The Secret Sauce to a Successful Day (Circle Time!)


Circle time is the perfect opportunity to get all your little ones together so they can learn, grow, and play. Generally, it’s an activity that follows the same routine every day, though with different lessons, stories, or games each time. A successful circle time is planned in advance, with goals and procedures surrounding it. 

There’s a secret to circle time…

Every circle time isn’t the same, so it’s important to know what your goal is for circle time!

Is it to keep students corralled while everyone arrives and settles in, or do you have key cognitive objectives for the time? Whatever it is, circle time should be meeting your goal. We suggest that you begin each morning with circle time (or morning meeting time) and use this as a sacred time to set the tone for your day and your class as a whole. Use this time when you have all eyes and ears focused on you to work through problem behaviors you are seeing in your class or issues that keep resurfacing.

Do your kids have a hard time taking turns or is there a wave of biting going on? Is clean up time more chaotic than you prefer, or is there a lot of crying at drop off? Are several little ones having a hard time staying seated or not waiting their turn for the swings or slide on the playground? Talk about it all during circle time!

Get out your puppets or your dinosaurs, whatever little animals you may have. Role play the scenarios that are problems and talk about the feelings. Show how to best handle those times. Using circle time for these behavior issues can really be your secret sauce to turning things around. You can transition them back into circle time later in the afternoon and revisit how the morning went if things start to get a little crazy.

Give yourself a break, too. Some days, you just can’t make circle time happen, as hard as you try! So sing some songs, get them on their feet moving, doing some gross motor movements, and try again another time. Whatever you do, make circle time work for your day, rather than the other way around. It’s a lot less stressful!

Circle time makes an event out of anything you want to teach your students, but it’s critical that you have developmentally appropriate expectations. It can be tempting to overextend the time when it’s going well and they are engaged; however, around 10 minutes usually works best, with 20 minutes the outer edge of sustained attention in preschool group settings. Circle time should be quick, fun, and effective, but you have to work hard to make the most of it. Be sure that you include circle time in your lesson plans and have a specific circle time lesson plan prepared for each day. It’ll make things go so much smoother!

Do you follow simple circle time strategies?

To keep kids oriented to the circle, consider laying down a ring with painter’s or masking tape, and encouraging them to “keep your bottom on the line” or “keep both feet in front of you.” Make sure you have every needed material right at your side so you don’t break the spell when your little ones are ready to go! This will keep them in their spots so that their hands and feet aren’t too close to a nearby friend.

Remember, wiggles are okay! Let there be wiggles! In fact, they may learn and remember what you talk about better if they are moving and wiggling. That goes against what most of us have been taught, but there is brain science to support this — we promise! 

You can minimize the rowdiness when they first transition into circle time by saying, “I’m looking for who is sitting and ready to learn,” or “Who here is ready for circle time, whose body is showing me they are ready?” You can reward the most attentive by allowing them to have a special job during circle time or by placing a sticker dot on the sole of their shoe. A “circle theme song” or sound signal can unify any of those who are whispering or distracted.

When everyone is settled, it’s time to introduce a new concept, try some problem-solving, or train in a new skill. Professionals at the University of Washington suggest teaching friendship skills first by verbally and visually introducing a principle like trading, then demonstrating it with something like a puppet and illustrative story, and then engaging a child or two in role-playing a trade. In your next circle time, you can reinforce the concept and celebrate moments when you noticed children using the skill.

Here are some fun activities that lend themselves to circle time settings:

  • Put pairs of cards in the middle showing simple pictures or shapes. Have each child take one and find the partner who matches their card. Or, each card can depict a facial expression that the child drawing the card has to imitate. Then, the group can name the emotion that the facial expression suggests.
  • Pass around a tambourine or container of beads. See if the noisy object can make it around the circle without making noise.
  • Use a puppet to give instructions or kick off a discussion.
  • Let children use gross motor movements in the circle on occasion. Say, “Stand up if you have a pet,” “Raise your hand if there is a baby at your home,” or “Sit down if you are wearing something red!”

There are many, many, many ways you can make circle time fun. It doesn’t have to be a drag or just one more thing to check off your to-do list. Instead, it should be a good time to focus while having fun and connecting with your students. If you need to try a new method for circle time because your previous efforts have been a bust, go ahead! You never know what will work best with your kids. Whatever you do, remember to avoid doing the same old songs, counting, weather, and days of the week. Once your children have mastered that days of the week song, move on to the months of the year or teach it in another language, or introduce an entirely new concept.

Make Circle Time Effective for Your Classroom

When you’re feeling overwhelmed or having a tough day in the classroom, we know that circle time can be a real challenge. However, it can also be used as a powerful tool that benefits both you and your students. So in those tough moments, have a spontaneous circle time. Call them over and have them sit. Use it as a time to bring them back together and recenter them while having them calm down and focus on you. Remind them of your classroom rules and what your expectations are. By following a routine, trying new things, and making it a moment to connect with your students, you can enjoy circle time so much more. 

At Impact Early Education, we know your work is never done. That’s why we provide valuable professional development courses for preschool teachers, directors, and owners in a way that works for you. To learn more, explore our courses or contact us today .

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