Montessori Parenting: do we need to teach our child to share?

We often hear that “sharing is caring”.

Do we have to teach our children to share?

What is the Montessori point of view about sharing?

Here is what Maria Montessori wrote In The Secret of Childhood:

“He seeks for things that can nourish his spirit, and he finds his nourishment in activity. If a child fails to find ‘food’ for development, and is surrounded only by mindless toys, he becomes attracted simply to ‘things’ and desires to possess them. That desire to possess leads the child to take toys and fight for those sparse resources.”

First, we need to take into account the age of the child.

Babies and toddlers up to age 3 are in an egocentric stage.


It means that they understand the world around them only from their own point of view.
It doesn’t mean that they are selfish. Their brain focuses on their own needs. Their vision and understanding about what’s going on around them starts from their own point of view.

Let’s take an example: if you show a box of crayons to your 2 or 3 years old and ask him what it is, he’s going to answer “a box of crayons”. If you open the box and show him that in fact, there are candles in the box, your child will be very surprised.

Then if you say: "let’s ask daddy (who hasn’t seen the box), what’s in the box?" What do you think your child will say his daddy will reply? Candles!

Now that he has seen the candles, the child assumes that everyone else will know there are candles in the box.

That egocentric stage can last until 7 years old. Compassion for other and empathy will come gradually while the egocentric stage phases away. Obviously, sharing and taking turn will become easier as your child realises that others have needs too.

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Sharing is a characteristic that emerges with age.

It’s a developmental process that cannot be taught or hurried. Just like you can’t force a child to walk or talk, you can’t force a child to spontaneously and joyously share.

Yes, they will let other children play with their toys if you threaten them or bribe them, but the willingness to share won’t come from within.

The need to be self-centred is also a survival instinct.

Imagine a child in the wild who would constantly share his meal, give away his few berries to his friends, his meat to his mum… that child would starve in the wild!

When your child explores a toy or a learning activity, he wants to be able to explore it fully. Who are we to say that it’s time to share, or that he has enough with 10 blocks and that someone else should have 10 other blocks?

We might interfere with the child’s learning and hamper his understanding of an important concept.

Children are working with an activity to master a skill. It’s important for them to be able to play with that toy for as long as they need to, without having to share it.

It might seem fair to share a toy. After all, if you are the parent of the child wanting that toy, you really want to comfort your child who is upset not to have a go. But will your child be happy with that toy? He might not be sure for how long he will be able to play with it. He might feel insecure while playing with that toy because at any time, an adult might ask him to give it away to another child.

On the long term, it reinforces the desire to possess, it reinforces aggressive behaviours: let me snatch it quickly before I have to share it again, let me hold onto it.

Maria Montessori observed that young children play by themselves.

That’s the reason why you will see many tables for one child only in the Montessori classroom for children under 6. Group activities are neither forced and neither encouraged.

In fact, children under 3 will play along each other.

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They will then become social and willing to interact with their peers. At the next stage, from 6 to 12, children are totally engaged into social interactions.

They will seek collaboration and share ideas and activities, especially if their first plane of development has been respected. This means letting them take their time to share when they are ready.

So, if the Montessori education doesn’t encourage the children to share, how do we resolve conflicts around sharing and taking turns?

You might be surprised to learn that it’s rare that children fight over a toy in a Montessori classroom. Yet, there is only one piece of every material.

There is only one pink tower, one tray of playdough, one set of numbers…

Yet, children will wait patiently for their turn, and each child will find an activity that keep them engaged.

The key here is the environment: the classroom, your house or the playgroup has enough activities to fulfill the needs of every individual child.

The adults set up clear limits about the activities:

  •  children work one at a time with the material, for as long as they want.
  •  We encourage children to wait for their turn, to respect those who work with the activity.

Spontaneously, some children will choose to share, or they will call a child to watch them completing an activity. Obviously, it’s a process and if the children have been forced to share outside the classroom, then they will take some time to adjust to new rules.

We can help our children by role modelling appropriate sharing: sharing fruits, sharing a snack, cooking together are great activities to model sharing.

Another great thing to do: if your child completes a puzzle, for example, do your own activity next to him, for example another jigsaw. When your child has finished his puzzle, ask him to have a go at your activity.

Repetition is key of course!

{update, after publishing this post, a reader pointed me towards that book: It's ok not to shared, have you read it? What do you think?}

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About the Author Carine Robin

Carine Robin is a a mother of 2 children. She raises them the Montessori way. Originally from Belgium where she worked as a child psychologist for several years, Carine spent 6 years in Ireland before settling in in the UK. She qualified as a Montessori teacher 10 years ago and has since worked as Montessori teacher and preschool manager. She founded Montessori-family in 2011 to provide opportunities for parents to discover Montessori. She believes that it’s truly possible to implement the Montessori ideas at home to make your house and family life welcoming to your child, her needs and her thrive for independence. She offers parents & babies classes, toddlers playgroups; Montessori home designs, one to one support, parenting classes and online courses.

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