When we ask parents in our classes to name the goals they have for their children, inevitably “becoming better sharers” is at the top of their lists. Becoming a sharer is a complex process, with children putting in hard work every step of the way. I think it’s good to look at the topic holistically.

Sharing, Lending, and Borrowing
Sharing can be seen as the process of taking objects in your possession and distributing them to others. Personal sharing implies that you will lose ownership of the item once it is given away, such as a shared sandwich.

Items and space that do not belong to any one person can also be shared, such as a bucket of crayons or a bench to rest on. Communal sharing is often easier, at first, than personal sharing for young children.

Borrowing and lending involve a transfer of temporary ownership in which the expectation is that the lent item will be returned.

Ownership and Sharing
‘It’s Mine!’
For young children the importance of an item often depends on the desirability amongst their peers. We see young ones run for an empty swing when it is clear they do not really want to swing, or hoard shovels even though they cannot possibly dig with seven shovels at the same time. It is common to hear ‘It’s mine!’ or ‘I got here first!’

If a child is asserting ownership in this way, we try to validate their feelings. Once the child has fulfilled the internal desire for ownership, or has a good sense of what they really need, they may be able to look outwards to what others want or need.

We do not want to create solutions for the children, but rather guide them toward creating their own solutions. The goal is not a child who shares because that is the rule; it is a child who shares because they have empathy and understanding of other people’s wants and needs.

How we nurture sharers and lenders at Seedlings

First off we rarely, if ever, force a child to share. There are a few exceptions, which almost exclusively involve space. Due to a limited amount of space, the cozy corner inside and tower outside are “for everyone.”

When a child is monopolizing a certain toy we ask, “How many do you need?” and “Do you have enough?”By stating what we observe, and acknowledging their sense of ownership, we can help the child through the process of sharing and lending: “It looks like you have seven shovels, and you say you only need one.” At this point it is often best to just listen to how the conversation between the children unfolds. If the child is unwilling to share or lend we request that when that child is done they let the other children know.
At Seedlings we plant the seed of sharing and lending by allowing the children to borrow items and bring them home. At the end of the day a child may ask to bring home a special toy or item. We ask that it be treated with love and cared for, and then returned the next day. We have a special borrowing book that catalogs the shared objects.

Sharing Time

Ideas for planting the sharing seed at home

  1. Borrow weekly from the library, stressing who owns the books and who is taking care of them, as well as the importance of how to care for them.
  2. Lend things to your children, perhaps items they might not normally be allowed to play with. Teach them how to care for these special items and place a reasonable time for return. Five minutes may be enough.
  3. Ask to borrow your children’s things, if only for a few minutes. Be sure to find out how they expect you to take care of the item and when they want you to return it.

Don’t stress the word sharing. It is the actions that matter. Explore the idea of your child sharing because they intrinsically know they have enough, lending because they can trust someone with their possession, and being trustworthy borrowers.

© Jonathan Iris-Wilbanks and Sunflower Creative Arts, 2011
Photos © Haidor Truu and Sunflower Creative Arts, 2011