Portioning Vs. Taking Turns: Not Sharing is also Caring
Dr. Nermeen Dashoush, PhD
STEM Specialist and Chief Curriculum Officer
for MarcoPolo World School

As a classroom teacher for over ten years, issues with sharing come up often with over 20 children in one room and a limited amount of supplies. Sharing is certainly a useful skill that helps us co-exist peacefully. Parents often ask me strategies for sharing because they are exhausted from repeating, “SHARE!” as their children argue over toys, crayons, clothes, etc. They are often surprised when I tell them, “Your child doesn’t always have to share.” This is where the distinction between portioning and taking turns comes in handy.

What’s the difference?

Portioning, for this purpose, means dividing a material or using it simultaneously. Taking turns means just that, the material (usually limited) gets passed along from one user to another. Of course, there are exceptions, but these guidelines mostly apply.

What can kids portion?

Materials with multiple pieces could be shared. Examples of this include building blocks or markers. These materials are generally put in the center of play or activities, and children use as needed. The material can be placed back for use by the group when not used. There is no need to count things out or establish precisely how many pieces each person should get. However, discuss with your children BEFORE playing what they think a reasonable amount per person would look like.

Unfortunately, it’s not for everyone:

Imagine you went to work, and your supervisor asked you to share your wedding ring. It is sentimental to you, and you would prefer to keep it to yourself. Your child, also a person with feelings, has personal sentimental objects. I once witnessed a parent forcing their child to share their stuffed animal with an unknown child at the playground. It is simply not fair or respectful of the child. Some things are not meant to be shared. Talk with your child to identify which objects are personal to them and help them make the distinction. Not sharing all things can help when it comes to sharing. It also sends the child a message that you respect them and that sharing is a choice. Studies show that children who feel like they are not being forced to share are more likely to do so by choice.

Taking Turns Strategies:

Taking turns is a skill that can be taught. This includes teaching your child to say things like:

  • Can I use that when you are done with it?
  • Can I have that in X minutes? (Children can agree on a time and set a timer)
  • I am using that now, but you can have it when I am done with it.
  • Can I have a turn with that?
  • Can I use that and give it back?
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