Preschool circle time is when the teacher and the children sit together to learn and talk about different things. In a Montessori classroom, this is the only time the whole class sits together as a group. Usually, teachers take this opportunity to talk about the calendar, weather, and theme. But it doesn’t have to stop there. There are lots of other developmentally beneficial circle time activities. I have listed some of my favorite ones. I hope you will find them useful. But before we get into the list, I want to talk a little bit about a few dos and don’ts of circle time.
Best Habits of Preschool Circle Time
Don’t make a speech
Circle time is not a time for the teacher to sit in front of the children and make a speech. There is so much to it than going through the calendar or talking about the weather. Make it a special time to connect with your children. Get them involved in the discussions. Engage them in interactive games. Circle time is one of the best opportunities to build vocabulary and oral language.
This may sound like a no-brainer. Every preschool teacher knows the importance of being prepared. But this doesn’t mean that you have to have a rigid lesson plan. It’s about knowing the outline of what you want to cover. That way you can be mentally ready and have all the materials and props ready at hand. Preschool children have very little attention span. It will take only seconds to lose control of them if you leave them unattended. Be sure you are mentally present as well as physically. Yes, there can be days that you are not up to it. Communicate with your co-teacher and switch some things around. Because circle time needs a lot of mental preparation, energy and presence.
An emergency kit is a set of fun activities, books, or props that you use ONLY when needed. I like my circle time short and sweet. But there are some days that you will have to keep your children on the carpet for a little longer. It can be either because the lunch tables are not ready yet or someone is taking a long time in the washroom. Anything is possible in the preschool environment. In these situations, it is much safer to keep the children on the carpet engaged. Longer circle times are never recommended for preschool age. But It is always a good idea to be prepared if needed.
Circle time duration should never be too long or too short. I usually recommend 15-20 minutes depending on the age group. A maximum of 15 minutes is best for children under 3 years. Choose activities that do not last longer than 5 minutes. Children cannot concentrate for more than 20 minutes. Long circle times are exhausting for the children as well as the teacher.
Choosing circle time games
Preschool circle time games should be carefully chosen. There should be little to no wait time while it’s one child’s turn. I once did a zig-zag game with my preschoolers. I kept a few mini pylons in front of the children and chose a small group of 4 children to go zig-zag around the pylons. It was fun for the children who participated. But it was a long wait for the other children who were waiting for their turn. Before I got into the third group I lost it. The children were restless and even lost interest in participating. The circle time games need to be fast-moving, quick, and engaging.
Dr. Maria Montessori identified that children under the age of 6 are sensitive to order. Children love consistency and knowing what’s coming. This doesn’t mean your circle time should be the same every day. How boring is that? I like to keep a consistent structure to my circle time. I always start with a happy word of the day. Then I have assigned each day of the week to go through the theme, alphabet, numbers, or shapes. I always end my circle with a quick dance to a fast rhythm song. It helps them get the sillies out after sitting on the carpet. Children love this part of the circle and always look forward to it.
It is important to give the children a voice and get them engaged during the circle. But if you let the children take control, it is surely going to end up in a hot mess. The teacher should be in control and guide the children to participate in an orderly manner. Every class is different and it can take a couple of days to find the rhythm of your group. Listen to your children and observe them closely so you can adjust accordingly.
Try to choose simple songs with a fun beat and a great rhythm. Theme-related songs, number songs, color songs, or alphabet songs are also great for circle time. Don’t limit it to singing. You can incorporate music into ‘walking on the line’, yoga, or even meditation.
Visual aids can be posters, picture cards, or banners. I like to have at least 5-6 large picture cards for each of my themes. Most theme topics are abstract concepts. Visual aids make it easier for the child to understand them. Montessori encourages using real pictures as opposed to cartoons or clipart. For example, if you are teaching about mammals, have pictures of real mammals. Because real pictures are much less abstract than cute clipart.
Even if your circle time is 20 minutes, it can be hard for some children to sit through. Take a quick break for some stretching, or jumping jacks to get the sillies out. This will make it much easier for the children to sit through the circle till the end
Something to look forward to
My usual “something to look forward to” is the 1-minute ‘party’ dance. It doesn’t have to be ‘dance’ all the time. It can be a fun story, a funny poem or a silly song. Children love consistency. When they know what to expect at the end of circle time, they look forward to it.
