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When Teacher Omari called all the children together for circle time, they expected the children to sit quietly while they read a story or taught colors and shapes. Two-year-old Jamal could sit for about a minute, and then they’d wander off to do something else; three-year-old Minh interrupted Teacher Omari repeatedly; and when they weren’t refusing to join the circle, four-year-old Paola punched or kicked the child next to them. Circle time was not helping children learn social and emotional skills.

Using circle time to promote more learning is not necessarily the primary purpose; rather, circle time should promote a sense of community, and help children learn to know and enjoy each other, and to practice the social and emotional skills they need to succeed.

How to Foster Social-Emotional Learning During Circle Time

  • Create a sense of belonging for everyone.
  • Listen attentively.
  • Make all children feel safe, included, and respected.
  • Pay more attention to the interests and need of the children than to your own need for circle time to happen a certain way.
  • Celebrate success.
  • Encourage everyone to participate but also allow children to pass.
  • Be enthusiastic and keep it lively.
  • Have strategies for how you will respond to negative behavior.

Preventing Problem Behavior

  • Whenever possible, set up circle time away from other distractions (an open door, prep for another activity, etc.).
  • Have two circle times to accommodate different developmental levels; adjust length of circle times to age of child (no more than 5-10 minutes for two-year-olds, or 10-15 minutes for three and older).
  • Include hands-on and physical activities.
  • Organize activities in a sequence so children know what to expect and what comes next.
  • Give choices about where to sit; set boundaries for each child such as carpet squares.
  • Use a circle mini schedule to help children know when their favorite activities will happen.
  • Give opportunities for children to be successful, and praise them when they participate appropriately.
  • Provide fidget toys .
  • Allow children to opt out and do something else if they lose interest before circle time ends.
  • Be prepared to do something else if an activity isn’t working or children are losing interest.

Resources

Get information on what changes you should expect as your child grows with the Developmental Milestones Checklist

Call Pennsylvania’s CONNECT Helpline at 1-800-692-7288 for information about your child’s development and connecting to Early Intervention Services in Pennsylvania.

Get information about the Infant Early Childhood Mental Health Project.

Click here to print the infographic: Using Circle Time to Promote Social-Emotional Skills.

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