A Conversation: Circle Time


Teri:    Hey Vera. Thanks for talking today about circle time. Wonderful. So circle morning, meeting time – I think my own personal opinion is that as just the best part of the day, it’s such a rich experience for the teachers. There’s so much that can be accomplished in that short little time period. And I also think it’s better to have more than one circle time during the day too. [00:00:30] So let’s spend a little time talking about that. And the first thing I wanted to mention is I think there’s really three key components of circle time. That is the way that we should reframe how we think about it. So somethingI’ll see you walking into classrooms is it’s become, it’s sometimes a very routine thing. So, you know, they come in, they sing their welcome song, count, do shapes, do colors, do weather, and then they’re off to centers and that’s fine. 

Teri:    [00:01:00] I think if you talk to 10 teachers, you’ll get 10 different answers of what circle time should be. But I also think that’s perhaps a missed opportunity. So I agree we could start reshaping how we think of this and use it more as a time to first build that teacher child connection that is so important for behavior, right? And so if you can use circle time to have some rich conversations and just really strengthen that relationship, have those one-on-one conversations with the children while all eyes are on you, you’re going to make the children feel [00:01:30] significant and feel important. And they’re going to feel like they have value. They’re contributing things, they’re answering what you’re asking and later they’re not going to have as much of a need, right. To have an outburst to get your attention. So the first mindset shift, I think, would be thinking of it as a time of connection. , getting a little outside of that routine way of thinking the second is using it as problem solving. So use that last part of circle time to really talk about, you know, we’ve [00:02:00] had this problem. I think in our class, we’re having some problems with snatching toys, with sharing. Some are getting a little too handsy or maybe everyone’s starting to live and, you know, and really talk through that and have the kids come up with their own rules. So how should we, how should we approach this? What should our rules be? 

Vera:    I agree, it’s a teachable moment, so right. Best way to address the 

Teri:    Issues. And if they come up with the rules themselves, I think they’re a little more and even three year olds can come up with their own rules. They sure can. So, and then the last [00:02:30] thing would be just using it as a time for rich conversation. Soif you can use that time to really talk, let them speak too. You’re not just speaking at them, right. You’re talking with them, build that conversation time. So talk to me a little more about conversations. 

Vera:    I think that you summed it up beautifully with those three main, you know, aspects or the way we need to really view our circle time. , nber one, I’ll just, just start with your, with the idea of community. So community really is we’re, we’re [00:03:00] a family when we’re together, this is our classroom family. We need to create that sense of family. So giving every child the opportunity to be heard and ask questions and contribute their ideas and their thoughts, that’s valuable. And we want to give them the chance to be able to speak freely, not be afraid to say the wrong thing, right? It’s a safe environment where they can just talk about anything: their fears, their concerns, their excitement. I think just having a child be heard is one of the most important [00:03:30] things we cannot forget to include right. In our circle time. , 

Teri:    Yeah. Let me ask you a quick question on that though. So you have, let’s say you have a larger class, you’ve got 15, you have 20. Wow. So when you get everyone talking, yeah. What’s a way that you can control? We want that free flowing conversation. We want them to be exposed to new vocabulary and have these rich, meaningful 

Vera:    Discussions. Exactly. We want everyone to be heard, but we don’t have that much time in our schedule. Right. 

Teri:    So what are some, what are some strategies for controlling that time? 

Vera:    You know, like just a quick go-to [00:04:00] is like a parent share where, so you’re not specifically waiting for every child in the group to have a chance you can partner up. Right, right. And If there’s a question that you are presenting or if there’s something that the children want to discuss a little bit deeply, you might say, turn to a friend, turn to a partner and kind of have a conversation you then as the teacher can walk around and listen and, and listen to what they’re talking about. , maybe even kind of guide those conversations, right. , to go a little deeper. [00:04:30] And I think you can do that in a lot less time. So now everyone’s being heard, everyone has a chance to discuss how they’re building their listening skills, their speaking skills and turn taking skills, which is so important. 

