The Rainbow Fish was my little sister’s favorite picture book when we were kids.

She probably doesn’t remember this, but I remember having to listen to it over and over and over again. Oh the trials of the oldest sibling.

Years later as a parent and a teacher, however, I love this story. I love it’s beautifully illustrated with lush, watery paintings, and the sparkly accents that capture little listener attention and the way it brilliantly sparks conversation about sharing.

It is also perfect for our Ocean themed reading challenge this month!

Now it is a story that I use with my kids and toddlers I have worked with countless times. I suppose my sister was possibly more wise than I gave her credit for years ago.

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Playful Lesson in Sharing from The Rainbow Fish

This lesson starts, with The Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister. This is now a classic children’s book and a wonderful story to start a conversation about sharing.

Sharing may just be the most difficult concept for children to learn.

Most conflicts in our house revolve around sharing toys or space or mom. Although I can offer a few tips for helping kids learn to share, I’m afraid there is no magical switch. It is something that takes daily effort and patience.

We work on sharing in the moment of conflict, but also outside of those stressful times. Talking about and practicing sharing when emotions are not running quite as high can be hugely beneficial to the development of social skills.

The Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister

It is a wonderful story about a beautiful, shiny fish who doesn’t like to share. He does however want friends. One day he shares just a single rainbow fin and with another fish and discovers the wonderful joy that comes from giving to others. Flowing, watery illustrations and developmentally appropriate concepts, it isn’t hard to see why this book has become a classic.

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Learning about Sharing Through Play & Art

Play is magical for so many reasons, but it’s ability to practice social skills is the reason we’re utilizing it today.

Play is almost always the most natural and beneficial way to learn any skill. Learning happens best when it is internally motivating and fun. You have probably noticed this from your own experiences trying to master new skills or remember new information. Sharing is the same.

Sitting two kids down and lecturing them about sharing is not likely to make much of an impact regardless of their age.

On the other hand, giving them opportunities during play to master sharing when they are calm and having fun is just the kind of practice that will carry over to more stressful situations.

Materials Needed

Light Table or Box
Contact Paper
Painters Tape
Aluminum Foil
Crepe Paper and/or Binder Dividers in Purple, Blue, and Green

Activity Set Up

*Pull out a sheet of contact paper cut to cover the light tableBefore you reveal the sticky side, draw some fish outlines on the non-sticky side with a sharpie. My talent is not in drawing this, clearly, but they did the trick.

*Then reveal the sticky side and tape it, sticky side up, onto the light table with painters tape.

*Tear or cut aluminum foil, paper and binder dividers (my light table material of choice for collages) into varying sizes and shapes. Put these in a basket or container at the table.

*I also placed the book on the table for reference.


After reading The Rainbow Fish a few times, I introduced this light table activity.

It is a fun sensory and creative activity, but it also provides natural opportunities to practice sharing materials and space.

Invite your toddlers to help you make some rainbow fish at the light table.

My toddlers were especially excited to add the foil to make the fish shiny. Try not to worry about the paper all ending up on the fish, as you can see most of ours did not.Rainbow Fish inspired lesson on sharing for toddlers

We focused our attention on:

*Using fine motor skills to put the colors where we wanted

*Using cognitive and language skills to practice recognizing and describing the colors we were using.

*AND practicing conflict negotiation skills when sharing issues arose!

How to Practice Sharing with Toddlers while Creating

When conflicts over space or materials arose, I gave them a little time to sort it out on their own.

If the issue wasn’t resolved or it started to escalate I stepped in. Moving your body closer, getting low to their level, and using a calm voice can help everyone stay calm.

Then offer your toddlers words to use to help navigate their conflict. Words such as “Space” or “Mine” are enough for the youngest toddlers. Older toddlers can handle longer phrases such as “I need more space” or “Please pass the basket.”

Clean Up:

I left this activity up for a couple of days and then hung it in our playroom. At the end of each play period, the pieces that were not attached to the table were relocated to the basket for the next day.

The Rainbow Fish Inspired Lesson on Sharing for Toddlers uses the Light Table

More Collaborative Art Ideas for Young Kids:

*Free Art for Groups from Mama Smiles

*Cooperative Shapes and Colors Painting from Mosswood Connections

*Andy Warhol Art from Red Ted Art

*Big Paper Paint from Bambini Travel

*Simple Art to Reconnect with Your Child from Sunshine Whispers

*Exploring Tessellating Shapes from The Preschool Toolbox

*Cooperative Train Drawing Prompt from Bambini Travel

*Window Clings Process Art from Kids Craft Room


*30+ Ocean Picture Books from My Storytime Corner


Join the A Read A Day reading challenge below!