Learning to Share with Rainbow Fish
Sharing may just be the most difficult concept for children to learn. Most conflicts in our house revolve around sharing toys or space or mom. Although I can offer a few tips for helping kids learn to share, I'm afraid there is no magical switch. It is something that takes daily effort and patience. We work on sharing in the moment of conflict, but also outside of those stressful times. Talking about and practicing sharing when emotions are not running quite as high can be hugely beneficial to the development of social skills.
Often times, our lessons start with a book. The Rainbow Fish is a classic children's book and a wonderful story to start a conversation about sharing.
The Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister
It is a wonderful story about a beautiful fish who doesn't like to share. One day he shares just a single rainbow fin and with another fish and discovers the wonderful joy that comes from giving to others. Flowing, watery illustrations and developmentally appropriate concepts, it isn't hard to see why this book has become a classic.
Play is almost always the most natural and beneficial way to learn any skill. Learning happens best when it is internally motivating and fun. You have probably noticed this from your own experiences trying to master new skills or remember new information. Sharing is the same.
Sitting two kids down and lecturing them about sharing is not likely to make much of an impact regardless of their age. On the other hand, giving them opportunities during play to master sharing when they are calm and having fun is just the kind of practice that will carry over to more stressful situations.
After reading The Rainbow Fish a few times, I set up this light table activity. It is a fun sensory and creative activity, but it also provides opportunities to practice sharing materials and space.
*Pull out a sheet of contact paper cut to cover the light table. Before you reveal the sticky side, draw some fish outlines on the non-sticky side with a sharpie. My talent is not in drawing this, clearly, but they did the trick.
*Then reveal the sticky side and tape it, sticky side up, onto the light table with painters tape.
*Tear or cut aluminum foil, paper and binder dividers (my light table material of choice for collages) into varying sizes and shapes. Put these in a basket or container at the table.
*I also placed the book on the table for reference.
During playtime, invite someone to help you make some rainbow fish at the light table or even better, allow them to discover it on their own and then explain your thought if needed. Between the book and the "fish" on the table, my toddlers figured it out pretty quickly. They were especially excited to add the foil to make the fish shiny. Try not to worry about the paper all ending up on the fish, as you can see most of ours did not. We focused our attention on using fine motor skills to put the colors where we wanted and using cognitive and language skills to practice recognizing and describing the colors we were using.
When conflicts over space or materials arose, I gave them a little time to sort it out on their own. If the issue wasn't resolved or it started to escalate I stepped in. Moving your body closer, getting low to their level, and using a calm voice can help everyone stay call. Then offer your toddlers words to use to help navigate their conflict. Words such as "Space" or "Mine" are enough for the youngest toddlers. Older toddlers can handle longer phrases such as "I need more space" or "Please pass the basket."
I left this activity up for a couple of days and then hung it in our playroom. At the end of each play period, the pieces that were not attached to the table were relocated to the basket for the next day.
Some Extension Ideas:
*How else could you explore these colors or a dash of silver? Paint and glitter perhaps?
*Wrap a big piece of foil around each child and pretend to be fish.
*Read some of Marcus Pfister's other books. We particularly enjoyed ABC Animals to continue our discussion about colors.
Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister
Light Table or Box
Crepe Paper and/or Binder Dividers in Purple, Blue, and Green
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