3 Rules for a Peaceful Shared Play Space for Siblings
No parent wants to constantly referee their kids’ disputes. These 3 Montessori-inspired rules can help your children coexist peacefully together in a shared play space, without constant adult intervention.
Bringing a new baby into the family is such an exciting time but let’s face it, it can be really challenging for an older sibling to accept a new addition to the family. One common issue is having to share their play space. Whether you have a dedicated playroom or a corner of the living room with a few toys, siblings need to learn how to play together and how to occupy the same space peacefully.
If you want to avoid taking on the role of being a constant referee, it’s important to resolve disputes over who “had it first,” by establishing a few simple rules. The most important thing is to have a few clear, consistently enforced guidelines to help your tots play peacefully together. These three Montessori-inspired rules are a great place to start in establishing a shared play space for your children.
3 Play Space Rules for Siblings
#1 Everything in the space can be played with by everyone
A shared play space isn’t a great spot for a treasured toy your child doesn’t want anyone else to play with. You can certainly include toys geared toward each child, but they should be toys that all children in the family can use.
You might have one shelf for an older child’s toys and a separate shelf for a younger child’s toys, but both children should be able to choose any of the toys that are available.
A shared play space is also a great place to include blocks and other open ended toys that work well for different age groups. This type of toy can serve as a sort of equalizer and encourage your kids to play together, collaborating on something they both enjoy.
#2 Available when on the shelf
In Montessori, children are not asked to “share” in the traditional sense. All materials in a Montessori classroom are of course shared to some extent as they belong to the community, but a child is allowed to work with something for as long as they like.
For example, if a child is using the paints and another child wants to paint, the first child is not asked to share the paints or give them up because it’s someone else’s turn. They can paint for as long as they like, and then return the paints to the designated place on the art shelf. When another child spots them on the shelf, they’ll know they’re available.
This serves several purposes. It fosters deep concentration as children know they won’t be interrupted and asked to give what they’re using to someone else. It also prevents disputes over whose turn it is to use something. There is a shared understanding that when something is on the shelf, a child may choose it. If someone else is using the item, they must wait.
This is a rule that easily transitions to the home. If you consistently remind your children that when a toy is on the shelf, they may have a turn, disputes over toys will likely diminish. If a sibling is using something, another child can ask if they’d like to work together, but it’s fine for the sibling to say no.
Giving siblings a choice in whether to play together fosters a stronger sibling bond with less resentment. When children aren’t forced to play together or share what they’re working on, they’re more likely to choose to work together.
#3 Defined Work Space
In Montessori classrooms, children use work rugs, little rugs that they roll out on the floor, to define their work space when they’re not sitting at a table. This defined work space helps children learn to be organized but it also shows other children that someone is working there. Children as young as three learn to walk carefully around another child’s work rug and not to touch another child’s work on the rug.
This can work quite well for siblings at home as well. You can purchase a small rug for each child to work and play on, or have little tables where they can sit. This system helps avoid siblings accidentally stepping on another’s Lego masterpiece or grabbing a block that another child was planning to use.
Introducing defined work spaces also encourages children to put away their work when they’re done. If they want to bring another toy to their work space, they’ll need to put away the first toy to make room.
What about sharing?
If you’re used to telling children to share, this can all sound a bit backwards. Isn’t it important for children to learn to share with each other?
Yes and no.
Adults are hardly ever asked to share in the way that we mean it when we ask kids to share. Most adults would be quite frustrated if asked to give up their laptop in the middle of writing an email just because they’d been using it for 20 minutes. Kids feel the same way about their toys.
Children do need to learn how to have shared resources, but they will still learn this through a shared play space, even if they’re not told directly to share. They’re actually often more willing to give another child a turn when it’s their choice, rather than mandated by an adult.
Whatever rules you decide to establish for your own shared play space, having a few simple guidelines that children understand will keep you from constantly having to resolve conflicts.
- Interested in finding out more about the Montessori method of education? The Tot investigates the child-centered educational approach developed by Italian physician and educator Dr. Maria Montessori.
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