Circle time in child care

Gath­er ’round! It’s cir­cle time! Cir­cle time is a rit­u­al used by many ear­ly child­hood pro­grams to begin the day and then again to mark the end of the day. In this post we will talk about some ways to have a suc­cess­ful cir­cle time.

Cir­cle time is a time for chil­dren and ear­ly child­hood providers to gath­er in a cir­cle, come togeth­er, con­verse, and do fun activ­i­ties together.

This makes cir­cle time an impor­tant part of the day! 

So, how do you have a successful circle time? 

In the morning

In the morn­ing, cir­cle time can give chil­dren time to adjust and say hel­lo to each oth­er. It is a time for them to learn what they’ll be explor­ing that day. 

In the afternoon

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!

Transitioning to Circle Time

Cap­ture the children’s atten­tion before you announce a tran­si­tion. Begin the tran­si­tion with 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 almost time to fin­ish up an activ­i­ty they are cur­rent­ly enjoying:

Verbal cues

Ver­bal cues: Make a sim­ple announce­ment. For exam­ple: “You can play five more min­utes before it is time to clean up the toys for cir­cle time.”

Nonverbal cues

Non­ver­bal cues: Tap chil­dren gen­tly on the shoul­ders. Make eye con­tact at the child’s level.


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.

Visual cues

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.

Games and pretend play

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 or ener­getic ones. For exam­ple, begin­ning and end­ing cir­cle time by read­ing a sto­ry can make tran­si­tions run smooth­ly and avoid 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. Rules and expec­ta­tions should be repeat­ed through­out the day, but stat­ing them dur­ing cir­cle time can be par­tic­u­lar­ly help­ful because it offers chil­dren a qui­et moment to think about them and ask questions.

Dis­cov­er fur­ther strate­gies for tran­si­tion­ing between activ­i­ties, in our child care train­ing course Tran­si­tions and Oth­er Trou­ble­some Times!

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?

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.

Problem Solving

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 hav­ing cir­cle time in a qui­et, low-traf­fic area. For instance, if a par­tic­u­lar child is eas­i­ly dis­tract­ed, have the child sit next to you or anoth­er care­giv­er to help keep the child engaged. 

Avoid sit­u­a­tions that require chil­dren to sit around wait­ing. For exam­ple, are you plan­ning an activ­i­ty that requires prepa­ra­tion? Make sure to get the nec­es­sary mate­ri­als orga­nized beforehand.

Can your pro­gram accom­mo­date mul­ti­ple cir­cle times? Try split­ting large groups of chil­dren into small­er groups. This can help you to focus on chil­dren who need extra assis­tance with new con­cepts. It can also help chil­dren who strug­gle to stay focused in large groups. Addi­tion­al­ly, small­er groups can help you tai­lor con­ver­sa­tions and activ­i­ties to the spe­cif­ic needs and inter­ests of children.

Let us know how you make cir­cle time suc­cess­ful by post­ing below!

Learn more about how to man­age your days with young chil­dren by check­ing out our cours­es Tran­si­tions and Oth­er Trou­ble­some Times (men­tioned above), and 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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Please con­tact us and let us know how we can be of addi­tion­al assis­tance! Call us: 1–800-685‑7610, Mon­day through Fri­day, 9–5 ET, or email us days, evenings and week­ends: We’re here to help!

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