This blog was contributed by Tandem Team ( and translated by Carlos Pereira and Marina Fuertes (Escola Superior de Educação de Lisboa).


From their early years, children can be involved in daily tasks such as helping bake a cake, gardening, or taking care of a dog. Children learn to perform a task, to cooperate, and to become an active agent in their life context. Within cooperative tasks, learning can be of multiple types: cognitive (e.g., reversibility and integration of the perspective of others), emotional (e.g., emotional regulation, impulse control, internalization/exteriorization of emotions), social (e.g., learning to wait their turn) and communicative (e.g., suggesting/standing by an idea instead of imposing it, learning to negotiate and reach consensus) (1).

In these tasks, adults can be children’s partners. They propose, suggest, undertake, and, similarly, accept participation from the child. The product results from the joint mobilisation of efforts and initiatives, with the authorship belonging to both parts in a non-competitive environment (2).

Made by a 4-year-old girl with her female educator

It may seem easy! Why would the adult be a partner of the child?

Some research developed in Portugal (3-5) has focused on observing parents, mothers, female educators and male educators with children between the ages of 3 and 5 in collaborative task (i.e. creation of something of their choice). Researchers provide more than 30 sorts of materials and tools (including hammers, beads, egg boxes, googly eyes, cork stoppers, pipe cleaners, nails and pieces of wood), a diverse and appealing pool of materials (and exploring opportunities) that drives most children and adults to disregard he researchers’ instructions and to jump to the exploration of such materials. Different products result from this teamwork: snowmen, animals, houses, families, and vehicles – cars, motorcycles, airplanes – come up as the most frequent choices.

The results of this research resulted in guidelines for practice:

  1. Joint decision
  2. Negotiating
  3. Cognitive challenge
  4. Participation appreciation and positive feedback
  5. It takes (little) time


Joint decision
Naturally, the adult and the child begin by deciding what to do. The choice can be made by the child, the adult, or both parties. In the joint choice, each has the opportunity to contribute to the decision and integrates the ideas of the other into their proposals. Joint decision depends on the recognition of mutual preferences and the search for consensus or agreements.


Negotiating seems to be a difficult deal! Throughout the task it is necessary to make several decisions requiring negotiation. Negotiating involves being attentive and interested, listening, cooperating, and accepting that one can learn from each other!

If a child wants to put a hat and scarf on a spaceship, the question is why? With the understanding of the idea it is possible to accept or suggest. Listening and understanding to negotiate.

Made by a 4-year-old boy with his mother


Made by a 2-year-old girl with her male educator

Cognitive challenge
Thinking about what to do and how to do is an important step in collaborative tasks. It allows to challenge the child. Imagine the adult asking “and if it is a girl who wants to be kissed by a frog, to become a lady frog forever in order to spend her days bathing in the lake?”. The educator can offer challenges to expand children’s knowledge, to offer new concepts, new materials and tools. The children that were more challenged were those who persisted most in the task and those who kept the most interest. Challenging offers learning and reflection opportunities and values the child’s participation.


Participation appreciation and positive feedback
When the adult recognizes the child as an equal and a partner, accepting his/her ideas, valuing them and putting them into practice. Each partner assumes the importance of the contribution of the other “with your idea of nailing the arms of the doll, it will not break!”: The amount of positive comments and feedback contributes to the emotional climate of the relationship (positive, neutral or negative) and the quality of the praise determines the respect and appreciation of the partners among themselves.


It takes (little) time
Learning to cooperate is a game of balance between interactional tensions and forces! It is necessary to acquire a rhythm (reciprocity), to occupy spaces, and test partnership solutions. Throughout the Tandem observations we have seen that in the first five minutes, partners are making decisions. Progressively, partners adapt and understand how to contribute to the interaction. After 10 minutes (half the time of the task), the balance is reached, and the partners are organized in the task. Twenty minutes or more seem to be necessary for the child to move from unintended exploration to task planning, realization of the idealized, questioning about the process and product, learning from mistakes, developing solutions and problem solving.


For the readers of European Blog we would like to learn about experiences! Please share your experiences and leave your comments.



(1) Rogoff, B., Paradise, R., Mejía Arauz, R., Correa-Chávez, M., & Angelillo, C. (2003). Firsthand learning by intent participation. Annual Review of Psychology, 54, 176-203.

(2) Johnson, D. W., & Johnson, R. (1999). Learning together and alone: Cooperative, competitive, and individualistic learning (4nd ed.). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

(3) Fuertes, M., Sousa, O., Nunes, C. & Lino, D. (2018). How different are parents and educators?A comparative study about the interactive differences between parents and educators in a collaborative adult-child activity.  PLoS One, 13(11): e0205991.

(4) Fernandes, I., Fuertes, M., Ferreira, A., Barroso, I., Branco, M., Ladeiras, A., Pinto, F., Sousa, T., Veloso, C., Brandes, H., & Sousa, O. (2017) Estudo comparativo acerca do comportamento e comunicação materna e paterna em atividade conjunta com os seus filhos de idade pré-escolar. Analise Psicológica, 36, (3), 295–310. doi:10.14417/ap.1240

(5) Pinto, F., Sousa, O. & Fuertes, M. (2018). Cartografia da comunicação e dos comportamentos interativos em díades com elevada ou baixa qualidade relacional. InFuertes, M., Nunes, C., Lino, D. & Almeida, T. (2018, org.). Teoria, Praticas e Investigação(pp.180-211). CIED: Escola Superior de Educação de Lisboa. ISBN 978-989-8912-02-2

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Listen to my idea, we could do it together! Cooperative tasks and child participation

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