How to Plan a Successful Circle Time
Gather round! It’s circle time! Circle time is a ritual that early childhood programs often use for setting up the beginning of the day and marking the end of the day. So, how do you plan a successful circle time?
During circle time, children and early childhood providers gather in a circle, converse, and do fun activities together. In the morning, children are given time to adjust and say hello to each other as well as learn what ideas they’ll be exploring that day. At the end of the day, children and caregivers come together in a circle once the room has been tidied and cleaned. This routine is a great way to help children transition between your program and their home. Read this week’s blog for tips and tricks on creating a circle time that is right for your early childhood program!
Ways to Transition into Circle Time
Capture the children’s attention before you announce a transition. Begin the transition in plenty of time for the children to complete the process without being rushed.
Here are some examples of how to gently let children know that it’s about time to finish up an activity they are currently enjoying:
1. Verbal cues: Make a simple announcement. (“You can play five more minutes before it is time to clean up the toys for circle time.”)
2. Nonverbal cues: Tap children gently on the shoulders. Make eye contact at the child’s level.
3. Sounds: Play a particular piece of music or sing a song that children learn to associate with getting ready for circle time. Ring a service bell or small chime, such as a wind chime. Do not overwhelm them with loud noises.
4. Visual cues: Place cushions in a circle on the floor or the particular rug where circle time happens. Post a visual schedule with photos of the sequence of daily activities and point to the next one. Set a timer a few minutes before it is time to change activities; hourglass timers are less distracting than your phone or another electronic device.
5. Games and pretend play: Teach children to pretend to be a snake by holding onto each other’s shoulders, forming a snake-like line; slither around the space, eventually slithering into a circle for circle time.
How to Facilitate Smooth Transitions
Make sure that circle time begins and ends with calming activities, not loud activities. For example, beginning and ending circle time with reading a story will make transitions run smooth and avoids overstimulating children.
Do the same activity at the beginning and end of each circle time. For example, begin each circle time with a song that the children love. This way children will likely be excited and ready to begin. Routine creates a sense of familiarity which children find comforting.
Circle time is a good opportunity to reiterate expectations and rules, such as kind ways to treat others. Communicate your rules and expectations clearly in a simple, positive manner. These rules and expectations should be repeated throughout the day, but stating them during circle time offers children a quiet moment to think about rules and ask questions.
Adapting Circle Time to Accommodate Children
The key to a successful circle time is paying attention and adapting to children’s unique interests and abilities. Ask them what their interests are. What activities make them feel excited? How can you keep them engaged? Consider what is appropriate for their age and developmental ability.
Keep activities and conversations focused on the children. A circle time where children participate, ask and answer questions, and interact with other children will be far more beneficial than one where they only sit and listen to you talk. Let children influence circle time topics and activities. Give children choices, but give each choice one at a time. Do you want to sing to “The Wheels on the Bus”? Or, should we read the book about farm animals animals?
Teaching Through Circle Time
Circle time is an brilliant opportunity for children to learn by doing. Make sure the activities teaching these concepts fall within the children’s developmental abilities. If a child is overwhelmed by activities beyond his or her developmental ability, the child may be discouraged from participating in future circle times.
Children touch or manipulate objects and even their own bodies to understand a new idea. Here are some examples of hands-on learning activities:
- Having children get into groups of two and asking, “how many legs do you have in your group? What about fingers?” teaches concepts of quantity and one-to-one correspondence. (Counting the total number of fingers of more than two children is typically a skill only some older preschoolers are ready for.)
- “People sorting” activities help children develop classification concepts. For example, ask children to arrange themselves in sets. Children with something red on their clothing to gather on one side, everyone else on the other. Or children wearing shoes with laces, shoes with straps, or slip-ons. Ask a volunteer from each group to count how many children are in their group.
- Dancing with interactive music teaches bodily control. Songs can instruct children to skip, hop, jump, move like different animals, move slowly or quickly, and more.
Make circle time brief if your group is very young and struggles to stay engaged. If very few children stay focused during an activity it may be a sign that the circle time is too long.
Prevent distractions by doing circle time in a quiet, low-traffic area. If a child is easily distracted, have the child sit next to you or another caregiver, if available, to help keep them engaged.
Avoid children sitting around waiting. If you’ve planned an activity that requires preparation, get the required materials in order beforehand.
If your program can accommodate it, consider splitting large groups of children into smaller groups. You can then focus on children who need extra help understanding new concepts or who may struggle to stay focused in large groups. You can also better tailor conversations or activities to the specific needs or interests of children in smaller groups.
Learn more about how to manage your days with young children by checking out our course, Creating Schedule and Routines! Looking for healthy snack times for children? Check out our blog on healthy fall snacks for children.
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