Teri:    You can use that timer and 

Vera:    You use the handy timer to make sure you’re not getting off course. Absolutely. 

Teri:    You like in your classroom, you have questions of the day, right? 

Vera:    I do. I do. Because I think as you mentioned earlier, one of the most important aspects of circle time is that conversation, right? And what’s the point of [00:05:00] having circle time. If you’re the only one talking it’s really not about you. <laugh>, it’s really about the students. So I think something fun is having that like surprise question of the day for me, it’s writing down some really cute, would you rather questions or some open ended questions that really prompt children to think a little bit deeply and express their opinions on a particular topic and create my index cards, keep ’em in a little box, [00:05:30] have them somewhere close by so I can grab one and every day they know there’s, they’re going to be presented with a new 

Teri:    Question. Right. I was going to say, you could have your, your special friend. 

Vera:    You could 

Teri:    Think it’s the question. If 

Vera:    You’re big on the special friend, special, you know, a friend of the day friend of the week or something like that, right? Yes. Have that person reach into the box. Right. And choose the question of the day. You ask the question, give the children a chance to think about it. If you have a small group, you could wait for every single child during, you know, around the carpet to respond. [00:06:00] Or if you have a large group, turn to a partner, right? You know, your power partner, as I like to say, and it’s, you know, give them your response, respond to the question. It’s just a really nice way of, I think that we need, we lose sight sometimes of the fact that oral language is huge and children don’t always come to school with the vocabulary, the extensive vocabulary that we need them to have to go on to have later academic success in grade school and, and in the, in the upper grades. [00:06:30] So this is a great time to build that vocabulary, right? And by asking questions and having conversations and responding and building on what, what children say and get them to think critically, that’s the best way to build their vocabularies. 

Teri:    Absolutely. Yeah. And then let’s talk more about routines, because I said, you know, we want to get away from that typical, you know, you do this, this, this, and then send ’em off to centers. Right. , but it is important that there’s a routine. For how you do your circle time. , something [00:07:00] that I think works is whatever transition you use to get them over, you have them do their morning song, their welcome song, their name, song, whichever you prefer. If you want to have a meteorologist who gets up and they’re, they look out the window, what’s our weather, flip your weather board over to whatever it is. , maybe then is when you introduce your letter of the day, your word of the day you know, we want them to be active and engaged. You’ve [00:07:30] gotta read the, read your crowd, right? 

Teri:    If they need it’s time at that point, you gotta pop up and do an action song. Always, always have a book, always have a story time. I would agree. Usually after that they need some movement and then use that last, that last part of when, of that circle time is when you can introduce whatever your new concept is. Mm-hmm <affirmative> so I’m a big fan of saving your shapes, your colors, all that typical stuff, save that throughout the day, you can infuse that into so many parts of the day. Don’t use that [00:08:00] value. If you’ve got 15, 20 minutes, max, don’t use that time on those really basic things you can do later use that last little bit of circle time. Like you have all eyes on you maximize that time to introduce those new concepts, whatever your problem solving, you know, with your class, whatever that new concept is, and really max that out. , but that makes me think of timing, right? So timing is always an issue. A big question. We’ve got toddlers, we have our little, it bitties our, you know, 12, 12 month old, [00:08:30] 18 month olds all the way up to four. So let’s talk a little about reasonable expectations for timing, 

Vera:    And I think that if you’re starting out, especially given your age group, you really need to be mindful of their ability to focus on very important concepts, like the ones you really need them to get. 

Teri:    Right. 

Vera:    The attention span is not as long as I, I see some teachers keeping those little babies on the carpet. 

Teri:    Well, and absolutely. Yeah. So if I walk into a room for, to, to do some coaching [00:09:00] and you know, we hear a circle, time is so hard or I just, I can’t get them to focus. I can’t get them engaged. You know, what am I doing wrong? Usually it’s a timing issue. 

