Building strong bonds with preschool children is gradual, especially during their first days at school. They’re not fully adjusted to the new school environment, and their social and communication skills are beginning to develop
You can help bridge the gap with interactive, engaging activities like circle time. Circle time encourages cooperative learning in a group setting and could inspire the children to build deeper relationships with each other.
But before we dig deeper into this subject, let’s first understand what circle time is.
What is circle time?
Circle time is a short activity that helps you develop positive relationships with preschoolers. Start circle time by instructing your class to assemble in a circle in a designated area in the classroom. This area can be near the whiteboard, in the class library, on a special rug, or anywhere that makes the most sense to you.
As the teacher, sit in a circle with the children. The children will feel comfortable sharing with you and each other if you’re present with them.
Encourage the class to sing a welcome song in the morning to make them comfortable and ready to start a new day. You may also sing a goodbye song or read an exciting story before they leave for home.
What is the key purpose of preschool circle time?
The circle is meant to encourage collaboration, unity, and respect while allowing the children to work towards a common goal or vision. For example, you may use circle time to review the day's schedule or reflect on their activities at the end of the day.
You can use circle time to tackle common classroom issues like too much noise, teasing, or not following instructions. Allow the children to share their opinions, suggestions, or feedback on these issues to help them feel more involved in their classroom.
Engaging in circle time helps preschoolers develop their social and communication skills, build stronger relationships with their peers, and encourages them to explore problem-solving.
Benefits of circle time
Circle time offers plenty of benefits to the children, including:
- Improved listening and speaking skills
- Developed social skills
- Understanding behavior and attitudes that affect others
- Improved self-esteem and emotional intelligence
- A sense of community and responsibility
- Positive relationships with their classmates and the teacher\
Overall, circle time allows children to confidently express themselves, discuss social and moral issues, and reflect on the different aspects of their school lives. They’ll learn to understand right from wrong, boost their tolerance and respect different viewpoints.
As a teacher, circle time:
- Helps you better understand each child’s capabilities
- Pinpoint skills or learning objectives that may need improvement
- Socialize with your class, and help them socialize with each other
- Helps you share important classroom information
Engaging preschool circle time ideas
If you hold circle time regularly, you’ll likely notice children losing interest or not paying attention. They may begin to play with toys, fidget, or hold conversations during circle time.
This is pretty normal. Preschool children can only stay focused for about 10 – 12 minutes.
To keep your children engaged, rethink your current circle time structure. The intention for circle time is for children to learn while focusing on an activity. If you’re losing their interest, the session is not interactive enough.
Assess your circle time’s structure to better appeal to each child’s attention span. Switch out the activities you use or the length of the session to ensure children remain engaged. Activities like reading books, singing musical games, and having short discussions can help instill social and self-regulation skills.
The variation should come naturally without affecting your daily routine. Remember that circle time is supposed to be short and fun.
Here are some other circle time ideas you can use to make each session engaging:
1. Set circle time rules
You can introduce circle time to the children with this activity. Explain what circle time is, then ask them for any rules they believe should apply to the activity. They’ll be more likely to remember the rules if they’re able to participate in making them.
Here are some circle time rules to consider:
- To value everyone’s contribution without putting any member down
- To raise up their hands when they want to speak
- Not interrupt anyone when they are talking
- To take turns at all times.
- To be allowed to pass if they don’t feel like speaking
2. Introduce a musical game
Try a song that incorporates gameplay and actions, like the “head and shoulders” song. Instruct the children to sing “head, shoulders, knees, and toes” as they gather into a circle to keep them focused.
A musical game gets the children to coordinate with a particular rhythm or beat as they enjoy the fun. It’ll also excite them for the following circle time activity.
A circle time song should incorporate actions like sitting down, making animal noises, bending, standing up, clapping, stomping feet, and other movements.
3. Review the day’s activities
You can use circle time to review upcoming activities or to reflect on the activities completed that day. Have the children answer a few questions about what they learned that day or what they learned the day before to help them retain information from previous lessons.
Let the children take turns reciting the daily schedule or recording the day’s activities. For example, if you're teaching about the weather, draw the weather chart and then use it to teach the topic. For the trivia question, ask them to explain the weather outside.
4. Engage in storybook reading
Read a storybook with pictures to the children. Ensure that you pause between narrations to show them the pictures in the story. Explain what is happening in the story, and highlight any words the children recognize from the story.
During the story, children may fidget, move around, or start talking when their attention wanes. You can try grabbing their attention again with a short song or cut storytime short. The next day, let them choose which story they want to hear to ensure they stay engaged.
