Most parents understand that teaching their children to cooperate is an important life skill -- and they are right to encourage it. According to a  survey by the Association of American Colleges and Universities, more than 80% of midsize or larger businesses are actively seeking "collaboration skills" in new hires. However, cooperative skills need to be built early in life. These same respondents reported that fewer than 40% of new college graduates are currently competent to work in teams.

How can families prepare their kids for this new business reality? One option is to  focus on cooperative board games in addition to the competitive winner-takes-all classics. Here are a few of this year's most creative picks featuring cooperative play for kids all ages:

First Orchard (Ages 2+)

This simple game has kids racing as a team against a crow. Their goal? to pick up all of the pieces of fruit and place them in the basket before the crow gets to the end of the board. This attractive game helps promote shape, color and fruit name recognition, as well as helping very young children learn to follow simple rules. It takes about 10 minutes to play, and can lead to lots of free "dump and fill" playtime for little ones afterwards.

In this game, the players work as team to build a path to collect keys and make it to the treasure before the ogre gets there. Each player takes turns picking and places path tiles -- some of which move the ogre instead! It is a simple concept, but because the route is always different, and you never know when you might flip an ogre card, it is fun and exciting. While depending more on luck than strategy, the team spirit is definitely at play in this clever game for young children. 

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Dragon Tower (Ages 5+)

This beautiful 3-dimensional board game is made by the German company Haba. The play has two phases: tower building and princess rescue. The goal is for the players to work together to scale a tower, and then get the princess out of it, before the dragon pulls the whole thing to the ground. The building phase uses a modified version of a classic memory game for players to acquire the necessary scaffolding pieces. The rescue phase involves physically manipulating sticks to push the princess piece along a set path to safety. The entire game is beautifully crafted and fun to look at. The dragon timer has play value well beyond the game itself. 

These three games are all similar in that the team is working against the clock to solve puzzles. In Break Free, the goal is to get out of handcuffs; in Safe Breaker, the players try to get into the plastic safe; and in Operation: Escape, they have to master three escape room challenges. All are simple enough that kids can play alone once they know the rules, and enough fun to eat up half an hour or more on a snow day. 

Jason Lautenschleger and his partner Barry created Game Night In A Can because they "believe that everyone is creative and that a family game night should be funnier and more uplifting." Based on the Amazon reviews, this can (which contains 30 game ideas) works for everyone from teachers in 5th grade classrooms to Tweens at birthday parties. A few examples of the mini-games included are:

·      Investor Quest, where teams have 8 minutes to come up with a brand new business pitch for an industry, prompted by the spinner (transportation, sustainability, etc.).

·      Just Say Noah, where teams collaborate to invent a new animal species worthy of the last spot on Noah's Ark. 

·      Frumpy Bumpers, where giggling teams see how many times they can bump butts together in 30 seconds. 

Abandoned Cabin (Ages 12+)

This card-based escape room game is more challenging than many of its competitors as it focuses on riddles. All have hints and the team needs to solve ten total clues to win the game, which seems to take about 1.5 hours based on most Amazon reviews. The upside is collaborative and out-of-the box thinking. The downside is that this, like an adult jigsaw puzzle, is pretty much a single use game. However, the company has made additional boxes that you can purchase if it is a hit with your teen and friends. At $10.95 on Amazon, it's a reasonable buy.

If you played this game on the computer as a child, you know how it goes. The goal is to get your family group to the end of the trail while hunting for food, fording rivers and hoping you do not randomly die from snake bites or dysentery. The biggest complaint from users if that, as with the computer game, you almost never make it to the end. That said, the kids work together to make decisions and take care of each other along the way. As long as the family members that die early (and they will die early) are still part of decision making process, they won't get board. The Youtube video instructions are easier to understand than the printed instructions, but once the family knows how to play it is very straightforward and fun.   

These games, and others that focus on teamwork are an easy way to engage your child in cooperative play and build up the social skill needed in the workplace to succeed.