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“She Goes First”: Cooperative “Housekeeping” Play

three children at table, talking

About this video

This clip shows three children involved in pretend play during self-directed activity time in a state-funded half-day bilingual preschool classroom. Instruction in the program is given in both Spanish and English, and children may use either language during the times scheduled for self-directed activity.

In the clip, Victoria (age 5), Micaela (age 5.7), and Mandi (age 5.8) are engaged in what is sometimes called “housekeeping play.” Speaking in Spanish, they put some of their ideas about family life into action as they pretend to wash dishes, prepare food, and eat together. In a sense, they are cooperatively telling a story about a mother and her two children. The play is considered “cooperative” because their interactions are coordinated around a common theme. They are all playing roles of family members who prepare food and eat together. These conversations involve both oral and nonverbal “give and take” communication and are built on a shared understanding of what they are playing about.

The event shown here is only a small part of a play episode that lasted almost 20 minutes, including cleanup. (See the related video Tattoos and Teakettles: “Housekeeping” Conversations.)

The video shows some ways that this kind of play—during time set aside for self-directed activity—benefits the children’s language, social, and cognitive development and helps them meet early learning and development benchmarks.

Benefits of Extended Self-directed Activity

When children are not rushed to choose and complete activities within 15–20 minutes, complex conversations and explorations may unfold that engage high-level cognitive and social skills. They have more time to address and resolve real-life problems such as disagreements with classmates or equipment that breaks.

The teacher can use the extended time to observe children’s play, document how specific children use high-level skills to deal with real-life problems, and assess how they meet benchmarks during their self-selected activities. She can be available to all the children for support, encouragement, or advice when they face challenges. For example, we see the teacher react to the broken sink with surprise (“Ay, ay, ay!”) that mirrors Victoria’s and Mandi’s responses. She then partially identifies the problem (“You were washing the dishes and it…”) and models putting the faucet back before turning it over to Victoria to resolve.

Children’s Cooperative Pretend Play

Several important features of cooperative pretend play are evident as the girls interact.

Cooperative play develops from what the children know. Mandi, Micaela, and Victoria have little difficulty deciding together what to do and how to do it. This may be partly due to having a shared language and cultural background as well as a shared understanding of family life, including how to prepare and share food. If their backgrounds differed more, they might have had more discussion about what should happen.

Cooperative play supports oral language development. When children express their needs and wants orally in their home language, and when they listen to their playmates, they hone important oral language skills. The reward for clear communication, usually, is that the play continues smoothly because the playmates understand each other well. For example, when Mandi says, “Let’s go eat,” Victoria and Micaela understand what she wants, and they get up and move toward the table. Then, when both Mandi and Victoria want to play the mother, Micaela asserts that “There aren’t two moms. She [Mandi] goes first…” The other girls understand, accept her idea, and play continues.

Near the end of the clip, Micaela seems to suggest a new play theme when she slides to the floor and lies there, announcing, “Do you know that I’m dead?” Her dramatic body language and her words express her idea very clearly. (However, her playmates exchange looks, shrug, and continue to “eat,” nonverbally communicating lack of interest in changing the theme.)

Cooperative play supports social-emotional development. Cooperative play depends on turn-taking, a fundamental component of children’s social development. When Micaela says that Mandi should “go first” in the role of mother, Victoria understands that she will eventually have a turn to be the mom. She could have insisted on her own way, or left to do something else. But by agreeing that Mandi will go first, she allows the play to continue.

To play cooperatively, children need to be able or willing to adopt new perspectives and to “play along” with others’ ideas. For example, Micaela allows Victoria to lead her to the table, and she sits down when Victoria, in a mothering role, says, “Sweetie, you sit here.”During cooperative play, children may set aside any disappointment they feel when playmates don’t accept one of their ideas in order to keep playing. Victoria lets go of her wish to be “the mom” and enthusiastically takes on the role of hungry child. Similarly, Micaela does not get upset when she sees that her friends are not on board with her proposed change of theme.

Cooperative play provides cognitive challenges. Children can engage with important concepts during cooperative play. In the video, the girls incorporate ideas about quantity when Victoria and Micaela ask Mandi for more food, and she indicates that she gave them enough. That interaction also involves the concept of truth. In the mother role, Mandi treats the piles of food on the table as proof that her children are not telling “the truth” about eating what she gave them.