5. Introduce a short thematic lesson with props
To grab the children’s attention, hold an object or give them something tangible to use. For example, provide a magnifying glass and a live insect like a grasshopper if you're teaching about insects. They’ll actively take turns looking at the grasshopper to view and identify the different parts.
If you are teaching an alphabet theme, prepare a box with objects and ask the children to identify the letter associated with each object (for example, “s” for “spoon”). They can also select objects from the box and show them to the class as they identify them.
An alternative activity is to practice taking turns and sharing. For this session, instruct the children to pass toys around the circle. Whoever has the toy will share something like a story or a thought. This activity can foster communication and social-emotional skills.
6. Use imagination games
Imagination games empower children with creative thinking skills. Ask them to replicate animal noises, play certain animal roles, or compose stories. Instruct them to “freeze,” then slowly melt to the ground.
This session will help them explore verbal communication and transition them into the learning headspace.
7. Increase interaction with hands-on activities
For preschoolers, learning is kinetic. The more they discover, move, run around, or experiment during structured activities, the more engaged they become. Find ways to make circle time activities a whole-body experience for the children.
If you plan a week’s session, you may use objects and images to illustrate concepts. By the next morning, they’ll be able to remember everything they’ve learned through their recap sessions.
Circle time best practices
Pick a “go-to” movement, activity, or song
Select a “go-to” circle time activity, song, or movement that quickly grabs and keeps children’s attention. This should be an activity or song they’re already familiar with and have shown some preference for.
Use this activity to reorient your class when they start losing focus. Sing the first verse of the song, or encourage the children to participate in the activity for a few seconds.
Always have a learning goal in mind
As a teacher, you have an important role in shaping your children's shared learning experiences. Therefore, you must set a goal for circle time before engaging them in any conversation or activity.
Having a goal will help you anticipate problems as they occur and redirect the children’s focus with meaningful responses or questions. Before starting a circle time session, consider what you want the children to learn from the session and how you want them to feel afterward.
Stick to the time
Remember that children’s attention spans are limited; they can only handle so much activity before they lose focus. For instance, if you have circle time in the morning before the children have their morning snack, consider moving it to after snack time. Always adjust the schedule to when the children seem ready and willing.
Do not allow the circle time session to extend longer than usual. Plan your circle time activities based on the attention span of your class.
Build a routine
Children learn better when they know what to expect. Organize your circle time around a consistent structure they can adjust to and keep a consistent flow.
Use transition techniques
Circle time isn’t always smooth sailing. Some days will seem easier than others, especially if children become distracted or cranky.
Transition activities can make it easy to switch from a previous activity to circle time. Create a balance between the active and passive circle time activities. Try a hopping and counting game, singing a song, playing “Simon Says”, or starting a conversation.
Things to avoid during circle time
- Avoid rigid lesson plans. Observe the children’s attention spans and tailor circle time to this. If you notice their focus waning, introduce a transition technique that will help bring them back to circle time. Make the most of circle time by carrying it out according to their capacity levels.
- Designating seats or sitting spots for the children. Allow children to decide where to sit and maybe make suggestions according to their choices.
- Leaving circle time to talk to a colleague or parent. This practice not only disrupts your session with the children, it can be distracting. In the end, it will be more challenging to have them re-focus on the activity and could affect consequent circle time sessions.
- Using threats or rewards to get the children’s attention. These are inappropriate and ineffective behavior management tools. The children might believe that circle time is not necessarily an enjoyable activity but something they must do.
Frequently asked questions
How long is preschool circle time supposed to take?
Preschool children can’t stay focused for long. To get them to participate in circle time, limit the sessions to no more than 10 minutes. You’ll see that your time spent with the children will be interactive and valuable if done correctly.
How do I carry out my circle time sessions?
The best way to carry out circle time is to involve the children equally in the activities. Respect everyone’s ideas, thoughts, and conversations. This is your time to help the children develop and grow their skills by making them part of their growth and development.
What goes on during circle time preschool activities?
Circle time is when children sit in a circle with the teacher. The teacher directs the session’s activities while allowing them to take turns to speak up. They can pass around an object like a ball or teddy bear, so whoever is holding it is the one who will speak.
Teachers choose group activities, including games, songs, listening, and talking exercises. Sometimes they discuss issues affecting the class or individuals or hold general discussions.
Circle time is meant to develop children’s communication and social-emotional skills. While you want to make it interactive and fun, remember to keep the session short.
To achieve better results, incorporate activities related to the day's subject. Add novelty and variety to your activities to capture children's interests. Make your circle time routine predictable and flexible to help them feel comfortable.
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