We recently noticed a lovely exchange between two students in our Children’s House.
One boy was working individually on a set of materials while sitting alone at a table. As soon as he was done with the materials, he left his seat, returned it to the shelf and went about something new.
Meanwhile, another student watched patiently as this boy finished up his work. He wanted the set, too, but he did not interrupt his friend, try to take the activity from his friend or even ask his friend if he could have it. He just waited for his turn. Then, only when the boy was done and returned the materials did the second boy excitedly pick up the set from the shelf, take his seat at the table, and intently begin his work. Alas, it was his turn.
To many parents, this exchange seems unrealistic. Two four-year-olds could spend many afternoons arguing over who had what first or how long it’s been since one has had one toy over the other. And on and on. But, in a Montessori classroom — and easily in your home as well — clear rules and expectations are set of how belongings are shared. This means a teacher will reinforce the rules as needed, but because those rules do not change, a student begins to rely on and trust that their time with an activity is theirs alone.
In a Montessori classroom, a student only uses one material at a time. When she is done using the material, she returns it to the shelf before starting something new. A student can also only take things from a shelf. If something they want is in someone else’s hands, that means they have to wait until their friend is done. They cannot ask their friend for the material or take it from their busy hands, because items are only retrieved from the shelf. This is not a difficult “rule” for the students to follow because it is more of an honored commitment among one another.
Therefore, if a child wants to play with whatever his peer is using at the time, he should not ask her to have it and should know instead that whenever she is done, that is when it can be his turn. He can work alongside her, but only if she so chooses. If he has trouble with this, then we as the adult should be happy to help him find something else to work with. There is always something else to do.
Sharing is important, empathetic and kind, and if a friend would like to share whatever she is playing with, that’s great! But it’s important to also show our children that they deserve the time and space to spend however long they want on a given activity. This uninterrupted play is not only comforting and peaceful to a child, it builds concentration, passion and reverence for the work.
And it builds respect among children. A child should never have to worry that someone else is going to take something from her. She should instead enjoy the time she has with something that interests her. If sharing expectations are set and followed in the home, your child will come to spend more time with the things they enjoy, too.