To share or not to share?

This week’s post has been written by Karen Matthews, an early years practitioner who has recently completed an MA in Early Childhood Education. Karen is sharing a thought-provoking reflection on how we teach children to share.


Imagine this, you have been fitting together different shaped magnets to create a model; you have been at this self-chosen activity for a while and are really engaged, choosing specific shapes to add to your castle. There are other children playing around the table too and the pile of shapes available becomes smaller. Another child joins the table and asks for some shapes, you have got quite a lot, but they are central to your model and you haven’t finished yet, you still need to do more.  So, you tell the child no, that you are using them, but they keep asking for shapes and then go and tell a practitioner that you won’t share; the practitioner comes over…what should they do…should they ask you to share?

Development Matters tells us that children begin “to learn that some things are theirs, some things are shared, and some things belong to other people” (p.12) at around 16-26 months. By 50 months children begin “to accept the needs of others and can take turns and share resources, sometimes with the support of others” (p. 13) and by 60 months, or 5 years are “beginning to be able to negotiate and solve problems without aggression” (p. 14).  Taken from the guidance that practitioners in many early years settings use daily, could statements like these be the reason that sharing is a contentious issue?  Piagetian theory (Bee, 1995) uses the term “egocentrism” which describes how young children assume that everyone sees the world as s/he does, acknowledging this as a stage of development and not simply as the child being selfish.

The event that led me to reflect on this took place with an activity involving dinosaur eggs; I placed four frozen eggs onto the tuff tray and straight away this attracted a lot of attention, children began picking up the eggs, feeling them, noticing that there was something inside. Eight children fit quite comfortably around the tuff tray and so this organically became the group size.  For a few moments all was well, but then children began commenting that they didn’t have an egg, that they wanted an egg.

I supported the children to place the eggs evenly around the tray and explained that because there were only four eggs they would share one with a friend, this worked for a few more minutes and again I stood back and observed the children exploring the eggs.  I heard one child ask for a hammer, saying they need a hammer to crack them open, four hammers were found, and the children started using different strategies in their mission to get the dinosaurs out.  The children who didn’t have hammers wanted them and again I supported them to take turns with a peer.

One child is working really hard on his egg, moving it round, twisting it, hitting it in different places, his wellbeing and involvement are high; he comments continuously, in an excited tone, about what is happening but it is time for his peer to have a turn and he reluctantly hands over the hammer, whilst the activity continues, this one child’s wellbeing has dipped.  In this situation, promoting sharing interrupted one child’s deep level learning and engagement and effectively I was “controlling” the sharing; why did I not let him finish the task that had him so engaged? In a Montessori environment there is usually only one set of each material and a child who wants to use something that is in use must wait.

How else could this situation have been handled? I could have supported the child who wanted a turn, instead of focussing on the child who was already engaged.  What would you have done?

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