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5 Circle-Time Activities That Encourage Students to Join

Joanna is a hands-on teacher, who has spent many years using the following activities. Her methods have kept children from falling behind.

Circle time should be both fun and educational.

Circle time should be both fun and educational.

Are You Frustrated by Circle Time?

Are you tired of feeling like you're fighting your students to join in during circle time? I know I felt that way—and it really frustrated me. I wanted to find new ideas, so I decided to take several courses on how to modify the environment so that children would want to learn. I tested and adjusted my methods many times before I found something that worked.

In this article, I will outline my daily routine in the classroom. I was amazed by how well the children responded to these techniques.

Three Simple Guidelines for Teachers

As teachers, we are often told to simply make the children sit and listen However, what I found is that this isn't necessarily the best way to encourage students to join. Once I learned to let go of this idea, I no longer worried about children not wanting to participate. I also found that my new method encouraged more students to join than the old method of simply telling them to sit down and join the circle.

There are three important guidelines for this method to work:

  • Do not force the children to come to circle time.
  • Do not force the children to sit still.
  • Keep your mind open to change.

Yes, you have to keep an open mind; every child is different in the way they learn. This is the key to making learning fun.

Read on to learn about the five techniques I've successfully used in my classroom.

1. Use Songs, Signs, and Movement

Children of all ages love to express themselves through singing, signing, and movement. They love to hear the teacher sing, even if it's off-key. They enjoy watching the teacher move around, even if it's clumsy. If you act out the words and dance, you will find that the children will want to do it too.

Let me explain with the example of the song, “Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed.”

You jump when you say jump,

You fall to the floor when the monkeys fall off the bed,

Gently hit your head when the monkeys bump their heads,

and use your hand to make a phone when Mama calls the doctor.

Start every circle time with a song, and the results will surprise you. Just stand up, start singing and doing the movements, and the children will join you without a fight. Don't say it's circle time—just start singing.

Add Sign Language

After your students have gotten used to the movements in the song (perhaps after a few weeks), you can add the hand sign for jump and the hand sign for mother. These are easy for the children to learn. Don't tell them these are sign language motions—just use the signs each time you say those words.

A little girl using The sign for "mother."

A little girl using The sign for "mother."

2. Use Yoga to Transition to the Floor

Now that you have the students' attention with the song, how do you get them to sit down? This is often a challenge for teachers, but I've learned that if you make it the children's choice to sit, there will be no behavior problems. I have found that yoga is a great way to transition from the song to the floor.

Here's how I use yoga:

  • After you have finished your song, sit down with your legs crossed.
  • Cross your arms across your chest, close your eyes, and hum.
  • Every time you take a breath, open your eyes. Then shut them and hum again.
  • By the third time you open your eyes, the children will do the same thing you are.

To learn more about these fun moves, look up yoga for young children. My students loved doing the frog movement.

As a side note, I use yoga not only during circle time, but also throughout the day. When the kids are getting a little out of hand, I simply say "hands up," and then I start a yoga move. Most of the time, the children stop what they are doing and join in.

3. Play the Name Game

After you've done yoga, move on to the name game. Remember, this is an activity for the children, so let them answer.

Here's how the name game works:

  • Put your hand on a child's head and say, "What is her/his name?"
  • When the children respond correctly, say: "Wow, you guys are so smart!"
  • Move on to the next child and ask, "What about her/his name?"
  • After the children answer, say, "You guys are on a roll! Let's see if you can keep it up?"
  • Move to the next child and ask, "Okay, how about his/her name?"
  • Do this until all the children have been named.

This allows the children to feel like they are in charge and have some say in what is going on. Even two-year-olds can play this game.

4. Tell Stories With Props

For this activity, you have to be willing to try something new. Dress up in a silly outfit (or just put on a silly hat), and sit on the floor with your props nearby. Let each child pick something from your pile of storytelling props.

Choose a book that encourages the participation of the children. Dr. Seuss books are great for this. Make sure each page has a key line that repeats throughout the book. Keep in mind: It's not about getting to the end of the book, it's about participating during circle time.

Dr. Seuss Books Work Wonders

The book I love is Green Eggs and Ham. This book is awesome for getting children involved with story time and sign language. The phrase that most excites my students is "Sam-I-am." After only a few pages, the children will start saying this phrase along with you. When you reach this phrase, stop and cup your ear; then wait for them to say it. Even two-year-olds can do this.

After a week of this, choose a page that lists several items, like box and fox, and use hand signs for these words while saying them. Don't teach the hand signs—just use them. The children will start using them too.

The final element is your voice. Use one or more funny voices while reading. Even if you mess up, the kids will be in tune with the story. Laugh when you mess up and start again. This is fun, and the children will help you along.

Another layer you can add to the storytelling is to have a special costume for the book. You can help the children dress up too.

Choose a book that encourages participation.

Choose a book that encourages participation.

5. Close With the Train Game

The train game is a great way to close circle time and transition into center time. The train game teaches your children the names of the various centers in the room.

Here's how to play:

  • You say: "Okay, let's make a train." Stand up with your back to the children and wait for them to join you. The line does not have to be perfect. They will get the hang of it.
  • You say: "All aboard the fun train!"
  • Start shuffling forward, calling, "Chugga, Chugga, choo, choo!" Stop at the first center.
  • You say: "What center is this? What do we do in this center?" Let them answer.
  • If someone supplies the right answer, confirm they are correct. If no one can answer, tell them.

Do this all the way around your room, and don't forget the cubbies. Then go back to the library (or the place where you do circle time) and do one last yoga move.

By doing this every day, the students will begin telling you what the centers are and what you can do in each one.

Add your own twist to this activity, and make it fun!

What You've Just Taught the Children

Here are the lessons you've just taught the children:

  • How to have a back-and-forth conversation.
  • How to actively participate in group time.
  • How to appreciate books, stories, sharing, and singing.
  • How to use actions, objects, and ideas to represent other actions, objects, and ideas.
  • How to communicate in nonverbal ways.

Plus, there are many more early-learning guidelines that you've addressed with these circle-time activities. You covered math, science, and language arts. You've also covered large motor skills and fine motor skills—not to mention social skills. So the next time you prepare for circle time, think about all the wonderful lessons this will teach the children.

Little boy sitting on the floor using hand signs.

Little boy sitting on the floor using hand signs.

This was taken by my daughter.

This was taken by my daughter.

After a Couple of Weeks

After you have got use to the movements in the song, then add the hand sign for a jump and the hand sign for mother. These are easy for the children to pick up on. Do not say this is the sign for, just use them every time you say those words.
Start every circle time with this and the results will surprise you. Just stand up and start signing and doing the movements, and the children will join you without a fight. Do not say it's circle time, just start singing.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2017 Joanna Blackburn