What can Rainbow Fish teach teachers about sharing?

Rainbow Fish learned about the value of sharing by making a small gesture and deciding to share in his own time.  If the octopus would have said, “You have plenty of scales.  The little blue fish only wants one.  You’re older so be nice and share.”  I doubt Rainbow Fish would have ever felt true joy in the giving of his scales.

But the octopus was wise.  She waited until Rainbow Fish came to her.  By this time he was almost done needing the scales to feel happy.  She gave him advice, then disappeared.  She didn’t give him a time limit to comply.  She didn’t demand that he obey.  She allowed him the right to hold onto his belongings as long as he wanted.

Why did the octopus’s tactic work?  Because:

Being forced to share feels bad, but giving to someone feels good.1.  Being forced to share feels bad, but giving to someone feels good.

2.  People (and fictional fish) have the right to hold on to their things until they are ready to give them up.  (Would you hand over your house keys to anyone who wanted a turn living there?)

3.  The octopus builds trust by supporting the Rainbow Fish’s idea that the scales were important to him.

4.  Rainbow Fish learns how his actions (sharing and not sharing) affect others.

Octopus isn’t worried that Rainbow Fish will become selfish, never enjoying true friendship.  She knows that with a little more time, he’ll be ready to trade beauty for friendship.  And she’s teaching him that it’s OK to tell the other fish, “I’m still using these right now. I’ll let you know when I’m done.”

In school we expect kids to “share” many times.  Heather Shumaker, author of the book It’s OK Not to Share and Other Renegade Rules for Raising Competent and Compassionate Kids, states that,

“Young children aren’t ready to share; they are ready to take turns.  Turn-taking empowers kids and helps teach courtesy, awareness, and spontaneous generosity.”



What does Kyle learn in this situation?

1.  Impulse control.

2.  Delayed gratification.

3.  How to handle a tough situation.

What does Dan learn?

1.  Awareness of how others feel when he keeps a favorite item.

2.  Courteousness by letting others know when they can have a turn.

3.  Assertiveness by claiming ownership of an item that is rightfully his.

Sometimes in a museum or public playground the adult will need to explain to the child that this is a place when we need to take our turn quickly so others can use things too.  By doing this you are teaching that in different contexts, different rules apply.  This is so very important for kids to learn.  They will be much more apt to “buy in” to this idea if that trust has been built in other situations.

One idea from Heather Shumaker’s book that I plan to implement in my classroom is the idea of making a “waiting list” for favorite books.  In my classroom, like many others, each child has a book box to use during Daily Five.  At times a child will find a favorite book that others also want to read (Fly Guy, just saying!).  I like the idea of creating a waiting list for the book that can be placed in the desired book as a bookmark.  Kids can add their names to the “waiting list bookmark” and cross names off as the coveted book makes its way through the list.

The kids will also need to understand that it is the decision of the book holder as to when they are done with the book.  If a book isn’t moving well I try to find more copies of the book or distract the kids with other great books to fill the wait time.

As Rainbow Fish let the other fish take turns wearing his shimmering scales, he became more and more delighted.  He finally felt at home.  And no one had to force him to share. Let’s try to encourage (not force) our students to discover the delight in giving.  The classrooms full of Rainbow Fish are sure to sparkle with joy.

Some good books for you:



10 Lessons from Storybook Characters