Vera:    Usually it’s a timing issue. So I say, look at how long you’re keeping the babies on the carpet. Right. I think that is the number one question. What do you, what are you really trying to do? We don’t want children to be bored because then we know that what happens when boredom strikes is behavior becomes an issue. [00:09:30] And then now we’re starting to deal with behavior and we’re losing instructional time. So I think, you know, keep it short and simple at first and purposeful, right? We need to be sure that if there is a very important thing that needs to be tackled, it’s done and it’s well managed. Right? It’s done purposefully. The things that you’re talking about, like the color of the day, the letter of the day, the word of the day, etc. 

Vera:    That can be done several other times, several times. Doesn’t just have to happen once or [00:10:00] in the morning. It can happen several times throughout the day. You can regroup and bring children back to the carpet for several short, you know, segments throughout the day. Let that be a time where you tackle some of those other things. But if you have something really important, like going over our schedule of the day or the instructions for the next activity, or, you know, another purposeful activity that you’ve planned, you want to be sure that you are doing it and probably I’d say 10 minutes [00:10:30] or less. 

Teri:    Well, I think so. It all depends on age. It really does with our, it really does with our toddlers two to three minutes max. Right. Soat that point you’re just building listening skills. So whatever your song, you’re clapping, you have an instrument, a puppet comes out, whatever you do as your called to get those toddlers, not in a circle, they’re not going to sit in a circle. No, just, 

Vera:    But into your blog, 

Teri:    Around you, around you, around your assistant. Yeah. , get them there and you’ll have them for probably two to three minutes [00:11:00] before they start to pop up and wander. And during that time, reading a story is great. Singing a song we’re just working on that attention and that one-on-one communication. And then they’re up and go. And then maybe in 30 minutes you call my back over and you try again. Yep. And that’s just building in that, that practice of listening and coming as a group, keeping their hands off of each other, their feet off of each other, they’re going to roll. They’re going to be on their tmys and that’s okay. It is okay. That’s realistic circle 

Vera:    Time. Doesn’t have to look a certain 

Teri:    Way. Exactly. And then as they grow, [00:11:30] we can expect them a little longer. So our three year olds maybe will have, you know, five to 10 minutes. It just depends on your group, the beginning of the year, or especially as you are. , as you’re going through, I would say the fall, maybe winter, you can start to build into 10 minutes. I think 10 minutes is a max for three. And then you’re older, your floors, your fives. You can usually do 15 to 20 minutes later in the year, but you’ve just gotta start. Even if you start small with five minutes and just get them into that routine [00:12:00] of what your expectations are. 

Vera:    I think it’s important. Well said. I think it’s important that teachers know it. Doesn’t have to include all of these things at once. You know, you don’t have to sing the welcome song, choose your student of the week, discuss the letter of the day, the color, read a book, check the weather. You don’t have to do all of those things at once. It’s really not mandatory. Right. As long as you’re kind of covering those [00:12:30] things, right. At some point, 

Teri:    Right. So I have several teachers who will ask me, you know, what do I do? I’m struggling with circle time with keeping my children focused. I’m losing their attention. They’re starting to cheer off. I wonder if it starts a downward spiral. What are your thoughts on that? 

Vera:    Okay. I have had that question before. So the first thing I always say is, you know, what are we really truly asking? Are we asking for help with focus [00:13:00] or engagement? Because often the student is engaged. , and, and that’s really the most important thing. We work on engagement. First focus comes later, right? Focus is a skill that happens over time when their brains are kind of fully developed. Right. They’re still thinking about that. Their brains are still developing at this point, keeping them engaged is really your number one priority and engagement. Doesn’t always look the same. Some students are sitting and [00:13:30] listening and they’re very attentive and they’re answering questions on cue. And then others look like they’re rolling around or hopping. And, you know, sometimes, like I said, they’re, they, they know what’s going on. They’re really part of the learning. It’s just, they’re doing it in a little bit of an unconventional way. Right. So I think it’s really important for teachers to kind of put on a different set of glasses, if you will. And just look at the big picture a little bit differently. 

