By: Ria Simon, Early Childhood Educator and Community Ambassador at HiMama
“Sharing is fun!”… said no preschooler ever. And yes, sharing is a necessary skill that we all need to nurture and develop. However, it can be very difficult for those wonderful pre-operational thinkers in the preschool age to de-centre themselves from play episodes and social interactions. A child’s self-concept and identity formation is still developing at this stage, so having to let go of a toy dinosaur so that someone else can play with it can feel like an impossible task. Why should they share when they’re having so much fun?
While living in a world where we don’t have to share with anyone may seem ideal, sharing is linked to many socio-emotional skills: making friends, problem solving, cooperation, and regulating emotions to name a few. So it is very important that sharing is developed, especially in the preschool age. Here are a number of strategies to teach preschoolers how to share.
- Have more than one of the same toy in your learning environment– take some time to assess the social skills of your preschoolers. Are they ready to begin sharing? Parallel play is more closely linked to a toddler’s development. However, it is still important to consider each child’s individual progress. If a preschooler simply isn’t ready yet, having a few of the same toys in the learning environment can help soothe any sharing related conflicts until they are.
- Role-model sharing as desired behaviour– much like other social skills, sharing is best learned with plenty of guidance from adults. So if a conflict arises because play materials have to be shared, this is an opportunity for you to role-model how it can be resolved. Enter the play episode as seamlessly as possible and demonstrate how to share toys. Be vocal and describe your actions with developmentally appropriate language: “I’m finished using the crayon. Does anyone else want to use it?” or “I’ve been playing with this fire truck for five minutes and now someone else can play with it”.
- Set boundaries and limits with play materials – an easy way to do this is with a timer. Let the children know that once the timer goes off, their turn with the toy is finished, and another person can have a chance to play. Using a timer aligns with of a number of different learning styles; visual (they children can watch the timer’s clock move), auditory (the timer’s noise is a clear indicator for change), and kinesthetic (children can eventually learn to set the timers themselves).
- Establish a culture of sharing in your learning environment – Circle time is always a good opportunity to touch base with the children and set some expectations. If your preschoolers need it, take this time to talk about sharing: why it’s important, how good it feels, and how it makes play more fun. If it’s developmentally appropriate, get them to talk about their own experiences with sharing so that it becomes an established part of your classroom culture.
- Highlight moments of sharing outside of play episodes – similar to above, a culture of sharing can be cultivated in all parts of the daily routine. For example, during meals and snacks, the children can be engaged in conversation about sharing. Talk about how everyone is sharing the food as it is being served, and how everyone gets some of it so that all are nourished and happy. Or during the sleep curriculum, talk about how the space is being shared so that everyone can have a bed to sleep on. Sharing happens all of the time and highlighting these moments can help shift the children’s perceptions.
- Congratulate children on successful sharing episodes – reminding children of past successes can allow them to view themselves as competent and capable. So praise them constantly, either during or after the sharing episode (“You did a great job sharing the sandbox toys yesterday”). Make the praise as detailed and specific as possible so that it’s easy for the child to connect to. This positive reinforcement can strengthen a child’s development in the emotional domain.
- Play games that encourage sharing – learning is way more fun when it’s a game (and so is teaching)! So add a number of cooperative games – parachute games, hot potato – into your curriculum or home environment. Choose play materials that are better used in a group setting, or ones that involve a dynamic between a number of children.
- Empathize with the children when they have to share – for a preschooler who is discovering and forging their identity, having to share a beloved toy can feel like the most heart breaking thing in the world. They may not even know how to articulate their feelings – they just know that they feel bad. So teach them to recognize and identify their emotions (“It must feel so frustrating” or “I can see that you feel sad”), and help them to empathize with others in similar situations. Besides, negative feelings are unavoidable, and knowing that someone is there to support you during tough times can feel more significant than playing with any old toy.
Learning how to share is a skill that develops over time, and the pre-operational stage that most preschoolers are in can continue until they are seven years old. These strategies aren’t meant to transform the children’s mindsets overnight. Depending on your circumstance, you may not ever see how it all unfolds. They joy of teaching preschoolers is the understanding that you’re setting a foundation for these children to be caring and competent adults; share the best of what you have to offer these tiny and wonderful people. Make sure that the foundation that is bearing built is an unshakable one.
About the Author:
Ria Simon is an Early Childhood Educator and Community Ambassador at HiMama. HiMama aims to improve the learning outcomes of children aged 0-5 and provides free resources to educators and families. HiMama’s childcare app facilitates open communication with families and enables contactless operation of your center, from documentation to payments. Check out himama.com