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;)