Monday, September 16, 2013

Teaching Sharing and Turn Taking

I'm not sure what parenting book I read it in, but at some point when Little Lipstick was still not talking I read that teaching turn taking was much more effective than teaching kids to share. Sharing is an abstract concept, and when we tell kids to share they don't exactly know what we mean. To kids sharing is the term grown ups use when you really don't want anyone else to touch your toys. In some situations it seems to mean "give the other kid your favorite toy". In other situations it means "use the toy together even though neither of you is happy with that situation." My daughter likes to use it when she wants my food. "Share Mommy!" she says in a sweet yet demanding voice. To her apparently, sharing means other people can give her things.

Turn taking, however, sets a clear pattern. It's your turn, then my turn, then your turn again. It feels OK to give someone else a turn because if you understand the pattern of turn taking then you know you'll get your turn back- you just have to wait.

I found that not only was turn taking very effective with my daughter*, but it has also works great with my students at school who also find the term sharing ambiguous. For many of them I start with taking turns by just rolling a ball back and forth. For students with autism this also promotes a safe, predictable interaction with another person that is the basis for future social interaction. While we roll the ball we label "Johnny's turn. Sophie's turn. Johnny's turn," repeatedly because I want them to become clear on what a turn is. A turn is a part of a pattern, you take one, let someone else have one, and then it is your turn again.

Then we start applying it in the classroom by labeling whose turn it is to use the smartboard, or whose turn it is to turn off the lights, hold the book, or line up. After I feel they have a good grasp on it we transition into playing a board game together. (Because I can never just play a board game I'm of course also working on math skills or something else, but any board game works). We label turns for the board game, and then begin to scaffold the idea of turn taking into pretend play.

Free play in my room is never really "free". I try to give them free reign to explore but in many ways it is guided play- a chance for me to sit with them on their level, interacting with what they find interesting, facilitating social interactions or even practicing academic tasks (can we count the blocks? Add the yellow and white blocks?)

Blocks are great for turn taking because you can build a tower together with each child putting on a new block. It requires adult guidance so it doesn't become parallel play, but it works. Slowly I've been able to step back from dictating turns and watch them play together, with no adult intrusion. It's "sharing" but meaningful, predictable sharing. And it begins to transfer into other areas of the day as well. Sharing the crayons means it is Sophie's turn with the blue and then it will be Johnny's. Sharing the books means when Johnny is finished Sophie can have the book.

It's so simply that it makes me wonder why it took reading it in a parenting book for me to fully understand how we can teach sharing instead of just lecturing kids on sharing until they get it. Hopefully as Little Lipstick grows we'll continue to see her willing to take turns and share.

*And while it has been effective in many ways, please don't read this and think my daughter is the perfect sharer or turn taker. She's not. She's two. We're still working on it.

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