[Moore, T. 2001. Teaching the Art of Sharing. In Children and Families, 15 (Fall): 18, Alexandria, VA: NHSA] Sharing is an essential part of children’s social development. Children who can share will find it easier to make and keep friends. What you do in the classroom can help children acquire this critical skill. While it’s ideal for children to see examples of sharing even as toddlers, most children don’t start to grasp the concept of sharing until age 3 to 3 ½ . That’s when a child begins to understand the idea of “self” and “others.” Even with this development, some children aren’t ready to share until they’re older. Sharing is very challenging for children, because they believe if something is shared it is gone forever. They don’t have the understanding necessary to realize they will get their beloved object back. Pay attention to children having difficulty sharing. Be patient. Sharing is learned through experience. Here are some ways to model sharing and help children become more accustomed to this social skill:

1. Ask the children to tell you what they know about sharing. Can they give examples of when they shared something with someone else? If it’s apparent they don’t understand the concept, explain it. Then show it. Ask the teacher assistant next door to bring you something you need. Let the children see the teacher assistant sharing with you, and vice versa.

2. Use circle time to demonstrate sharing. Bring in an object that’s important to you, perhaps a copy of a photograph, a favorite hat, or a book you enjoyed during your childhood. Tell the children why it means so much. Say, “I’m glad to be able to share this special object with you,” and encourage the children to gently pass it around the circle. Use the word “sharing” often to help the child name this new activity.

3. Invite the children to bring objects for circle-time sharing. Encourage parents to help children select items that aren’t fragile, irreplaceable, or against school guidelines. (Some Head Start programs discourage guns and other toys that suggest violence.)

4. Play games in which children take turns, a skill related to sharing. How about a rousing afternoon of Duck, Duck, Goose, London Bridge is Falling Down, Simon Says, or Hide and Seek? Children learn to share who gets to be the leader.

5. When the children make artwork, offer a limited number of each color of crayons or markers. Encourage sharing the most popular colors.

6. During snack time, try setting out a big bowl of pretzels. Tell children they may take three pretzels, then pass the bowl to the next person. Explain they are sharing the pretzels.

7. It’s very important to keep your word about sharing. If you promise a child he can play with a certain toy later, make sure he does get it later. That’s how a child learns to trust you. Sharing can be reinforced at home. Here are some steps parents can take. Print these in your newsletter or ask the parent coordinator to discuss them with parents:

1. Model sharing for your child. Ask older children in the house to model sharing to the younger ones.

2. Besides sharing with other adults, share with your children. Ask them to share things with you.

3. Inviting other children over to play so your child has opportunities to share. During a play date, if your child is upset because his friend is playing with a certain toy, talk about the experience while it’s happening. Say, “It’s okay. Maria is playing with this. It will be your turn next.”

4. Touch or hold your child to soothe her when she is frustrated about sharing.

5. For an especially valued toy, try using a timer during the play date. Each child gets the same amount of time to play with the toy.

6. Parents know best what their children can handle. Don’t overload your child with demands she can’t meet. Sharing is a skill children learn over time. They learn to believe that beloved toys won’t be out of their hands forever. Through a varied curriculum of activities, you can introduce children to one of the most valuable skills they can possess. Thanks for sharing your time with them.

© Thomas Moore, 2001 Thomas Moore, Ph.D is a keynote speaker, workshop leader, early childhood consultant, and children’s recording artist. He is author of Gryphon House award-winning teacher resource books “Where is Thumbkin?” and “Do You Know the Muffin Man?”. He is contributing author of Wright Group/McGraw-Hill’s curriculum, DLM Early Childhood Express and author of their literacy series “Music, Movement and More”. He has also produced ten recordings for children.