another. And, maybe that would have happened anyway. Maybe it’s just a sibling thing. However, although they get along and love each other, I see a level of competitiveness between my kids that I wish I could replace with cooperation.

Tips for Building Sibling Cooperation in Your Homeschool

Based on my experience, the following are some of the ways to use hands-on learning games to encourage kids to work together and support one another, rather than compete against each other.

1. Play cooperative games.

Play cooperative games instead of competitive games when learning skill-based subjects such as reading or math facts. Rather than playing the typical “whoever gets the most points/answers the quickest/outdoes the other kid” games, play games in which students work together to reach a common goal. It’s often a case of merely adjusting the rules.

Instead of saying, “Whoever gets the most points wins a prize,” you might say, “When you accumulate so many points as a team, we’ll all have a treat.”  Or, “If you work together to figure out the answer in under so many minutes, you all earn {incentive}.”

Cooperative games encourage teamwork, critical-thinking skills, and interpersonal skills. Each of those is as vital as academic knowledge, particularly when the people you’re building them with are your siblings.

2. Play games based on chance.

If you want to play “competitive” games to practice or drill facts such as multiplication tables or sight words, play games based on chance rather than superior skill. Bingo and Go Fish are both excellent options for practicing reading and math skills, and neither requires students to compete with each other based on their mastery of the skill. Instead, the luck of the draw determines the winner.

Building Sibling Cooperation Instead of Competition

3. Encourage personal competition.

Instead of competing against each other, encourage your kids to beat their personal best. I am a bit addicted to the game 1010. Sometimes, Brian will notice that I’m playing a game on my phone and ask if I’m winning (because it’s usually Words with Friends). When I’m playing 1010, I’ll reply, “It’s not a game that you win or lose.”

“Why play?” he’ll ask.

Because it’s fun trying to beat my high score. (Well, it was, until I had a really good game. Now, I’ve got a crazy high score that I’m not sure I’ll ever beat. It’s still fun to try, though.)

I know a lot of people don’t like them, but Brianna used to enjoy those timed math drills. That’s my kind of thing, too – working to beat my own personal best.

Maybe your kids need to practice sight words. Give them their own set of word cards and let each keep track of how many words they read correctly each time, trying to increase every time they read through them. Or try something like 5 Minutes to Better Reading Skills.

(Tip: Don’t make them practice in front of each other and, if they’re at a similar skill level, give them different sets of word cards to discourage competing.)

Teach your kids to root for, encourage, and support one another, rather than trying to one-up each other. Click to Tweet

As I said, I’m not a participation ribbon kind of parent. Family game night? Play competitive board games and make the winner earn it.  Sports? Go for the trophy. Geography or spelling bee at co-op? Give it your best to be the last one standing.

But, siblings working alongside siblings in your homeschool? Learn from my biggest homeschool regret. Teach them to root for, encourage, and support one another, rather than trying to one-up each other.

How do you encourage cooperative sibling relationships in your homeschool?

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5 Comments

  1. So so true! We ended up having to stop group teaching in our homeschooling because of some extreme competitiveness in two of our children. Definitely something to be aware of, thank you!

    Also, familypastimes.com is a great resource for cooperative games, including lots of educational options!

  2. Thank you so much for this article and for your transparency! Mine are younger but I have noticed us going down the same path and have wondered if it is healthy or not in regards to homeschool relationships and struggling learners. I found this extremely insightful. I love the idea of getting a treat when a certain cumulative amount of points are garnered. This would work just as well if not better and encourage cooperation while still netting good participation! This is a game changer of an article and written on a unique topic!

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