Hang out in any typical environment with numerous children under three and you will hear the common phrase, “Mine!” as one young child grabs a toy from another’s hands. This is generally followed with the common response, “Johnny, no grabbing. You need to SHARE.”
Unfortunately, it is hard to expect a young child to understand what it means to share in the everyday sense that you and I understand. During zero to three years old, children are ego-centric. They are solely focused on themselves and their own self-construction. Children work with activities independently, repeating them until they have a solid and concrete experience to internalize. Even though it may look as if two young children are playing together, they are really playing in parallel; working on the same activity yet individually focused on their own development.
The opportunity to teach the young child to share comes through his experience with food preparation activities. Food is such an important part of our environment that without it, we would not be alive. Each civilization has their own way of preparing the food specific to their environment and in general, food is related to the rituals that have been developed in each specific culture.
Before the child starts walking, he has absorbed many of these food preparation activities. He has seen people doing them, and little by little as he develops voluntary movement, he is able to do them himself. Once the child starts to walk, he jumps towards independence. With this movement, he is able to use his hands in a different way. Most of the time, the adult feels that the child is too young and that he will not be able to carry on these activities. However, in a collaborative effort, the young child can help in the preparation of food at a very young age.
What does food preparation give to the child?
Acquisition of knowledge: Food preparation helps the child in the acquisition of knowing his reality. For example, when you show the child a full watermelon, he will see it, touch it, smell it; then cut it and taste it. In the end, the child will have a clear concept of what a watermelon is.
Master reality: The child has an opportunity to master his reality. By slicing food, cleaning up when done, and washing dishes, etc. the child will become the owner of his body. He will acquire new movements and slowly become the master of his body and his reality.
Development of language: Through these food preparation activities the child gains an enrichment of vocabulary, the opportunity of naming actions, and indirectly math concepts (dividing, fractions, etc).
The Food Preparation exercises in the Montessori Toddler Community provide the best opportunity for the child to learn how to share. Each class, children participate in peeling, slicing, chopping, etc. the fruit and vegetables that all children will enjoy at snack/lunchtime.
The child who has helped to prepare the food gets deep satisfaction from sharing his effort with all his classmates. He is sharing who he is with the other children.
What a wonderful gift of self-esteem and self-confidence we can give that child when we sit down for snack/lunch and ask:
“Who prepared the cucumber today?”
And a little voice with a big smile calls out, “ME!”
Then we all reply, “Thank you!” as each child helps himself to a few from the plate and then passes it along.
That moment, in itself, is when the young child will understand the true meaning of what it is to ‘share’.
Christie Stanford is AMI trained at all three levels (Infancy, Primary, and Elementary). She is the founder of Aid to Life Education, a company based in Vancouver, British Columbia that provides Montessori services to children between zero and twelve years old.