Sharing is a social skill that takes time to master, which means that toddlers and younger children might have difficulties grasping the concept. Young minds are curious and insatiable; they don’t want someone intruding on their exploration of the world, especially when they are immensely happy with what they’re doing. In other words, a young child will not naturally share that which they enjoy.
And this isn’t necessarily wrong, either. Young children need to develop the skills that teach them how to share and how to consider the thoughts and feelings of others, but it’s going to take a while for them to figure it out. That brings around the question, “How developmentally appropriate is sharing? And how does it fit into the Montessori curriculum?”
Developmental Phases and Sharing
When Maria Montessori began developing her philosophies on education, she did extensive research and observation. She found that children tend to go through four planes of development that range from ages 0-6, 6-12, 12-18, and then 18-24. Each phase has a specific purpose.
Most Montessori schools in Philadelphia tend to focus on the younger years. During 0-6 years old, parents and teachers tend to focus the most on teaching children how to share. This is because this is the period called the “Absorbent Mind.” During this phase, the child will learn about themselves and the world around them through various interactions.
The Absorbent Mind is divided into two parts: Unconscious (0-3 years old) and Conscious (3-6 years old). The unconscious stage is characterized by children realizing who they are amid the environment. During the unconscious stage, children are unable to empathize with other people. They are naturally focused on their own needs in how they conduct themselves.
Before 3 years old, the act of sharing is going to be a confusing concept to a child. As they get older, however, you can more actively encourage them to share. Between the ages of 3-6, children can very actively share materials with one another without ever getting into an argument.
How to Teach Sharing Using Montessori
So, how do you go about teaching the act of sharing to a young child? There are different ways a Philadelphia Montessori school might approach the task.
Set an Example
One of the best ways to teach appropriate behaviors is to be a role model. When a child is learning about their environment, they also look to adults to see what is valued. For example, in a Montessori classroom, the teacher may focus on Grace and Courtesy, such as teaching someone how to wait their turn, how to ask for instruction, or how to serve a drink to their friend.
Materials and Taking Turns
The Montessori Toddler: A Parent’s Guide to Raising a Curious and Responsible Human Being discusses the point of taking turns: “Instead of asking a child to share their activity with someone else, in Montessori schools the ground rule is that we share by taking turns. We only have one of each activity, a child can work as long as they like with it (allows repetition, concentration, and mastery); and children learn to wait their turn, a useful skill to learn.”
The Montessori classroom is all about letting children play and explore at their own pace. To help with concentration and in-depth discovery, Montessori teachers encourage children to play with one item or material at a time. This also limits the need for children to constantly exchange their item with something else.
Once a child is done with an item, they return it to its proper place, thereby opening up the opportunity for someone else to use it.
When a child is forced to share an item with someone else, it teaches them that their feelings and opinions are less important than the other individual. This goes against helping a child find their sense of self. On-demand sharing can be detrimental, as it doesn’t help a child develop completely.
In Montessori schools near me, the environment is prepared to invite voluntary sharing. This way, instead of enforcing a “because I said so” environment, children can choose on their own terms whether to share and when.
Most Montessori classrooms are set up to allow for both individual and group play. Both are supported, and it is possible for children to work together on something. The key here is realizing that working together or alone is completely voluntary. The children are allowed to choose if they wish to work in a group—they are never forced to do so.
If one child wants to work with someone else so they can share a material, they ask their friend. The other child is then open to either accept or politely decline. Both outcomes are embraced. These interactions also help teach children communication skills, tolerance, and empathy.
Pitfalls of Teaching Sharing Too Soon
When a young child is continuously coerced to share something, they may feel as if they do not have anything at all, which can result in hoarding. They will try to gather all the toys for themselves and not let anyone else use it, even when asked. This is not desirable behavior. It may mean the child doesn’t feel safe or respected. However, with a little time and positive reinforcement, such as being asked to share instead of being forced, the child should come around and stop hoarding.
Final Thoughts on Sharing and Development
Sharing should never be imposed upon a young child, from the Montessori point of view. Yes, sharing is extremely important, but if you force a child to give up something, it can send the wrong message. Sharing, just like other skills, is something that a child develops from within, when they feel respected and independent. So, if your child has yet to master sharing, understand that it is normal.
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