So many skills can be developed in circle time that I could write a whole book. In fact, circle time can incorporate almost every area of learning. It can happen indoors or outdoors, in a large or small space, and with small or large numbers of children.
Many children have had increasing screen time and less face-to-face real contact following the lockdown. This means many young children have delays in social interactions and language and communication skills.
Daily circle time is a brilliant way of starting to overcome such delays. Skills like:
- confidence to speak in front of others
- learning from one another
- developing concentration
These all happen naturally at circle time, and the biggest benefit of circle time to our children is that they will be getting lots of that all-important face-to-face interaction with you and the other children.
The beauty of a circle is everyone can see everyone else, and there are plenty of opportunities for eye contact and reading facial gestures. This is important after some children have experienced isolation over the past eighteen months.
Normally, children see people chatting in society all around them, but with lockdowns and mask-wearing, many children have missed out on many of those opportunities. Understandably, this has led to delayed speaking and listing skills. Read on to find out how to overcome this and give our children a good start.
How to Make a Circle
There are lots of ways to make a circle.
You can sit on chairs in a circle, on the floor, or stand up, depending on the activity.
If you are sitting on the floor, mats can be a good way to keep the circle in place so the circle doesn’t lose its shape. If you haven’t got mats, try asking your local carpet store for offcuts.
Ask everyone to join hands and take tiny steps backward if you stand in a circle. Remind everyone not to pull on each other hands or take too many steps too far back. When everyone has their hands outstretched, gently let go, and you should have a perfect circle. If the circle starts to lose its shape, simply repeat holding hands and start again.
Your circle time should be timed differently, depending on the age of the children. As a general rule, it’s thought that children can concentrate for 1 minute for each year of their life, plus or minus one minute.
So, typically, a four-year-old should start with a circle time of about 5 minutes. That’s not long, but the good news is it’s better to leave the children wanting more, so they are happy to come back next time than to keep them too long so that they lose concentration.
Most children love to join in with circle time games and activities, but if you have a reluctant child, try not to put any pressure on them, and don’t put them on the spot. Let them listen to the other children having fun from the circle’s edge. That way, they’ll be more inclined to join when they feel ready.
Read on for lots of fun circle time activities and games:
Circle time is a good time to ensure the children know each other’s names. I’m often surprised by how many children don’t know the other children’s names in their group. You could start each circle time by asking each child to say, sing, whisper, or shout their name.
2. Encouraging speaking out
I like to start circle time with a puppet or a soft toy. Sometimes I pretend the puppet is too shy to come out and face the children. I whisper that if they are really quiet, the puppet may come out to say hello, and I pretend the puppet is hiding their face.
When it’s so quiet that you can hear a pin drop, I make the puppet shyly say hello. I pretend the puppet is whispering in my ear, and I tell the children that the puppet would love to ask the children a question. This is a lovely way of encouraging the children to begin to speak out and is particularly successful with shy or reluctant speakers.
You can ask any question you like. Here are a few to start with:
- I wonder if you can whisper your name to the circle?
- I wonder if you have any pets?
- I wonder if you have any brothers or sisters?
- I wonder where your favorite place is?
- I wonder if you have a favorite color? What is it?
3. Shopping bag game or What I had for breakfast
This is a good game to start with in the morning! It’s a variation on the shopping bag game where you go around the circle saying:
I went to the market and bought (for example) an apple…
The next person in the circle then has to say:
I went to the market and bought an apple and a bag of crisps…
This is a memory game that is great for developing children’s levels of concentration, thinking skills, and listening skills.
If you don’t want to use the shopping bag idea, you can go around the circle and ask each child to say what they had for breakfast or their favorite food.
4. Pay a compliment
This game is a good way of encouraging positivity and kindness. Seeing each child’s face light up as they hear a compliment about themselves can be lovely. I like to pass an object around the circle to help the children focus on turn-taking.
I’ve used objects like a homemade magic wand, a wooden spoon with a face, a small soft toy, or a talking pebble. Depending on the age of the children, you may need to model this activity first by turning to the person on the right, passing them the wooden spoon, and saying something like:
“Stephan has a lovely smile,” or “Keira has good manners. She always says thank you.”
