Monday, October 10, 2011

Teaching Children to Share

          In my college class this week, one of my students was doing a presentation and she asked the other students what "sharing" meant. I smiled and thought, "This is going to be interesting!" Well, after a few struggles trying to get a reasonable answer, she gave up and moved on. So why was this so hard? We all know what sharing is - don't we??
          Well it turns out that it's more complicated than you'd think. First of all, sharing is an abstract term. When we're working with young children, we need to make such abstract ideas concrete. That means showing children what sharing is, not just using the word. So when you want to teach children how to share, you'll need to model, have them practice, and repeat (many times because this is difficult for them!)
          The second problem is that children often have a different concept of "sharing" than we do, because the term was not modeled well enough for them when they first learned it. Imagine this scenario: Rebecca has a toy that Justin wants, and she is happily playing with it. Justin tells Rebecca he wants the toy and she refuses. So Justin runs to the teacher screaming, "Rebecca's not sharing!!" Now what does he mean when he says "sharing"? Clearly he means, "She won't give me what I want." What's often missing from a young child's understanding of sharing is the idea of reciprocity - that we both (or all) get some of whatever it is that we want. This lack of understanding comes from a child's egocentrism, but it also comes for the circumstances in which they learned the word "sharing". If they were told they had to share, it was likely to be an instance in which they had to surrender what they had possession of. So that's how the child comes to see "sharing" as meaning "giving up what you have to someone else."
     So if you want your children to learn how to share, think of all the circumstances in which sharing would be appropriate and model what this should look like. These could be:
  • Sharing cups at snack time so everyone gets one. 
  • Sharing unifix cubes in a math lesson so everyone gets 10. 
  • Sharing time on the computer so that everyone gets a turn each week. 
  • Sharing space on the carpet so everyone can see the book. 
  • Sharing an extra pencil so you both have one to use.
With enough examples like these, children will start to understand that sharing means distributing portions rather than giving up what you have to someone else. It will also be helpful to combine the idea of sharing with taking turns - which is another way of saying, sharing equal time with somebody.
          What problems have you seen with children sharing? And what have you done that helps children learn to share? Please let us know in the comments!


  1. Posted by Patricia Eden
    Today during literacy time I noticed a group of students pulling a bucket of crayons from side to side across the table while yelling "I had it first no Ihad it first". My cooperating teacher just placed the crayon buckets on. The tables and told the students to color their pictures. She never advised the students to share the crayons. In observing the stuents pulling and yelling I went to the table and suggested that each one of the take a crayon out of the bUcket. While they took one crayon I explained to them that we only could use one crayon at a time and it was impossible to use them all at once so we should share. One of the students said she needed a yellow crayon but another student was using that color. I told the student as soon as he finish coloring with it he will share the crayon with you. I told them that we all must take turns using the crayons. I guess taking turns could be another way of sharing.

  2. Sharing is a very difficult topic for young children to understand. I believe that modeling different ways in which we can share with each other can help tremendously. Also, introducing them to a variety of reading materials with examples and books will help. I have seen it happen many times before while working in the classroom. Teachers should reinforce the concept of sharing. I believe a lesson on taking turns will be an excellent way for introducing the word sharing.

    Denise Petersen-Liburd

  3. Patricia, Excellent example of how to teach sharing in a concrete way. The best strategies are those that occur throughout the day as part of children's classroom experiences.

    Denise - great idea to use children's books. There are many good ones! I like the one with Blues Clues - "One for Me, One for You: A Book About Sharing"