23 May 2013 09:59 AM

Teaching Kids to Share

by rbavaria

When I work with very young children I’m fascinated with seeing the earliest signs of learning and socializing.  Some of these kids – generally pre-kindergartners through first graders – are precocious, creative, curious, and aware of the needs and wishes of their classmates.  Others, not so much.


There are plenty of basic social skills children learn at the very beginning of their school experiences.  Listening.  Taking turns.  Following directions.  Using their “indoor voices.”  Playing nicely with others.


But none is more important than sharing.  Especially when there are crayons, papers, books, art supplies, and Judy Clocks  to contend with.


Very young children are not good at sharing.  Their brains aren’t programmed for it yet.  They’re egocentric.  They can think of their possessions as actual parts of themselves.  “Share my bunny?  That’s like sharing my arm.  What are you asking me to do?”


As they get older, though, they begin to recognize others’ wishes.  It’s now when we adults, parents and teachers, can guide them to share, to take turns, and to keep some semblance of peace in our homes and classrooms.


I’ve learned quite a bit from my brave friends who’ve spent their lives teaching pre-kindergartners, kindergartners, and first graders.  (They’re the ones who arrive at the theatre with their adult friends and announce, “Now, who need to visit the rest room before we get our seats?”  The rest of us just smile fondly.  God love them, they can’t help themselves.)


Here are some tips they’ve shared with me on the topic of teaching kids how to share.


  1. Understand sharing.  Know that very young children don’t get the concept of sharing.  Some come to school ready to learn it, some take more time. 
  2. Don’t try to force it.  You can’t force kids to share when they’re not ready.  You can lay the foundation, though.
  3. Give lots of opportunities to share.  Here’s a good way to start.  Provide plenty of opportunities for kids to share.  In the classroom, that could mean pairs of kids using shared crayons, toys, or supplies.  At home, that could mean play dates where kids select some of their toys to bring with them specifically to share.
  4. Play “taking turn” games.  Kids instinctively “get” taking turns.  At school, taking turns occurs on the playground, in art class, at lunch, and at story time discussions.  At home, kids take turns at dinnertime, for bath time, and for conversations.  Kids understand taking turns, especially when it’s fair.
  5. Teach what to say.  It helps when kids know what to say when they’re learning to share.  They don’t always have the right words.  When a kindergarten teacher I know was faced with a complaint that “Sally won’t share the green crayons!” she quietly advised, “Why don’t you try saying, ‘When you’re done, may I please have a turn?’”  Worked like a charm.  I don’t think I’d have been as wise.
  6. Try trading.  When a child is reluctant to share his toy truck, say, sometimes it works to “trade” another toy with him.  With the right trade, an absolutely indispensable toy can be easily forgotten in a moment. 
  7. Show how sharing can be fun.  Sharing can be fun, especially with board games, puzzles, playground activities, sports, and art projects.  Make sure kids have plenty of fun sharing experiences. 
  8. Give positive reinforcement.  Kids love to hear earned compliments, so point out their behavior you want to encourage.  “I noticed how you let Timmy play with your hula hoop.  Good for you!”  They really do learn from our encouragement.
  9. Be a role model.  It’s important for us teachers and parents to share and take turns, too.  Show how you share at home – magazines and books, the TV or computer, favorite snacks, a choice seat on the sofa.  At school, teachers show how they share the library, the lunchroom, the computer lab, the playground.
  10. Be patient.  Children’s learning is never smooth and linear.  Some days kids will learn quickly, behave nicely, and share readily.  Other days, they’ll act as if they’ve never heard the words.  Keep a positive outlook, be patient, and know they’ll eventually come around.  We did, after all.


It’s good to remember that we adults – teachers and parents – rely on each other.  What we do at home transfers to school.  What we do at school transfers to home.  If we’re all showing the importance of sharing, making it easy, praising it, and being patient, we’ll eventually succeed.  Might as well have each other’s back while we’re at it.




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