We are so excited to introduce our new title - Sharing with the Care Bears! Share Bear and the rest of the Care Bears can help your child understand some fundamental social skills that are essential to sharing, including the words to use when asking another child to share, how to respond when asked to share, and healthy ways to express feelings.
Sharing is a skill many parents encourage their kids to cultivate. However, we know there are a lot of different philosophies on how to talk to children about it and what guidelines to follow. Since preschool teachers must frequently decide how to approach sharing discussions and dilemmas, we asked for their feedback. We are incredibly grateful they took the time to respond and excited to share their expertise below!
What is your philosophy on teaching children to share? Has it changed over the years?
Anne, preschool teacher for 9 years
I believe that sharing is just another great opportunity to support children in developing empathy for others. When you look at a conflict over an object through this lens, it really can give you a great starting off point on how to help children work through not wanting to share or having to wait their turn.
When I began teaching, I was taught to tell the children they had to share and give a time limit or facilitate the item passing hands. Very teacher directed. As I read more about different teaching philosophies, I stumbled upon the one that puts all the power in the child’s hand by requesting that he give the toy to his friend when he finished his turn. My own philosophy blends these two extremes and also looks at each challenge a child is facing on a case by case basis. Also, I tend to involve the children in their own problem solving by asking questions, bringing bigger issues to the whole group, and brainstorming solutions.
JoAnn, 15 years as a lead preschool teacher, 10 years as a Family Coordinator for in-home child care providers
In my experience, sharing is a developmental skill that (like any other) preschoolers achieve on their own timetable. I always encourage children to ask for the next turn with a toy, but allow the child using the toy to continue using it until done. I also believe it's good practice to have duplicates of toys/props that are popular or new so turn taking can be reasonable for the child waiting.
What kinds of sharing guidelines did you use in classroom and what do you advise the preschool teachers you mentor?
Frequently, I ask the children to solve the problem with thoughtful questions: What can we do if both of you want to use this toy?What can he play with while he waits his turn? Can you help me find him a toy? It involves the children and allows a child who is reluctant to share an opportunity to think about his friend. More often than not, other children who are not directly involved will listen and also offer solutions. When the child is ready to take turns, we talk about how happy he made his friend. It reinforces and supports the child in developing compassion and empathy for others.
When mentoring new teachers, we talk about not having a blanket rule for sharing. Getting to know the children on an individual level is really one of the most important things about teaching. The teacher will have more context if a conflict occurs over a toy. Does she just want the toy because she always wants what her best friend has? Is she an impatient child who needs to exercise her ability to wait? Is she not sharing because she really wants the toy or because she knows another child wants it? If a teacher knows who the child is, they are better equipped to assist the child in the way in which she needs support.
I encourage staff and student teachers to introduce and repeat the word and the action of sharing. That includes modeling taking turns, how to ask for a turn and talking about the reasons we take turns. Discussing how all the items at school belong to the school, but the school is happy to share with all children is one way to help them understand the concept (and understand why they can't take the school's toys home with them). Having children sign in for a turn or keeping a chart of who is next may help those who are anxious about waiting transition to another item.
Some schools encourage children to bring in a transitional item, such as a toy or blanket, to ease separation anxiety. It's helpful to have kids keep these and any personal items in their cubby or a specific place they can visit it. They may come to school with the intention to share, but they may feel differently when 15 other children want to use it.
What obstacles do you/did you encounter to teaching kids about sharing?
Some days, I often wonder if I am ruining lives. The indignation aimed towards me is palpable :).
There are so many obstacles when helping a child learn to navigate a challenge. There will tears and hurt feelings, but helping children resillence is all part of the process. Balancing the child’s needs in the moment with the bigger picture is very important. We cannot always get what we want. As children learn this message in a safe, loving environment by knowing that their feelings are heard, validated, and considered, they begin showing the same consideration for their peers. There are important learning opportunities involved, not just the immediate challenge of sharing. My focus is on the beauty of the outcome.
Developmentally being ready to share is so individual. Having patience and finding ways to cope with waiting are learned skills. Having any child become anxious or angry because they are waiting for a specific item is distressing for the child and not an enjoyable time for the child trying to use the item if they feel pressured. Teachers have a lot to do and may not be able to monitor the sharing queue for every toy. Implementing a system to ensure children are given turns in the right order can prevent anxiety and conflict for everyone.
Are there any great sharing stories you want to tell?
I love when we get to the point in the school year when children have built relationships and spontaneously do things for each other, such as saying “The purple marker is a little bit dry, so I stopped using it so you could have a turn because I know that’s your favorite." Or when, without hesitation, the coveted last piece of pizza is carefully torn in half and handed to a friend because she wanted some too. Those are the magical moments when you see the shed tears were worth it and all those hurt feelings turned into compassion.