Choose them wisely. Props are great for children between 2-4 years. They give a concrete touch to an abstract concept conveyed by a song or a story. A perfect prop is sturdy and big. Tiny breakable props end up being clutter and they never serve the real purpose too
Don’t try to do everything every day
Assign separate days to talk about different topics. I usually review class rules and introduce the theme on Mondays. Tuesdays and Thursdays are for Language and Math. I do a quick Montessori presentation on Wednesdays. Montessori presentations should be one on one or in small groups. So if you choose to do them in circle time, it has to be a quick one. If you try to do all these every single day, the children will learn nothing. It is much more effective when you focus on a few things per day.
17 Best Preschool Circle Activities You Must Try
Bus game for skip counting
This is a simple and fun game for circle time. You can choose to skip count by any number. 2, 5, and 10 are the easiest. But I have done counting by 3, 4and even 6 with older children. For this example, I will take 5. Start from a corner and ask the first child to say 1, the second child 2, the third child 3, and so on. The fifth child should say “BUS” instead of 5. The word “BUS” should replace 5, 10, 15, 20…etc. The only challenge you might have is when some children have not yet reached that level of skip counting. If you only have few children who are not yet ready to take part, assign a friend to help. But if there are more than a few you can modify the game to suit your class. You can give the children a bean bag to pass while counting and the whole class can skip count together. And say “Bus” together. The bean bag passing will make them feel like it’s their special turn even though the whole class is counting together. This is a perfect example of how children of mixed-aged groups learn from each other in a Montessori classroom.
It is as simple as doing the opposite of what the teacher says. If you say stand up the children should sit. It is a different version of ‘Simon says. A good tip is to have an exit plan. Otherwise, your children will do the opposite of what you say all day. I usually say that the “opposite game ends”. But if you want to make it fancy you can have a sign to start and end. Suggestions for Opposite game
“Roll your hands slow” – children roll hands fast
“Say loud” (say it softly) – children say the word “soft” in a loud voice.
“Put your hands up”
“Stamp your feet hard” …etc
This is a great game to introduce the concept of adjectives and it is more suitable for children of 5+ years. You need the Montessori Triangle Boxes to play this game. The children should have been introduced to different kinds of triangles. This should include equilateral, right-angled scalene, obtuse-angled scalene, acute-angled isosceles, acute-angled scalene, obtuse-angled isosceles, and right-angles isosceles. Each in three different sizes and three different colors. (63 triangles in total) Lay all the triangles on a mat. The game should go like this.
Teacher: “John could you bring me a triangle please”. John brings a random triangle
Teacher: “This is a triangle. But I wanted a blue triangle. Sara, could you bring me a blue triangle please.” Sara brings a blue triangle.
Teacher: “This is a blue triangle. But I wanted a small blue triangle. Daniel could you bring a small blue triangle please”. Daniel brings a small blue triangle.
Teacher: “This is a small blue triangle. But I wanted a small blue scalene triangle. Anne could you bring me a small blue scalene triangle please”.
Continue until you are out of choices. ‘Triangle game’ is a great way to introduce adjectives and sentence structure. This is a little advanced game and is for older children. But if you have younger children you can do a modified simple version of it with different colored and sized lego.
Culture Basket Show and Tell
This a great circle time activity if you are in a culturally diverse community. Children can bring any item representing their culture. Keep them in a basket or display them on the shelf. Choose one child to talk about their cultural item to the class. This is an excellent way to promote self-confidence, self-esteem and public speaking skill. Do not have more than 3 children per day. It will be a very long wait time for the children who are sitting and they can get restless.
Rhyming words with ‘Down by the Bay ‘
Down by the Bay is a traditional folk song and an all-time favorite of my children. The best thing about this song is that you can add your own rhyming words and they don’t even have to make sense. The sillier it is it’s better. This is a great way to build vocabulary and introduce rhyming words.
Down by the bay – Lyrics
Down by the bay – where the watermelons grow Back to my home – I dare not go For if I do – my mother will say “Did you ever see a Goose kissing a Moose?” Down by the bay// Chorus “Did you ever see a Whale with polka-dotted Tail?” “Did you ever see a Fly wearing a Tie?” “Did you ever see a Bear combing his Hair?” “Did you ever see a Llamas eating their Pyjamas?” “Did you ever see a Cat losing his Hat? “Did you ever have a Time when you couldn’t make a Rhyme?”
