Monday, November 25, 2013

Montessori Monday: Sharing

Last week, a friend of mine posted a link to The S Word - Toddlers Learning to Share by Janet Lansbury on her Facebook page. In the article, Lansbury writes, "The truth is that toddlers don’t yet understand the concept of sharing, and our parental concerns make ‘share’ a loaded word. We tend to misuse it. We say “share”, but what we really mean is, “Give what you have to another child."

I wholeheartedly agree with her and gave my kudos in the comments on my friend's page, but then I was really surprised to see the reactions of others. People felt that it was irresponsible not to force sharing because it will lead to uncharitable and selfish adults. It really got me thinking about how misunderstood the concept of sharing in early childhood really is. So I thought I would share with you (wink!) how sharing is managed in a Montessori classroom.
  • In a Montessori classroom there are many children, but only one of each material, shared by everyone. 
  • Each child has the freedom to work with a material they've had a lesson on for as long as they like. 
  • No one can take it from them or share it with them while they're using it.
  • Only when they've finished and put it back on the shelf is it available for someone else. 
You can see how a system like that creates a peaceful, secure atmosphere for non-sharers. Sometime between 4 1/2 and 6 years old, children develop the understanding and willingness to share and then it comes naturally and easily. But it can happen that when forced to share before they are ready, hoarding and greediness settle in because of the insecurity it creates. In Montessori, children do learn sharing because they have to understand that they must wait when something isn't available and respect others. However, the squabbles are avoided because one child can't interrupt another child who's stacking blocks and decide to line them up instead. That type of sharing, where two children are using the blocks together, always goes wrong with the toddler and preschooler group because they aren't cooperative learners or players yet. Very young children are just learning to following their inner motivation and listen to their own cues. It's vitally important that they be able to realize their vision of stacking or lining up blocks without interruption or obstacle. So, when not expected to share, children can relax and use the blocks in the way they want to (following the rules of respect for the materials and others, of course!) and they're better off for not sharing. 

What do you think? Do you encourage typical sharing? What do you think of the Montessori approach to sharing? (In the photo of Coco and her friend above, Coco is clearly saying, "MINE" in her head. That was just moments before we had to separate them to keep the peace;) 


  1. You have us totally re-thinking the "sharing" thing now (which usually ends in tears between him and his cousin). What you wrote makes complete sense.
    If we end up in the Zurich area, I might have to bug you for some good Montessori school suggestions in the area.

  2. Great topic! It really doesn't make sense to force toddlers to "share" by taking a toy from one child and giving it to another because that's not genuine sharing. With very young children, how do you handle the situation when a child tries to take material away from the child who had the material first? Do you just redirect them? When my 11 month old tries to take something from a child, I try to move him or distract him with something else. But when it's the other way around, I often explain to the other child or baby, "Hunter is almost finished and you can play with the toy when he's done", but sometimes I can tell that the parent expects me to take the toy from my child and pass it along to the other child... oh boy.

    1. That's the tricky part. As a Montessori teacher, it's all so easy. The classroom is tailor made for children at that specific stage of development and the teachers are specially trained to utilize the environment and materials in a specific way that responds to the children's developmental needs. At home, or at a playgroup that is certainly not the case.
      In a Montessori classroom, children learn very quickly that the only place you can take something from is the shelf. And the only things they can take are things they've been shown how to use. Everything else is off limits. I don't know how it works precisely in the toddler classroom, but that's how it works in the 3-6 year old classroom.
      If a child does try to take something from another child, someone intervenes and explains, "That's so-and-so's work. That's not your work." Sometimes an adult will intervene, sometimes an older child or peer. There are many aspects of the classroom that support this. For example, work that is done on the floor is done on a rug (which the child takes out beforehand and puts away afterward) and all of the tables are single work spaces for one person. That distinguishes a physical boundary and space specific to the child working on the material.
      As for trying to explain this idea at playgroups with moms I'm not close with, I just wind up feeling like I want to scream. It's futile at best! ;)

  3. Hey! I found your blog because I always have a look at some Ikea Live Magazines from other countries (yep, I'm a big Ikea fan) and it is really interesting. It's Marta (la_martona on Instagram) and I'm from Catalonia. I'm a "normal" secondary school teacher (I used to teach Catalan to adults before but because of the crisis…) and my boyfriend is a "normal" primary school teacher. So we're both interested in Education and Montessori method seems a very good method. It's a pity we had two dictatorships and a Civil War because it definitely delayed our education and even nowadays our education hasn't changed much since democracy. It's a pity because from 1915-1936 Barcelona was very important regarding education (Montessori herself lived there and opened a Montessori school). Anyway, we don't have children yet, but hopefully it'll change soon. We'll see, we have no real plans yet, but maybe next year we'll try to have a baby. Music (and other forms of art) is very important in our lives and we think it's very important for children's education (my boyfriend plays the mandolin with the Catalan song-writer Pol Cruells and the Catalan-Canadian song-writer Luthea Salom, and we both have an old-time, folk, country duet called Limberjacks). Anyway, if you ever come to Barcelona, let me know! We've never been to Switzerland but we'd love to!! Cheers! ;-)


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