3 to 4 Learning to Share by Susan A. Miller EdD

It's naptime, and Lily, a young 3-year-old, fingers the fringes on the corner of her beloved blanket. She identifies closely with this special "lovey" that she brings from home each day With no intention of sharing it, she proclaims to Jessica, who would like to play with the fringe as well, "My blankie!" and pulls it closet Mrs. Dolgos respects Lily's feelings about this very personal object and explains to Jessica, "Lily's favorite blanket helps her go to sleep. Let's find you something else that's soft."

Imagine Lily's surprise when, later in the day, Mrs. Dolgos tells hey "You must share the Jack-in-the-box with Jessica. She needs a turn too." It's very confusing for young preschoolers to understand that some special things from home belong to them. However other things that belong to the school, such as the Jack-in-the-box, must be used by all of the children. Lily tries to explain, "But, I had it first." She believes that having physical possession of the Jack-in-the-- box gives her the right to play with it by herself.

I'll Loan It to You!

By the age of 3 1/2, preschoolers have begun to discover that they are able to make some personal decisions about sharing. With added social and cognitive experiences, they are beginning to understand that loaning something is temporary and that the shared object will eventually be returned. Although children of this age can take pleasure in sharing with one another they would not be happy if a toy was not returned or taken without permission.

Sharing Partners

Fours like sharing materials, outrageous ideas, and each other's company. Best friends enjoy sharing jobs and special projects too. In the dramatic-play area Cheyenne asks, "How did you make the doll's hair curly? I want my doll's hair to be curly too." Vesta says, "I'll show you with my fingers and a brush. Then, I'll hold the doll so you can twist up her hair."

When 4-year-old Angela looks sad and announces, "My bunny ran away," her friend Marcia empathically shares her feelings. "I know how you feel. I was sad when my parakeet died. My mom kept telling me it would be OK, though." They sit next to each other and share the crayons as they draw pictures of their missing pets.

Fours often experiment with making deals and trades as they learn to share. "Okay, here's what we'll do," says Mike to Matthew "I'll bounce the ball while you make four circles with the scooter. Then it will be my turn on the scooter." Older preschoolers can also use their negotiation skills to help solve sharing problems as they listen to each other's viewpoints, then try out various solutions.

What You Can Do

  • Don't force sharing. Developmentally, young children may not be ready to share. Be respectful of children's feelings. Don't pressure children with statements such as, "You're being selfish" or "That's greedy " Show children where to safely place personal items brought from home that they aren't willing to share.
  • Provide duplicates of interesting materials. This gives children time to experiment with popular items.
  • Discuss ways to let others know how to share. Help children learn to communicate their feelings. For example, explain, "Leslie's not finished with the easel yet. You may have a turn when her painting is done."
  • Use books to help solve sharing problems. In the story Connie Came to Play by Jill Paton Walsh (Viking,1996; $12.99), Robert doesn't want to share his toys. Brainstorm some solutions together and act them out.
  • Participate in a class sharing project. Ask children to donate and help repair games and toys to share with less fortunate children and families or for a waiting room at a children's hospital.
  • Document children sharing naturally throughout the day. Take photos of children as they enjoy sharing crackers and juice at snack. Videotape them while they are sharing blocks to build a firehouse.

5 to 6 We Can Share! by Ellen Booth Church

"I am playing with that!" declares Ezra as Lauren tries to take back the table blocks she was using. "No, I am still playing with them. I just went to get something! Now give them back," insists Lauren. Both hold tight to the blocks. Their teacher, Ms. Brous, has a suggestion: "You both can use the table blocks to build something together " Ezra and Lauren look at each other and the teacher and loudly protest that they couldn't possibly do that. Then they go back to playing with their own separate piles of blocks. But in a few minutes they ARE using the blocks together. They're creating a high tower that neither could have made with just a small pile of blocks!

This is a time of transition for fives and sixes. They are not quite preschoolers, but they are not elementary school-age children either. Kindergartners are in that rare and wonderful time of life where they can switch back and forth between egocentric and cooperative behavior. This vacillating conduct is accepted as developmentally appropriate. These children straddle the maturity line. They dip each foot in one side or the other depending on how the water feels! Ezra and Lauren, for instance, are experiencing both sides of the line: They start out acting like typical, self-absorbed, non-sharing preschoolers, but over a short period of time and through observation they realize that they can do more and have more fun if they share. The important thing to note is the response of the teacher, Ms. Brous: While she did invite the children to share the blocks, she also backed off after making the suggestion and allowed them to discover in their own way, the importance and joy of sharing.

Sharing Big and Small

One-on-one (small) sharing can be easier for some children because they are directly rewarded by the sheer joy of interacting with a peer. Children also tend to gravitate to sharing with other children who have similar abilities and styles-for instance, a child who is physically small can feel intimidation and shyness around a larger, more physically capable child.

While some children can share well in a one-on-one situation, they may not have the emotional and verbal maturity to share in front of a group. Different behaviors are needed when sharing with large groups, such as waiting to take a turn and share an idea with others. Children who are less mature than their classmates need to watch and develop a sense of belonging before they can share either a thought ... or themselves.

Child to Child

For fives and sixes, there is a growing desire to be a part of the class or group. Children are losing interest in "things" and developing more interest in people. They come to see toys and other objects as means for creating an interaction and, therefore, are more willing to share. In time, the child-to-child interaction becomes more important than the object being played with. Interestingly, many children have a fear of meeting and interacting with others even if they want to, so they may be inconsistent in their attempts at sharing with friends and newcomers.

Another important social consideration to remember is that fives and sixes desire and need to have a "best friend" even if that friend changes on a weekly or even daily basis. It is normal for a child to share "everything in the world" with a best friend one day and then "take all my toys and go away" the next!

What You Can Do

Sharing is an art that you can inspire and nurture in your group. Here are a few ideas to add to your "paintbox" of techniques.

  • Remember to share yourself with children-especially at the beginning of the year In these early months, children want your attention urgently and frequently. This is an excellent opportunity to model fair sharing and turn-taking behavior.
  • Some children learn to share best at home. Suggest "share dates" to parents of children who are having particular difficulty sharing. If the child can learn to share with one friend in her own home, in time the skill will carry over to school.
  • Plan special sharing days. Invite children to bring in something special from home to share, such as a photo album. Sharing pictures of family, friends, pets, and special occasions allows children to learn more about their classmates and encourages their understanding that their unique backgrounds and experiences are valued by all.