Like the girls in this video, children engaged in cooperative pretend play face the cognitive challenge of acting as if they are other people. For most of this clip, the girls enact the roles of a mother and her children. Sometimes, when they face a problem, participants may leave their play roles and act as themselves. These changes are often marked by changes in how loudly they speak, or some other behavioral cue.

For example, when Mandi calls out “Look, teacher!” after Victoria shows her the “broken” sink, she is no longer in pretend mode. Later, the three girls step outside their play roles briefly to negotiate who will be the mother. Micaela also leaves the daughter role when she asks her playmates to notice that she is “dead.” Mandi and Victoria, however, seem to respond in their play roles; they silently glance at each other and shrug as if ignoring a family member who has done something silly.

Even though it is mostly nonverbal, this interaction is an example of negotiation, which is often part of cooperative play. To negotiate, children need to be able to express their ideas clearly and understand others’ points of view.


Note: The dialog in this video is primarily in Spanish. For an English translation, you can choose English under the closed caption feature in the video player (above) or click on Transcript (below).


The girls and their teacher speak Spanish. The English transcript below is a translation.

Victoria pretends to wash dishes in the sink. When she finishes, she pulls the sink tub out of the counter and accidentally pulls out the faucet assembly with it.

Victoria: Hey!

She walks over and shows it to Mandi, who laughs.

Mandi: Look, teacher!

Teacher: What’s up? Ay, ay, ay. You were washing the dishes and it …

The teacher unhooks the faucet assembly from the sink and puts it back on the counter. Victoria says something that is not clear.

Teacher: Let’s see. Are you going to put it on?

Victoria: No. (unclear)

Teacher: OK, you fix it.

Victoria adjusts the position of the faucet, and Micaela puts the sink back into the counter. Victoria takes the sink out again, and once again the faucet is hooked on the side of it. After some effort, Victoria replaces it herself. Meanwhile, Mandi has been pretending to serve from the teapot. Micaela sits down on the beanbag in the corner by the window. Mandi takes something to the table.


The girls have a brief discussion by the beanbag chair.

Mandi: Let’s go eat.

The other two girls agree. Victoria helps Micaela stand and leads her by the arm to the table.

Victoria (to Micaela): Sweetie, you sit here.

Mandi objects.

Victoria: Well, but I’m the mother.

Micaela: But there aren’t two moms. There can only be one. She goes first and …


Victoria and Micaela are seated at the table pretending to eat; Micaela has an apple, and Victoria has a bunch of grapes. Mandi hands food to them from a basket.

Micaela (to Victoria): (unclear) … more slowly.

Mandi: (holding up a piece of food from the basket) Who wants this?

Micaela: I do!

Victoria reaches for a slice of watermelon that is on Mandi’s plate. Mandi takes it away from her and puts it back where it was. Mandi leaves the table with her basket while Victoria and Micaela continue to chat (unclear) and pretend to eat.

Victoria (to Mandi): Mom, I’m done.

Micaela: So am I.

Victoria: Can you give us more of those?

Mandi: I already gave you some. Eat them.

Micaela: We finished them all.

Mandi (returning to the table and showing the girls her basket): Look at this. They don’t explain the truth.

Mandi hands Victoria an ear of corn, which Victoria puts down on the table near Mandi’s spot.

Mandi (to Micaela): (holding up a piece of food) Do you want this?

Micaela nods her head and Mandi gives it to her.

Micaela (to Victoria): Stop.

Mandi passes Micaela a bread roll.

Micaela (to Mandi): I didn’t say anything. I didn’t tell her that … (unclear)

Mandi says something to Victoria and Micaela. Micaela suddenly drops from her chair to the floor, covering her eyes. Victoria and Mandi exchange a look.

Micaela: Do you know that I’m dead?

Victoria and Mandi exchange another look and both shrug their shoulders as if to say “so what?” Micaela gets up and returns to her chair. She notices that someone has given her quite a bit more food.

Micaela: Hey!

Mandi sets her basket down on the floor and sits in her chair. Victoria and Micaela pretend to eat.

