Childhood, Play

Sharing…is it really a reasonable expectation?

This week has seen me return to teaching after 7 years as a Director of a Long Day Care Centre. I have been bubbling with excitement about it for weeks and the first few days haven’t disappointed! I have been looking forward to having the opportunity to once again be with the children and to perhaps do a little research at the same time.

In recent months Tash, Niki and I have been talking about it being unreasonable to expect toddlers to share. This comes as a result of our delightful toddlers playing together one day a week while we work and watching them “negotiate” who gets to play with the ride on car or swing on the rope swing! Each week it seems that they are getting better and better at this negotiation but sometimes typical toddler moments erupt (thankfully both Tash and I believe in letting them sort it out – so it doesn’t stress us out too much… and we know what good mates they are!)

Anyway, back to teaching! On Wednesday I watched some children making walls with blocks and “cement” (wet sand) in the sand pit – they were very engaged and playing with a real purpose. The only problem was that the blocks were located about 5 metres away from the sand pit. Each time a child stepped away to get another block they had that concerned look on their face (you know the one – “please don’t let anyone touch my stuff!”) and when they returned and someone was near their blocks or their wall, there were angry words and sometimes tears. Now the other children didn’t appear to be touching the blocks to upset their peers – it seemed that they simply wanted to play too. I felt myself starting to say “let Johnny have some of your blocks – you have lots” then stopped. Why should Thomas have to share what he had been working so hard on with someone who had just arrived on the scene?

Fast forward to Friday and I am watching a 4 year old build a train track on the table in the room. He worked carefully for about 15minutes – planning where each piece of the track went, carefully winding in and out of the baskets of trains. He finally had it all set up and stood back (appearing quite chuffed with himself) for a moment before beginning to drive the trains around. Suddenly another child arrived at the table and began pulling the carriages apart and taking them in a different direction. Again – there were plenty of carriages that could have been shared between the two children – but should the first child really have to share?

I found myself talking to a colleague about this very issue and raised my beliefs with her. I asked if perhaps I was being unreasonable? And then she raised a valid point – we find it acceptable that toddlers aren’t yet capable of sharing, yet seem to expect that once they become preschoolers they should suddenly be able to willingly share their space, their toys, their time. I put myself in the child’s position and wondered – if I had worked really hard on something and someone else came in and started to redo it or change it in some way, how would I feel? The answer – I would freak out! Although my reaction would probably (hopefully) be more controlled than crying, yelling and stomping my feet, I would not be a happy camper!
My colleague pointed out that she will often say to the first child “he just wants to have some too. You have the right to say no, but how would you feel if you wanted to play and your friend said no”  I quite like this approach – it gives children rights, but also makes them aware of the feelings of others, encouraging them to be a respectful and considerate friend.

I would love to hear from others – is it reasonable to expect children to share? Is there an age where it should become a reasonab