How to Plan Circle Time for Preschool and Kindergarten
The best circle times are filled with fun stories and games to support early language and social skills. Plan creative circle times with these tips for hands-on learning through play.
Circle time can be one of the most exciting - and beneficial - parts of your daily schedule. Whether reading a story together, playing a take-away game, or having an animated conversation, circle time is a great opportunity to share and interact as a group.
Along with the sense of camaraderie that grows among the children, kids benefit from the early language and social skills practice provided by a small group experience.
Preschool circle time
Circle time is often scheduled as a routine part of the day in an early learning program. It can serve as a welcome session, where teachers and students interact to organize and plan the day; a closing session to review the day's accomplishments or events; a story circle, to listen, observe, comment, and share experiences.
Children generally look forward to a routine event like circle time. There is a sense of anticipation - along with predictability - in gathering with classmates in a designated space. Activities are usually hands-on, and often related to a topic or theme.
An effective circle time event takes careful preparation, planning activities that will meet the needs of the children in your care while providing opportunities for exploration and discovery.
Tips for successful circle times
Circle time can be both fun and educational. While the event can be teacher-led, kids learn best when activities are hands-on and interactive.
Here are a few ideas to consider for an effective circle time.
Plan a circle time that provides a mix of listening, responding, and moving.
- Help kids practice their listening skills by reading a story that grabs their attention. Use facial expression and voice modulation to highlight words or actions.
- Help kids practice language skills by giving them opportunities to engage in conversation. Ask thoughtful questions such as: Did you ever build a snowman? Do you think the snowman will melt?
- Help kids better understand or relate to a story with extended activities, engaging gross motor movement and sensory skills. Use of instruments or puppets can add value to the circle time experience.
The space designated for the circle time should be clearly defined by the use of mats or furniture placement. A cozy setting will add to the calming mood of the event. Mats or chairs will then be set aside to allow for movement activities.
Seating arrangements will be determined by the circle time activity.
- For a teacher-led activity such as reading a book, all participants require a good view of the teacher. Children can be seated in a semi-circle facing the teacher. For a larger group, form two semi-circles, one in front of the other.
- For other activities, such as games or movement, children may be in a circle with the teacher.
3. Length of event
Plan for approximately 15 minutes for young children, but extend the time if you have a group that is attentive to the content. Try not to include too much information or a wide variety of activities in one circle time.
More than one circle time can be scheduled in the daily planner to accommodate program goals or teaching strategies.
Related: More tips for circle time / Preschool Plan It
What to include in circle time
The activities you choose will depend on curriculum and program goals as well as teaching styles. Plan activities that can be child-led or involve all children with minimal time for taking turns.
Strive for a balance of listening quietly, taking turns, and exploring hands-on.
4. Example of setup
Circle time begins with children sitting on the carpet, with the teacher seated on a chair or low stool facing the group. A theme or topic is sometimes introduced. Stories and activities chosen will extend this theme.
The session often opens with the teacher reading a story.
Other activities can be incorporated into the circle time such as:
- singing a welcome song
- identifying a letter of the week or helper for the day
- updating calendar and weather charts.
Following the seated portion of the circle time, the teacher invites everyone to stand for a stretching game or music and movement activity.
- Read a story about rain, then pretend to be raindrops falling from the clouds. Stretch fingers to the sky, then flutter fingers to the floor like raindrops.
- Sing the song:
A variety of props can be included in the play so intentional teaching is hands-on and interactive rather than delivered with flash cards or rote learning.
- Use puppets to role play a story to promote imagination, and support social and language skills.
- Include a flannel board with felt cut-outs for each child to add to the story.
- Distribute musical instruments to sing a song related to the story or theme.
6. Be flexible!
Listen to the kids, be alert to their moods. Be prepared to read a book the children request rather than one you had planned. Or spend most of the circle time discussing a local event or someone's new pet if the children are engaged and interacting.
Tone down an activity if calm is needed, add more gross motor to the circle if sitting is continuously interrupted by wiggling!
Be prepared to end an activity or change direction if kids lose interest and become restless. It helps to have a toolkit you can draw from if a planned activity is not well received.
- Spontaneous activities can be as simple as reading a favorite lift-the-flaps story book, leading the kids in a clapping song, or playing a game of hot potato.
Activities for circle time
Here are a few suggestions for homemade props and fun activities to include in a circle time with preschoolers.
Reading a book is a traditional way to open circle time is Follow these tips for small group reading.
Support finger play with this reversible felt glove you can easily make.
Talk about emotions with preschoolers with the help of a feelings tree.
Make story time amazing with these interesting options for telling stories.
Make your own felt board to extend stories or add hands-on activities to the circle time.
Include music in your circle time with our free printable music program.
- Make your own musical instruments kids can use at circle time.
Kids will love singing this school bus song as they learn the letters of the alphabet together.
A circle hunt felt board activity is perfect for getting kids moving and bringing shapes back to the circle.
A rhyming game like this one around the apple tree is a fun circle time activity with preschoolers.