Learning the lessons of ownership takes time and patience, and there are opportunities for new learning on this subject even into adulthood. In one of our preschool classes, some students have been exploring the idea of ownership by taking classroom items home in their pockets. It’s interesting that these young students sense that their actions aren’t something to be proud of because they don’t want to admit they’ve taken them. What a chance for adults to teach children important principles of ownership and respect.
The teacher handling these sensitive incidents has taken exactly the right tone to promote understanding and avoid stimulating any feelings of shame. She has talked to the class about things that belong in the classroom and need to stay there. Instead of asking an individual child if she has taken a dinosaur or special shell, she states very unemotionally that she knows they’ve taken it, and it’s fine to just put it back. She has avoided using the word “stealing” so children don’t take on the identity in preschool that they are thieves.
Many fights at every age occur because of misunderstandings about ownership. A basic lesson in maintaining harmony between siblings, friends, neighbors, and even countries is learning to ask permission. Can I borrow this shirt, this tool, this book? Can I go in your room, walk on your property? Often older children in a family have to be protected from younger siblings who innocently ravage their possessions. Younger children can learn to ask “Can I play with your toy?”
Once we understand ownership as one of the foundations for respecting others, we can learn to listen to our hearts and dissolve those boundaries so we can share what we have. A child has to feel safe saying “I’m using these materials now” before feeling comfortable offering the invitation “Would you like to join me?”
Our school song “Friendship” includes these lines: “Now there’s owner-ship, where you stake your claim to what’s yours and yours alone, and relation-ship, where you share the game with someone you call your own, but the best ship under the sun is the one built for everyone, and that’s Friend-Ship, Friend-Ship, finest ship of the line.”