The Moral Dilemas of a 4 Year Old

I interact with four year olds daily and to say they’re egocentric is putting it lightly. From day 1 in my classroom we’ve tried to teach them one of the PreK basics: sharing. My kids, for the most part, have become great sharers. Helping them learn this skill hasn’t been easy. It’s taken daily problem-solving, tears and broken toys, but they are leaving my classroom with this skill. Don’t get me wrong, they can still be ruthless, brutally honest, and egocentric, but almost on a daily basis they continue to surprise me with their kindness and generosity.

My kids recently created an art project to be auctioned off, and the proceeds would be donated to a local charity. When I asked them where we should donate the money, they were not happy about the idea giving their proceeds away. “We worked hard on that art. We should get to keep the money,” one student said. The rest of the students chimed in in agreement. They agreed, amongst themselves, that they should get to keep the money and spend it on slushies (yup, slushies). I suggested we take a vote. There on the smartboard in my classroom, each 4 year old  voted on whether to give hundreds of dollars to a local charity to benefit our community or spend it on slushies. Each student walked up to the board and made a tally mark  to cast their vote. After 18 votes there was a tie and the deciding vote would be decided by my 19th student, who, by his own admission, loved slushies. I was worried.

So there in my classroom was the moral dilemma of a four year old. Help others or enjoy a slushie? I waited anxiously for his vote. He stood staring at the smartboard for what seemed like an hour. He slowly lifted his finger several times to make his tally mark on the smartboard, and then put it back down, all while listening to the sighs of disappointment from his peers Then, he raised his small finger and made his tally on the board. I almost couldn’t bring myself to look.

My student who had struggled to share toys, food, even space on the carpet, was now voting to give away all money to benefit people he’d never met before, and there in my classroom, sitting on the floor on the rainbow carpet surrounded by 4 year olds, I had to fight back the tears. I’ll never be quite sure if he made that decision based on an entire school year full of books and discussions about sharing and giving and helping and being kind, or if he would have made that decision in spite of being in my room. I’d like to think I had a little something to do with it.