Continue around the circle until everyone has heard something positive about themselves.
5. Pass the magic wand
A magic wand is needed for this activity. Suppose you don’t have a Harry Potter-style wand; no need to worry. You can easily make yourself a magic wand. Stick a foil star onto a wooden spoon, add a bit of glitter, and TADA!
Pass the wand around the circle and ask each child to make a wish. Holding the wand as they speak keeps the children’s interest and encourages turn-taking. I like to have a symbol like this at circle time as it gives the children a visual cue. That way, they know it’s only their turn to talk when holding the wand.
You could ask them to make a wish for a friend, their Mum, or the whole world.
6. Chinese Whispers
This is an old game, but one that can result in lots of laughter and fun. The idea is to pass a message around the circle by whispering it into the ear of the person sitting to your right until the message has gone right around the circle.
With younger children, start with a simple message. Here are a few you could try:
- Santa got stuck up the chimney
- Pepper pig is going to town
- I have a big red bike
- Twinkle, twinkle, little star
If the message gets around the circle successfully, praise the children for good listening skills and make the next message a little longer. You can try whispering a couple of sentences with older children to see if they can listen carefully enough to pass it around.
7. Copy, copy, copy me do
A good activity for developing concentration and coordination skills. I like to start with a mirror and talk about reflections. With smaller groups, you can pass the mirror around the circle and let each child look into the mirror to see how their reflection moves when they move. Explain that the children will act as your reflection, so whatever you do, the children have to copy exactly.
You can make small facial movements like raising your eyebrows, pursing your lips, or wiggling your nose or make larger movements like rolling your shoulders, putting your hands on your head, or shaking your head from side to side.
I use the rhyme:
Copy, copy, copy me do,
I do this, and you do it too.
8. Air writing
Ask the children to imagine that they have a magic finger that can draw, just like a pencil or a paintbrush. Tell them they are going to draw a picture in the air. Show them how to air draw and see if they can guess what your air drawing is.
Start with something nice and easy, like the number eight or a triangle shape. Go around the circle and ask each child to draw a letter or a number. Ask the other children if they can guess what it is.
9. Balloon breathing
This is a lovely activity to start the day with or even to calm the children. I like to use it if it has been a windy day as it settles the children down. It’s nice to have a real balloon to inflate, but you can do it without it.
Ask the children to imagine they are a balloon. First, the balloon is empty but slowly fills up with air. Ask them to put their hands on their tummies and feel themselves filling up with air, then slowly release the air into the middle of the circle with lots of ppphhh… noises.
Repeat a few times, making a bigger release of air each time. Ask the children to relax their shoulders as they blow out all their air. Another version of this is to pretend to blow out a candle in the middle of the circle.
I’m sure you played the game musical statues as a child. Try this version at circle time. Stand in a circle and tell the children they must keep as still as a statue when the music starts. I like to play some calming mood music here.
Try not to blink or move a single muscle except your breath. Feel your tummy moving in and out as you breathe but keep everything else as still as you can. Just let the children listen to the music for a few minutes. This encourages stillness and is the beginning of mindfulness.
11. Simon says
This is an old game, but it’s still worth playing as it teaches listening, concentration, and following simple instructions. It’s also a lot of fun. If Simon says something, the children must do if, for example, if Simon says
Put your hands on your head…
Everyone should do it.
If Simon says to take a tiny step forward
Everyone should do it
BUT! If you say sit down without Simon saying it, and anyone does sit down, they are out. This is good fun and encourages the children to listen carefully. Games like this can also teach children to cope with disappointment if they are out or don’t win, a life skill we all need to learn.
12. Story trails
This is a lovely way to encourage creativity, participation, and imagination. Start with a familiar story, such as a favorite fairy tale or a traditional one. I like to use a story stick – a wooden spoon with a story character stuck onto it, for example, Jack and the Beanstalk or Little Red Riding Hood.
Start with the opening….Once upon a time, there was a boy called Jack ….and pass the story stick to the child on your right and ask them to carry on with the tale. Pass the story around the circle so that each child can add their part of the story.