Teri:    I think that’s so true. We really can’t teach kids how to focus, that’s brain [00:14:00] maturation, right? Yep. So we know that that’s the frontal lobes of the brain and that will come in time. It’s really not going to peak until a lot later. So they’re taking our focus off of their focus and really putting our focus on how we can best keep them engaged, keep them engaged, keep it fun.

Vera:    Right. And know what you have. You have to know your plan for the day. [00:14:30] You have to know what’s coming next so you can just keep, keep going. Right. Right. 

Teri:    So it’s really important with lesson planning. Yes, of course. We want a lesson plan for the whole day, but also have a specific lesson plan for your circle time. Absolutely. And we need to have several, just one, right? Several, several, and some backup plans. And so what are some ways though that we can really work on engagement? We know they need visuals, right. Visual stimulation. So having absolutely. I know one teacher who had a [00:15:00] bookshelf that was facing the circle, and then she would put this pocket page thing that hung down over the bookcase to cover the books. So they weren’t enticing the children to come grab the books. It was doing its job. It was wanting the kids to read. But also a little distracting at the time. So covering that so that there was a board that she could have visual cues on that had the weather and her letters on there form a dry erase so they can go up and write. [00:15:30] , but also having them touching things. So passing things around, having them hold magnetic letters when you’re talking about the letters of the week, mm-hmm, <affirmative> absolutely. Any type of manipulative that goes with the story. So whether it’s a, you know, an instrument, anything that you can make that story come to life and be engaging. 

Vera:    I think you, you know, you said it very well. It’s all about multisensory instruction and you never can provide children with too many multisensory [00:16:00] activities. Right. SoI’ll just go back to what you were talking about with your, your read aloud. You know, if you read the story ahead of time, you know, what is going to happen in the story, you can then pull some classroom materials that would go very well. You could always let’s take your visual students for an example, right? You want to make sure you’re choosing books that have beautiful illustrations or pictures that go along with it so that we can kind of bring a story to life as they’re turning the pages. If you have [00:16:30] children who are auditory and really have that sense of wanting to be able to talk and participate, you have to know where to stop and ask really thoughtful questions, ones that are going to get those children thinking critically thinking deeply ones that are going to require more than a one word response. Right, right. , get them talking. It’s building those vocabulary. Children who need to move a lot are kinesthetic friends. And we know who they are. Absolutely. Because we have more and more of those in the classrooms, I think every[00:17:00] year. 

Teri:    But you can buy yourself time by introducing music, right? Oh. So halfway through, maybe finish your story, have them get up, have them do a movement, exercise, get them moving, get them singing. , you’re going to have some that don’t, but the majority get them moving. Then they can settle back down, sit down. And you’ve now bought yourself another five minutes. We can introduce a new concept. I just think it’s so important that they’re hands on. You can even use that time to introduce [00:17:30] a new direction. You know, if you have some new activity you’re going to be doing, when they move over to the tables or maybe they’re going into centers you can borrow from Montessori methodology and present that to them as a group while everyone’s looking, have whatever the item is. Maybe it’s some new – something new you’re putting on the shelves for them. Well, it’s always better to introduce any type of new toy, new materials before they’re put on the shelves for everyone to just pull apart and [00:18:00] discover, put it there on the floor and let’s show them, this is how we use it. This is how we’ll interact with this. And this is how we’ll be putting it away and then it can go into the shelf. So just use that time. Absolutely. As a big group discussion, 

Vera:    I would agree. And yet that engagement, again, just to, to kind of smarize is really a huge piece and you have to be able to keep it going once you see that they are done, it’s time to move on and it’s okay to move on. I think that’s another thing 

Teri:    Gotta call it. 

Vera:    You’ve [00:18:30] gotta know when to call it, like, all right, switching gears. 

Teri:    And sometimes that’s going to be after only five minutes. Yep. Maybe you don’t get to any of your plans. It’s just the off day, maybe something. And I’ve had crazy many of those before. And absolutely. If you’re losing ’em and you are fighting and fighting and fighting to stick with your plans and don’t I was going to do this, you know, but all the kids are lost. You’re going to be frustrated. The kids will pick up on that. They’ll be frustrated. There’s always another day. They’ll have the behaviors happening that you don’t want. It’s better to [00:19:00] just say, oh, you know what, let’s move into. And then you transition and you could try later. Yeah, absolutely. Try again later 

Vera:    Or another 

Teri:    Day. Right. 

