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It's mine! Sharing in the Sandbox and at Other Summer Gatherings
After arriving at the gathering and dropping your four-year-old at the sand box, you’ve grabbed a few chips and a cold drink. Shifting your shoulders slightly, you take a deep breath. So far all is quiet. Joining the adult conversation you attempt to focus, but something inside of you keeps you alert to what’s happening in the “box.” Just as you begin to relax, the shriek erupts. “No, that’s mine!” Without even looking you know, it’s coming from your child. Sighing very, very deeply, you turn to see him and his cousin, in a tug of war over the Tonka truck. The cousin loses, tumbling to the ground. Your son stands over him fiercely grasping the truck in both arms. All eyes turn to you.
Sharing is an essential life skill, which becomes blatantly apparent, during those summer time family and neighborhood gatherings.
However, for a spirited child, who is committed to his goals, learning to share is not always an easy skill to acquire. How do you teach sharing? Lynn will tell you the lessons begin at Paidea, her child development center, in the toddler room.
First know the developmental stages of sharing.
- Ownership: Children need to “own” before they are ready to share.
- Taking turns: Children can learn to ask for a turn, or to allow another child to have a turn.
- Learning to wait: Children can and need to learn delayed gratification.
- Cooperative play: Children must have well developed language skills to be able to “share” and work together.
So what does this look like?
- Understanding ownership begins with allowing each child to have his or her own materials. When you pull out the play dough instead of dumping the entire mass on the table, break it into pieces, setting one in front of each child so she can “own” it. Or rather than a pile of blocks in the middle of the floor, count them out with the children and give each child ten. In the sandbox, you make certain there are numerous pails, shovels, trucks, etc. so each child can have at least one.
- Taking turns and learning to wait: Inevitably in the process of “owning,” one child has the red block everyone wants. Or, despite the fact there are three trucks, the yellow one is coveted by all. This is the opportunity to introduce turn taking. It is also the chance to teach delayed gratification or the ability to “wait.”
- So you say to the child who wants the truck his cousin is holding, “Gunnar, you want the truck and Oscar has it. Shall we tell him you would like a turn?” When Gunnar agrees, which he will do because you are addressing his interest, you turn to Oscar and say, “Oscar, Gunnar would like a turn. How long until you are finished? Gunnar is going to wait until you give it to him.”
- Oscar tells you he needs five more minutes, or he might ignore the request and simply continue digging. Whichever way it goes, you wait a few minutes and remind him, “Remember Gunnar is waiting. It is almost time for his turn.” When Oscar shouts, “No,” you stay calm and empathize. “It sounds like you are not finished. When Gunnar is done, shall we tell him you want it back?” Oscar agrees and hands it over. Albeit reluctantly, but he does it.
- Cooperative Play: This level of sharing is unlikely to occur before the preschool years when children’s language skills are well developed. This is where the children work together, using the yellow truck and the red truck to haul gravel for the castle they are constructing together. Or the yellow truck, now overflowing with sand, requires not one, but TWO helpers to roll it across the sandbox to the building site.
When children are of different ages, or have varying levels of language, you have to drop to the stage of the youngest child.
A preschooler may well be able and expected to “own,” take turns and play cooperatively, but a two-year-old won’t get past turn taking. So if the conflict arises between a two-year-old and a three-year-old, to help them resolve this conflict find another truck so each can own. But if there are two preschoolers you can talk about taking turns and how they can work cooperatively together.
Now you might be thinking I want to just eat my chips and savor my ice cold drink.
This is WAY too much talking and it’s a whole lot easier, to simply grab the truck and declare, “If you are going to fight over it, I’m taking it away.” But doing so robs you of an opportunity to teach sharing, an essential life skill, which can transfer from the sandbox, to the classroom, into the work place and to a healthy marriage. Don’t miss it!