Circle time is a really key part of a preschoolers day and it’s something that parents often ask me about. I’d like to give you – as part of an insight into your preschoolers day – an idea of what circle time is.
What is circle time?
Circle time is really any part of the day where children and teachers come together and sit in a circle – as the name might suggest.
Circle time is used to aid and encourage communication and socialisation between children. It is not just for this, however, as we use circle time to introduce themes and topics, come together and share, and prepare the children for the day at preschool.
I personally like to sit at the same level as the children in my classes rather than elevated on a chair, as, in my experience, it makes them feel more comfortable sharing and opening up.
When do we have circle time?
Circle time is often used at the start of the day or at the end of the morning, bringing children together in an organised way without the formality of sitting at tables and chairs – something that isn’t easy for little ones.
Circle time in the morning is focused on the tasks and themes of the day and generally follows the same routine and structure. When we have circle time later in the morning, this is often used as “downtime” for the children to relax after a busy morning, often with a story.
What happens in circle time?
Most of my experience in preschools is with children aged 2-5 years old. There are, as you’d imagine, some differences with the length of time spent sitting in a circle, depending on the age of the class, and also the teacher talking time to child talking time ratio. However, many other parts of circle time remain similar.
Below, I’ll show you what circle time looks like in my class where the children are aged 3-4 years old:
Before we say “hello”
With my most recent class, circle time took place at around 10 a.m. so most of the children had already been at school for about 2 hours. In this time, they’ll have most probably built up some energy to expel and it can be really hard for them to sit down for some time.
For this reason, I like to start by “getting the wiggles out”. Here, I will whisper or not say anything at all while encouraging the children to copy my stretches, beginning with fingers, and stretching or “wiggling” our whole bodies. This gets the children engaged as they have to watch rather than listen.
After having gotten “the wiggles out” and once everyone is focused, the children are ready to start circle time. It is still important, however, if children are expected to listen to their teacher and peers, to keep active during circle time with songs, games, and interactive activities.
This step is logical. We start by saying hello to each other and welcoming our friends to class that day. I’m going to try and put links in for songs that we sing but unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find one for my regular good morning song. Luckily it’s not complicated at all.
This hello song comes from a colleague I had about six years ago and goes something like this:
Class: “Hello *child’s name* how are you?”
Child: “I am fine and what about you?”
Super easy, editable and it can be used with all ages and levels of English. When I’ve a new class, we begin by singing altogether and using the “I am fine and what about you” as a model. As the children get more confident with each other, with me, and with English, I encourage them to sing independently or to choose a friend to sing to. Then, we use different feeling words.
Most recently, my preschoolers liked using the adverb “very”: “I’m very, very, very happy” or “I’m very, very, very, very excited”, for example. This got huge giggles out of everyone as they all tried to one-up each other.
This will then lead to a counting activity where a helper will count how many children are at school today. Other variations are how many boys or girls, how many are wearing red slippers, how many are wearing green jumpers, etc. This encourages early maths skills like counting, grouping, and comparing.
Our next step in circle time is the calendar and we start with what day of the week it is: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oKqAblcwFOA. The children then choose the correct card and stick that card on the board (like in the picture above).
On Mondays, we speak about our weekends and how we spent them. My main goal here is to encourage the children to speak, to be confident and comfortable speaking in front of their friends, recall a story, or even just make something up.
I had a child this year who told us every Monday that he’d been to the cinema to see Frozen 2. This may seem pointless, but with encouragement, he began to add more detail each time he recalled this activity, and I was so pleased that he was speaking in English and adding to his vocabulary with such confidence.
As the children get older, their language skills and social skills become more developed, and their confidence increases, I encourage them to ask questions to each other like “did you have popcorn when you went to the cinema?”. Some of my most shy students have really come out of their shells when taking part in these activities and it’s been great to see.
Next, we go on to the date and this is great for practicing counting and number recognition. We start with touch-counting as a class and each day a different member of the class (a helper) is invited to stick the correct date on the board.
We then move on to finding which month we’re in – this may sound too much for some 3-4-year olds but here I am trying to get them comfortable with words they will use regularly as they grow up.
It is not expected of the children in my classes, especially those for whom English is a second or third language, that they know the order of the days of the week or know every month of the year. However, in this relaxed and informal setting, this is a great opportunity for children to get comfortable with a wide range of words and language.
Once we’ve got our date on the board, we move on to the weather: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KUSbazn3STo.
We really enjoy being theatrical, so this song is accompanied by over the top dancing and gesticulating which the children love and always get involved in. It’s also a great way to get any more “wiggles” out that may have built up! Once the weather has been discussed, the correct weather card or cards are stuck on the board.
I had a class once that was obsessed with the word “overcast” (coming from England, this is a frequently used word when talking about the weather). It could be the most beautiful, clear, cloudless day, and I’d have 15 children adamantly justifying that it was, in fact, overcast just so they could use this word! Often we will also discuss what clothes we believe will be appropriate for the weather and activities that we’d like to do when outside.
“Silly songs” are always included in my circle times as the children (and I) enjoy them so much. I’ll go into more detail about “silly songs” and my affinity for them in another post, but I would like to mention them as part of my regular circle time. “Silly songs” are a great tool for playing with language, moving and stretching, and keeping children’s attention and enthusiasm high.
Theme or lesson of the day
After we’ve done the steps above, it’s time to introduce the lesson of the day. This may be by showing flashcards to elicit discussion about the topic, for example: pictures of different community helpers.
It may also include playing games that tie into our theme or topic, like putting puzzles together as a class, or it may be a discussion about a particular topic: “what do we see when we go to the beach?”.
Circle times can last 10 minutes or they can last 40 minutes – although I wouldn’t suggest this as the children may get bored and not be interested in further tasks in the lesson. It’s important that circle time is relaxed, fun, interesting, and gets our small friends ready for their day of learning.
Are there other areas or your child’s day that you’d like insight on? Let me know and we can go through them all together!
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