How to begin Circle Time with your preschooler

Is your toddler itching to begin ‘real schoolwork’ like their older siblings? Maybe you want to create more daily rhythm? If so, why not try Circle Time?

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By Kirstee Raki | thiswholehome.com

Do you have little ones itching to begin ‘real schoolwork’ like their older brothers and sisters?

Or is your eldest coming to the stage where they need a little more structure to their days?

Maybe it’s you who needs that little something to relieve any feelings of ‘not doing enough’ or not knowing how to ‘fill your day’ with little ones. I know I’ve been there.

There are lots of reasons why you may feel like starting circle time with your preschool age children is just what your home needs. Read on to find out just what circle time involves at this age and how to make it work in your home.

Let’s begin with the basics and answer the question…

What is 'circle time'?

At its simplest, circle time is merely coming together to have fun, usually while we begin laying the foundations for future academic work. It’s a chance for your child to learn a few of the basics, like how to count or sing a children’s song. It provides a touchstone to the day and helps us as mamas to be mindful of including music and movement in our child’s day.

In a group setting, it may look like the mat time you remember from mornings at kindergarten or resemble rhyme time at your local library. At home, unless you're blessed with a tribe of smalls, it will probably look a little different. But it retains those elements of the child following directions from a trusted adult, building their concentration and practicing a variety of skills in a way that is fun and age appropriate.

Now before I go into the 'how' of circle time with preschoolers, let me just say that there is absolutely no reason why you have to do circle time at home. In a home with a strong rhythm you will already have many anchors to your day in place (and if you don’t, take a minute right now to check out this post on how to establish a rhythm in your home. It’s for mamas too, not just for our kids!).

There are plenty of ways to practice all of the skills necessary at this age that don’t involve circle time at all. Cooking together, singing together as you help your child dress, counting out plates as you set the table… there are myriad ways to learn the skills you typically practice in circle time. Only include circle time in your home because you want to, because you and your child both enjoy it.

If you think that you and your little one will enjoy having this special 'Mummy and Me' time, here’s how you go about it.

5 steps to a magical circle time with your toddler

Step 1: Look at your rhythm and find a time suitable for a big, long out breath of activity. Pencil circle time into this space. You want a time when your child isn’t tired or hungry and when you don’t have a million other things to do.

Step 2: Plan out what you are going to do in advance. I like to write it all out on the circle time planning form included in my Mulberry Homeschool Planner. Knowing what you are doing next helps maintain flow. Things fall apart quickly if you have no idea what happens next.

How I use the Mulberry Homeschool Planner

Step 3: Gather together any materials you need for your planned activities. Perhaps you want to use some musical instruments or dance with play silks (I like these ones, but we also have a collection of fabric offcuts that are wildly popular with my three-year-old!).

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Step 4: Choose a song or rhyme to open your circle, and another to close it. Keeping these the same every time helps your child make the transition in and out of circle time easier. My daughter loves it when we light a candle for our opening verse. Find little ways to bring some magic into your day.

Step 5: Get down on the floor with your child and have some fun!

It's that simple. But if you’re like me, when I’m trying something new I need specifics.

So here they are…

Designing toddler circle time

When I am designing a circle time there are a few important things to keep in mind.

Questions to ask before you begin

Firstly, how old is my child and are my expectations reasonable for her age? 

I want to create a circle that is the right length for her age and development. Anything more will just lead to frustration on my part and hers too. I know as we move into the kindergarten years that I want my circles to tell a story and to help her develop her concentration, but for now, I want to provide 15 minutes of one-on-one time in our day where my daughter is my sole focus.

Secondly, what do I want to achieve with circle time? 

We are Waldorf-inspired homeschoolers and as part of our philosophy, we don’t include structured academics before age 6 or 7. So that isn’t my goal. Instead, at this age I am looking to begin laying the foundations for future literacy and numeracy skills, to give a little direction in developing fine and gross motor skills, but mostly to have fun and provide another touchstone to our day.

Finally, what don’t I want to do? 

I don’t want to make this a chore, for her or for myself. I don’t want to step outside of what is age appropriate, both in regards to content and length, and I don’t want this to feel like busy work. I want us to have fun!

Circle time with my 3-year-old

What elements do I include?

  • I try to have my circle times cover one or two activities each for developing fine motor, gross motor, numeracy and literacy skills. 
  • I choose nursery rhymes, finger plays, songs with actions and sometimes a short story or two.
  • By being mindful of which songs and rhymes I choose, I can get in rhyming practice (one of many literacy skills we cover) and counting practice (numeracy skills) with no effort at all. 
  • If I include one finger play and one song with full body actions I have also managed to add fine and gross motor skill development.

Which stories are best?

You can find plenty to get you started with a quick Google search. Or maybe begin with those you can remember loving as a child. There is something to be said for the classics; Twinkle Twinkle, 5 Little Speckled Frogs, Mary Had a Little Lamb, 5 Little Ducks. I’m sure if you think back to your kindy days you will realise you know heaps of appropriate songs and finger plays!

You can also add in a short story or two. I tend to keep books for quiet time in the evening and instead tell stories during circle time. Often these stories have accompanying hand actions which my daughter will copy, or I tell the story using finger puppets or other small props I have made or found about the house. String plays are another fun way to act out a story (and are great fine motor practice too!). Unless they are particularly breakable props, I like to leave them out later as a play prompt.

When you should stop

Most importantly, we have fun and build a connection. If these two things aren’t happening, STOP!

That’s right. STOP IMMEDIATELY. There is no reason why you have to do circle time at home so if it’s not working don’t torture yourself. Perhaps it was an off day and you can try again tomorrow. Maybe it doesn’t suit either of your personalities, in which case find other ways to build these skills and times of connection into your day. Or maybe your child just isn’t ready to begin circle time, and there is nothing wrong with that! Remember the suggestions up above and try those instead.

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Find a pattern and stick​​​​ to it

One other factor to remember is that children this age thrive on repetition. I know, I know. It can feel tedious for us adults, but there is something to be said for holding the same circle time repeatedly for a period of days or weeks (depending on the child). At this age, you may even like to repeat the same song or rhyme a couple of times in each circle, particularly when you are introducing a new one. When it does come time to change up your circle, don’t forget to keep the opening and closing the same to help with the transition.

But what about if you have older children as well?

Circle time for junior grades

While all of this is happening, my older child is busy with his solo table work. Working alone while his sister is occupied with me helps him get a little peace to concentrate and helps him develop independence and self-direction with his school work. He has enjoyed many years of circle time at home but is moving past it now. Independent work is an excellent substitute for him so long as I remember to build moments of movement and connection into his day elsewhere. If you have a child in the lower grades (usually up to about third or perhaps fourth grade) I recommend reading this post for hints on how to make circle time work for older children.

Another option is to employ your older child as a helper in holding circle time for a younger sibling. Many children feel significant when called on to help in this manner and it also helps to foster sibling relationships.

Above all else, look to your children for what they need in this moment and forget about what everyone else is doing. This is your home, do what works for you!

This article originally appeared on This Whole Home and has been republished with permission.

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Kirstee Raki

Kirstee Raki

Contributor

Kirstee is mum to two from QLD, collector of chickens, a terrible housekeeper, a no-nonsense country-style cook, lover of mason jars, passable vegetable gardener, holistic homeschool educator, to-do list fanatic and bush wanderer. She blogs at thiswholehome.com and shares advice and encouragement on implementing a holistic model of education in your home, as well as practical tips to stay sane as a homeschool mama. Instagram - @this.whole.home

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