Tuesday, October 01, 2013

This Is How Sharing Works

If there's one aspect of our outdoor classroom that consistently provokes conflict, it would be our swing set. With only two regular seats and 20 or so kids, there's almost always someone waiting for a turn, or, more precisely, someone who is upset with how long the current swinger is taking to get finished.

Generally speaking, our policy about sharing is that we ask the person currently using an object, "When you're finished, I want a turn?" (although more often than not it's expressed as, "I'm next!") then let that person with possession decide for her or himself when it's time to give way, which always happens sooner or later, if only because they can't resist the "pressure" of a friend just standing there waiting for them. It's not a perfect system, prone to abuse, but I think it's better than the alternative which is for an adult to arbitrarily decide when it's time to give it up, robbing children of an opportunity to practice working things out for themselves.

We've left our tire swing up from the summer. When I paused to listen in to these two girls, I heard one of them counting while the other took a turn.

And while the swing set is where much of our turn-taking and sharing practice takes place, they are skills easily transferable to other endeavors. For instance, we had our old Fisher Price "record player" out, a wind-up device with 5 tough plastic records. A group of us were in the other room, leaving the field clear for Finn, who loves figuring things out, to master the thing. When we returned, there were suddenly a half dozen kids in his space, demanding a turn. Finn let out a howl as the other kids turned to the adults, loudly, saying things like, "He won't give us a turn!" and "He's taking too long!" Emotions were high.

I said, stating the facts as I understood them, "Finn, your friends want a turn when you're finished."

He answered, "I have to play these records first."

I asked, "Then someone else will get a turn?"

He said, "Yes," and everyone backed off a pace. Finn then methodically selected a record, placed it on the turn table, wound it up and turned it on. With the first few notes of Camptown Races, children began to call out, "Now it's my turn!"

When she'd counted to 20, they traded places, and the count to 20 began again.

"No," said Finn, taking the floor, "I have to play all the records." That's when it dawned on me that his plan was to not only play each of the 5 records, but to play each of them until they'd exhausted the wind-up. This was going to be a 15 minute proposition. I asked, "So you're going to play all of those records?"


A couple kids shouted, "That's not fair!"

I said, "It's his turn. When he's done someone else gets a turn."

As the records played, the number of children waiting dwindled, but not by much: four of them remained crowded around. With London Bridges in the air, they began to sort themselves out. Rex was standing directly behind Finn, using that to support his claim that he was next. Charlotte objected at first, but after a couple rounds, relented, stating, "Then I'm after you." She then pointed across the table at Cooper, "And you're after me," to which he agreed, although that left Ben "last," which didn't seem at all fair to him.

This was a system they worked out on their own: no obedience necessary, just agreement among peers. I said nothing, no "atta girls" necessary, because the reward, as it always is when we are left to work things out for ourselves, is built into the solution.

As Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star played, Rex took a crack at things, pointing as he spoke, "I'm first, she's second, he's third, and you're fourth." This use of ordinals was stroke of genius on Rex's part, leaving Ben feeling much better about being fourth rather than "last." 

By now Finn had played 3 of his 5 records. With the turn-taking sorted out, everyone's attentions now returned to him. There were a couple grumbles of, "He's taking a long time," and "When is it going to be our turn?"

As he placed Clair de Lune on the turntable, he said, "This is the last one I'm going to play. I don't like that other one." Playing 4 records instead of 5 was his concession to the group. He then declared himself "finished" a couple notes in, vacating his chair for Rex.

Rex, Charlotte, Cooper, and Ben, their sharing plan already agreed upon, then rotated through in a matter of minutes without a hitch.

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Unknown said...

While I love this I'd like to know what your thoughts are on turn taking timers. They require no adult involvement except for the introduction of the hourglass timer. The kids agree it is a fair and equitable way of sharing without the time delay in your story and often the initial turn taker ha finished before the time has run out.

The Mama said...

I love this post and all of your advice about sharing. I've certainly seen how effective it is with my own children (and a few friends who know the philosophy). One thing I've changed, however, is that we don't ask the person for a turn. We say, "When you're finished, I would like a turn." That way, we're stating what we want and not giving the other person a false sense of control. If he's finished, the item is available, right?

Teacher Tom said...

@Anita . . . We've often used versions of a timer. We have a couple of kitchen timers that the kids often use as a way to regulate turn-taking. I try to avoid imposing that method, but kids often come up with the idea on their own. I'll bet if we introduced hour glasses, children would try those out too.

Of course, the kids sometimes settle their disagreements by agreeing to counting, which is really a form of a timer, right?

Teacher Tom said...

@The Mama . . . Great point! In practice we usually say something like that, or more bluntly, "I'm next!" In fact, I remember as a child, my friends and I always (often reluctantly) accepted the "dibs" or "shot gun" rule: whoever said it first, was first. Then it was up to who said "Next!" first and so on. A person's control of something only extended as far as he was using it.

I think I'll change the post to reflect that. Thanks!

Annie Hosking said...

Great post! I hate it when adults impose arbitrary sharing on children, especially with time limits. Unfortunately it is something that happens quite a lot in early years settings.

My base position is that a child who is playing with a resource is doing so for a purpose and should have time to explore that as they wish. After all that is how children learn. That doesn't mean I won't help negotiate a deal such as those you have described. I'll happily let the children use timers if that is what they agree to do. But I will support a child's right to develop their play as they want to.

Children will find solutions. I had two 3 year olds start squabbling over a scoop in the sand tray. They appealed to me but I was in the middle of doing something so all I said was "Oh dear, what can you do about that?" One of them said "We can take turns!" and that is what they did for the next fifteen minutes, handing the scoop to each other. If I hadn't been so busy I might have encouraged them to find another scoop so they each had one but their solution worked fine and it was their own. They learned a lot more from working it out themselves than they would have done if I had got involved.

Jennifer said...

We are a Sunflower family, and my daughter is currently a Seedling. Both of my kids learned this same system for sharing through Sunflower. It's amazing the way they have adopted it as their own. They each have peace of mind knowing they will get a turn. It also teaches them generosity. They can decide, as Finn did, to shorten their turn for the sake of each other. Really love this post.

Anonymous said...

Finally! Someone who thinks like me. Lol I cant stand that people make kids share everything. I was at my neighbors kids bday and he got all these new toys. His little baby sister kept knocking his new car ramp over and trying to play. Instead of removing her and letting him enjoy HIS new toy he got yelled at, had to let her play, started crying in frustration, and then he had to put it away cause he wasn't sharing...... ridiculous. Kids need their own things that they dont have to share. And they can take turns when they are ready to.

Anonymous said...

I love this way as well. It places importance on the kids in the group. It teaches sharing and patients and everyone understands the rules-or soon learns. I'm working with a few new ones who haven't yet figured out that sharing doesn't mean "give it to me right now" but rather I'll get my turn WHEN someone else is finished.