How Developmentally Appropriate is Sharing?

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.

Voluntary Sharing
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, 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.

Group Play
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.