Vera:    It’s no, I agree. I agree. 

Teri:    Well, you talked about a lot today. We did. What do you think are the biggest takeaways for circle time? So when we’re troubleshooting circle time, what are some really key things to keep in mind? And recognizing that we have some teachers that are blessed with only, you know, 10, 12 kids, but we have some teachers that have 25, 26 kids and that’s especially [00:19:30] challenging to keep them engaged, keep them focused and keep control of that group. Right. So what are some top suggestions you would have? 

Vera:    You know, I’ve gotta say, oh, just as to, for your mindset. Like, I think it’s really important to put it into perspective again. , and I’m just going to recap the most important elements of circle time and why it is that we include circle time in our early childhood classrooms. And that’s at the end of the day, have you created a sense of community? Do all of those children feel like they can contribute [00:20:00] that they can share their ideas and that they’re a part of your classroom family mm-hmm <affirmative> have you provided opportunities for connection? Right? One of the most important benefits of circle time is that children can deepen and develop their relationships with their peers and then with you, right. So at the end of the day, have you made that happen? It didn’t matter if you did circle time once successfully, or if you were able to do it three to four times, was that the most important part of your mission? Right. And then also conversation. Yes. Did you capitalize [00:20:30] on the fact that that was the time where you had their direct attention and that, that was the time that you were there to build language and helped to teach them new ideas and new concepts. Right? Get them talking, get them listening. , did you create opportunities for turn taking and power partner conversations? I think that 

Teri:    I like that power. 

Vera:    The partner. Yeah. At the end of the day, that needs to be your goal. Right. You know, it’s not so much how many minutes were they able to sit that will come with time? You know, was it fun? [00:21:00] Did they move around? That’s great. That will come with time. You’re going to try new tricks right. Throughout the year. You, you will eventually have this circle time thing mastered, but history comes with lots of practice and lots, you know? So we just like, we wouldn’t expect a child to master something. Initially we wouldn’t expect a teacher to get it downright. I’m still trying to figure out how to make circle time powerful and purposeful. 

Teri:    And I think the last thing would be just planning. So, and 

Vera:    Planning 

Teri:    Think of it almost as [00:21:30] if you’re going to be on a show. Right. And so you’ve got to keep it moving. It’s just a common thing that happens if you don’t have a chance to finish those lesson plans or your assistant calls out, you know, these things that happen. And in real world time, it’s not always a perfect situation when you walk into your classroom and when you have to stop to find your book, you know, you have all their attention, but let me find that book, [00:22:00] or let me get this. So you’re stopping and you’re getting, you know, correcting this child. You’re helping this child, you’re helping this child. You’ve lost them. So how can you plan ahead? 

Teri:    How can you set yourself up for success to keep it moving? Especially with those big groups. Even, let’s say you have 26 kids and three assistants. That’s great to have the extra hands, but if you don’t keep that moving, yeah. You’re going to lose them. And so it’s just, if you’re, you’re rolling through your each, each of those planned activities, you have your little transitions built [00:22:30] into a circle, time to transition to your story time. Now you’re transitioning to your big movement activity. , just make sure that if you are stopping it’s to have a conversation with the group or with one or two children, I mean conversation and everyone’s involved, it’s a quick engaging conversation and then you’re moving right onto the next thing. Otherwise you will lose their attention. Absolutely. And if that, that happens and you’re, you know, it’s off warning, like we said, it’s okay. There’s always the next time. 

Vera:    Start again. 

Teri:    Sorry.

It’s time to learn.

There’s a better way to complete those preschool teacher training courses — trust us.

Discover 5 Easy Steps to Set Yourself Up for Success in Your Classroom!

We won’t share your details with any other company – Promise!