Benchmarks and How They Were Met

BenchmarksHow They Were Met
Language Arts
1.B.ECb: With teacher assistance, participate in collaborative conversations with diverse partners (e.g., peers and adults in both small and large groups) about age-appropriate topics and texts.
Mandi, Micaela, and Victoria talked with each other to work out the story of their housekeeping play; teacher assistance was not needed.
Language Arts
1.B.ECc: Continue a conversation through two or more exchanges.
Mandi, Micaela, and Victoria had extended conversations about their food and about who had the role of mother.
Language Arts
1.D.ECa: With teacher assistance, use complete sentences in speaking with peers and adults in individual and group situations.
Mandi, Micaela, and Victoria each used complete sentences throughout their play; teacher assistance was not needed.
Language Arts
1.D.ECc: Understand and use question words in speaking.
Each of the girls asked at least one question in the course of working out what would happen as they pretended. For example, Micaela asked “Do you know that I’m dead?”
6.D.ECb: Describe comparisons with appropriate vocabulary, such as “more”, “less”, “greater than”, “fewer”, “equal to”, or “same as”.
Victoria asked, “Can you give us more of those?” Mandi replied, “I already gave you some,” and Micaela said, “We finished them all.”
Social Studies
18.B.ECa: Understand that each of us belongs to a family and recognize that families vary.
The children’s play reflects their understanding that family life involves preparing and sharing food.
English Language Learner Home Language Development
29.A.ECa: Use home cultural and linguistic knowledge to express current understandings and construct new concepts.
Victoria communicated with her teacher in Spanish about the sink that came apart. All three girls communicated with each other in Spanish to exchange information and decide the direction of their play. Their play included such concepts as quantity (more/some/all) and truth.
Social/emotional Development
30.C.ECd: Demonstrate engagement and sustained attention in activities.
All three children remained engaged throughout the entire play episode.
Social/emotional Development
31.B.ECb: Engage in cooperative group play.
The activity involved role negotiation, extended conversations, and a common theme, and it met criteria for cooperative play.
Social/emotional Development
31.C.ECb: Solve simple conflicts with peers with independence, using gestures or words.
When Mandi and Victoria both wanted the mother role, the situation was resolved through quiet conversation.

WIDA Early English Language Development Standards (E-ELDs)

To assess and make curriculum decisions regarding children whose home language is Spanish, Illinois educators use the Early Spanish Language Development (E-SLD) Standards, developed by World-Class Instructional Design and Assessment (WIDA) at the Wisconsin Center for Education Research. The observational data described here would be useful for planning instruction. However, a teacher would need multiple pieces of evidence to evaluate a child’s performance level.

Expressive language. Mandi, Victoria, and Micaela all used a variety of complete and original sentences of two to eight words that expressed related ideas in their home language. Their sentences included asking questions (“Who wants this?”), making comments, and giving commands. They employed past tense and present tense in Spanish. They used general vocabulary and some specific vocabulary, such as “mom” and “all.” Micaela made the longest utterance when she argued for Mandi being the mom. She also spoke more frequently—eight times—than Mandi or Victoria did.

Micaela used four- to five-word utterances that included some expanded original sentences, including a complex sentence. She used related ideas to maintain the play topic. She used a variety of grammatical forms including negatives, questions, and comparatives. She used some concept vocabulary of time, such as despacio and primero. She demonstrated her ability to use some linguistic resources in English when she said “stop.” According to WIDA performance definitions, she would be rated as developing level with some indicators emerging at the bridging level.

Victoria used three- to five-word utterances that included some expanded original sentences along with a common word, sientate. She used a variety of sentence types. She used related ideas to maintain the play topic. She used a variety of grammatical forms including pronouns, articles, and past tense. She used general vocabulary. According to WIDA performance definitions, she would be rated as developing level.

Mandi used three- to five-word utterances that included some expanded original sentences. She used present tense and asked a question using a question word. She used a few pronouns. She used general vocabulary primarily with a specific vocabulary word, verdad. According to WIDA performance definitions, she would be rated as developing level.

The assessment above is only based upon what is observable in the video provided. The teacher would need to collect additional data across settings, conversation partners, and time to gain a full picture of each child’s receptive and expressive language capabilities in Spanish.