She found the terracotta pipes and began to build. Lining them up, end to end, it was clear that she had a very specific vision for her play/creation. She worked on her own for a long time, testing ideas and theories. Suddenly, another child arrived and started to touch the pipes. “NOOOOOOO!” She shrieked. “That’s mine!”
So, the details of the scenario might be different, but chances are, you have experienced something similar in your service or home. It’s a really tricky situation! Our “educator voice” may be saying “it’s nice to share” or “why can’t he have these ones and you have those ones?” but our inner voice (the one that doesn’t like to share our mobile phone with a toddler for example!) is screaming “No! Why should you have to share when you have been working so hard for so long on your own?”
This was the situation I found myself in today, and I have been there before. And while many people might advocate enforcing sharing -making the first child part with some of her materials or compromise her play) that’s not what I would suggest. Yes, we all know that sharing is an important skill, but I would argue that a child hoarding wooden blocks behind their back in a stack and not actively playing with them is a tad different to this kind of situation, where the materials were (and had been for a long time) being actively used by the child.
So, in this instance… I have 3 tips. But they are not for helping a child to learn how to share. They are for supporting a child to not share, and supporting other children to understand why.
1. Give them words to use – model age appropriate words or phrases such as “I’m working on something and need those pieces.” Sportscasting can also help in this situation!
2. Suggest ways the other child could be involved – sure, the child may not want to share their resources, but they may be happy to involve a new child in a different way. Perhaps they need someone to do a job (in this case, collecting macadamia nuts to roll down the pipes) and would be happy to delegate! The new child may also be happy with joining the play in this way. Keep in mind that this may not be the case. As was our situation today – she did not want anyone else involved in any way, shape or form!
3. Make the learning visible to the other child – This might sound airy-fairy, but highlighting what the child is doing and why they need all of the resources/space etc can help the other child understand. Even bringing it back to something that is familiar to them can help – “do you remember yesterday, when you were doing your painting? You needed all of the yellow paint for your sunflower didn’t you? But when you were done with your sunflower, you put the pot of yellow paint back on the table and made it available to other children.”
While it might be tempting to “encourage” (often it becomes more of a forced situation than gentle encouragement!) sharing, put yourself in the child’s shoes. If you were busy setting up a playspace in the room for the children and a colleague walked over and began taking the resources you were using to create… how would you feel? While of course, our aim is to ensure that all children are happy, content and engaged in play, this shouldn’t be at the expense of another child. Why should the child who has spent a long time engaged in play with a particular resource be made to share that with someone who has been otherwise pre-occupied and has now decided that they want to play with the very same resources?