If a child can’t remember or doesn’t say anything, don’t worry; just pass the stick on. Some children must listen a few times before they are confident enough to join in, or they may be processing the story but aren’t quite ready to say it.
With older children, you can make up new stories from scratch – just let your imaginations run wild and see where it takes you.
13. Kim’s Game
This is a great way to encourage concentration, memory, and turn-taking skills.
You need a large tray with a piece of material or cloth large enough to cover the tray.
Place some objects onto the tray. You can link this to something the children are currently interested in, for example, animals or vehicles. Alternatively, you can use a selection of interesting random objects.
Put your selection of objects on the tray and place it in the middle of the circle. Ask the children to have a really good look at the objects and to try and remember what’s there. With four-year-olds, try starting with six objects, for example, a toy cat, dog, rabbit, chicken, horse, and fish.
Cover the tray with a cloth and ask the children to close their eyes as they remove one of the objects. See if they can remember which object is missing.
You can increase the difficulty by adding and removing two objects simultaneously.
14. I spy (Animal alphabet)
This is a variation of a memory game. Start by thinking of an animal that starts with A and say:
A is for aardvark.
The child to your right has to say:
B is for bear
The next child on the right has to say:
C is for crocodile …
And so on.
If you get stuck, you can pass, but you are out. Continue until you have been through the alphabet or everyone is out.
15. Sail around the world
Another version of a memory game that also encourages imagination and turn-taking. Start by saying:
I sailed around the world, and I saw the sea..
The child to your right should say:
I sailed around the world and saw the sea and a castle..
The next child on the right should say:
I sailed around the world and saw the sea, a castle, and a mountain..
Continue around the circle, adding one more thing each time.
16. Tap your name
A variation of saying your own name but for slightly older children. Show the children how to clap the syllables in your name. For example, Aunty Jo would have three syllables and so three claps, and Mrs. Hannaby would have five syllables and so five claps. Miss -is -Hann -a -by
Go around the circle and ask each child to clap their name, helping them where necessary.
This helps to develop early musical notation skills, listening, and turn-taking. You may need to practice this, so repeat this game daily for a while if you need to. When the children are confident, you can go around the circle again but ask them to clap a friend’s name out this time.
If you have ever listened to the radio program Just a Minute, this is a similar version.
Think of a topic that the children are currently interested in. Explain that you will pass a talking stick around the circle; when holding it, they must keep talking about everything they know about the subject until they run out of words. When they can’t think of anything more to say, they must pass the talking stick to the child on their right. Use a timer and give each child thirty seconds to start with.
This is a good game to use at the end of a topic to see how much the children can remember and what they have learned.
There are endless physical skills that can be developed at circle time. A few minutes a day focussing on physical skills can help children’s brain development and can help to get rid of unwanted energy and settle them down. Sometimes these are referred to as brain breaks, but they help to build brain connections.
Standing in a circle, try this to wake up every morning.
Focus on each body part and give it a shake to wake up. Shake your head, then your hands, your elbows, then your full arms from the shoulders. Shake your feet, one at a time, balancing on the other foot. Shake your legs from the knee, then your full legs. Shake your tummy and then your bottom. Finally, shake your full body from head to toe.
Shake fast and shake slow
Take a big breath and get ready to go.
Try rolling a ball to a child in the circle. Clearly, say their name as you roll it toward them. When they catch it, ask them to roll to another child, saying the child’s name as they roll. Keep going until they’ve got the hang of it. Add another ball so two balls are rolled across the circle simultaneously.
(You can also extend this to throwing and catching with older children).
20. Recycle me
In the middle of the circle, place three large containers. Explain that you are going to recycle the rubbish in the right place for:
- Paper and card
- Plastic bottles
- Food waste
Place a rubbish selection in front of you and choose a child from the circle to post the litter into the right container.
Orange peel or toast crusts go into the food waste container,
Old paper/cardboard boxes go into the paper waste box
Yogurt pots/milk cartons – go into the plastic waste box
These activities can be used with very young children but can be easily adapted for older children.
Consider taking your circle time outdoors. All of these activities can just as easily be