The children can add their own rhyming words. They can even be funny nonsensical words
1 2 3 Bumble Bee
Everyone should stand up for this game. One child should go in front, look away and say “1 2 3 Bumble Bee” while turning towards the circle. The other children should freeze in a silly pose. They can neither move nor show their teeth, The child in front should try to get them to laugh or move.
One minute Meditation
Meditation doesn’t have to be too long. The best time for meditation is the morning circle time. Every day my circle time starts with one-minute Meditation. It gives them a boost to stay focused, the rest of the time. The most common meditation type is breathing meditation. It’s about being mindful about inhaling and exhale.
Post a large 100 chart on the wall in front of the circle. Have loose number cards 1-100 in a box. They should match the size of the squares of the chart. Let a child pick a random number from the box and place it (using sticky tack) where it belongs on the chart. In 100 days the chart will be full. You can start it all over again.
This is one of the best vocabulary building circle time activities. The whole class gets together and makes up their own story. Whoever has the stone should add a line to the story. The teacher starts the first line. If you give it a funny start the children will be enthusiastic to participate. It’s a good opportunity to give the children a voice and get them engaged. The teacher can lead and assist the children who are reluctant to speak.
Three-period lesson – Modified
The three-period lesson is a unique Montessori technique to teach new words. The proper way to deliver a three-period lesson is one on one. But in today’s classroom, it is not safe for one teacher to sit with one child and ignore the rest. The best alternative is a small group. Usually, it is not recommended for circle time. But I have done modified three-period lessons to introduce theme-related words. The key is to have big enough pictures or objects so they are visible to everyone in the circle. They should be clear, distinct, and eye-catchy.
Rote counting is a simple way to get the children familiar with numbers. They will not learn the value of numbers by rote counting. But familiarising the number words makes it easier to teach them properly later. Children love the number 100. It always excites them to count to hundred. You can even do skip counting.
Sight word hunt
It is ideal if your word wall words are big. Have another stack of loose words with you. Give a child a word card and ask him to find the matching word from the wall. Sight words have no rule. They are not phonetic. The only way to learn them is by memorizing them. This is a great way to familiarise children with sight words.
Theme discussion with LOTS of visual aids
Circle time is the best time to discuss the theme. As I mentioned above, theme topics are abstract. The best way to make it easy for preschoolers is to include as many photos, images, and posters. You can also have large Nomenclature cards and post them on the board.
The teacher hangs a sign that says “SILENCE” on the board as a signal to start the game. The children immediately sit quietly. They will soon start hearing tiny and far away sounds that they didn’t hear before. The teacher stands away from the carpet, covers her mouth, and calls a child’s name. The children cannot lip-read the teacher because it is covered. They have to be really quiet in order to hear their name. “…certainly silence is a very difficult thing, indeed impossible, because to obtain it there must be an absolute lack of movement. There can be grades of it, however, just as there are grades of sounds and noises.”, Maria Montessori. Montessori Silence Game is not a strategy to quiet a noisy class. Dr. Maria Montessori identified how essential ‘silence’ is to the human soul. To do this game properly children should be trained to control their ‘movement’. Because the only thing necessary to ‘silence’ is to have no movement.
Circle Time storybooks should be short and interactive. Books with rhyming words are perfect for circle time. Because you can let the children guess the end of the sentence. This will keep the children engaged and focused.
My children love when I improvise stories. There are lots of ways to make improvised stories fun. You can combine and mash up stories that are already there. You can use your children’s names as characters. Make them motivational, inspirational, silly, funny, or even nonsensical. The possibilities are endless. Any of these options are beneficial for the children. They improve vocabulary, sense of sequential order, and imagination. If you run out of ideas, do not hesitate to ask the children. “What do you think happened next?” This is a great way to get them actively engaged too.
Walking on the line
Tape around the carpet as a markup line for the children to walk. Play some light classical music in the background. The simplest level is to walk without stepping outside of the line. This needs a lot of balancing practice it will never be perfect the first few tries. This should be a daily practice. Once the children perfect that level, give them challenges. Let them hold small classroom items while walking. Holding a small bell without making noise is also challenging. Make it fun by using ribbons or scarves. Teach them a pattern of steps. The purpose of this activity is to teach control and balance their movement.
Circle time with preschoolers is like learning to ride a bicycle. You can’t learn from a book. You will never learn it unless you get on a bicycle and ride it and find your balance. Circle time is the same. You have to sit with the children, get to know them, and discover your rhythm.