Circle Time Routines

I got an interesting questions from Penny and thought you could all benefit from it. She wrote:

Hi.I was very interested in your entry about circle time length. I teach Year 1 students and sometimes find that the circle time really stretches over a long period if you include all six elements: check in, mixer, activity, debrief, energiser, check out. Is this what your circle time is like? I've written about my circle time experiences at www.teachingchallenges.blogspot.com

So, here's my answer:

I actually break up circle into two separate times. I have what I call a gathering time and then a circle time. We'll go into what I do at each group, but basically we typically have gathering time, breakfast, then circle. However, some classrooms don't acclimate to this schedule because it is too much time of "controlled" activity. When this is the case I have breakfast, gathering time, free choice activities (which includes skill builders*) and then circle time.

Okay, now on to what we do at each group. First, gathering time. This is really the time that we do the mundane tasks (or what I call mundane). I include roll call, weather, calendar patterning, the question of the day, and the flag salute. It changes a bit for different age groups as appropriate.

A general outline for a three year old gathering time:
Start with a roll calling song ("Where is ____" sung to Where is thumbkin is a great one because it's a call and response; I also like "_____is here today" for the beginning of the year when they aren't used to the routine yet).
Next we do the weather. I'll assign one person a week to be the "weatherperson" and they can bring in the newspaper report everyday if they like and they get to put up the weather, check out the window, etc...
We then sing the days of the week. This is immediately followed by what day is today? We ONLY discuss yesterday, today, and tomorrow at this age level; it's what's appropriate. We take yesterday out of the today slot and move it to yesterday. This gives them the hint as to what today is. Then we move that from the tomorrow and then figure out what tomorrow will be.
If I am doing this before breakfast, I then begin dismissing them for breakfast. If I am doing this before free choice, I let them know what is around the classroom to do (skill builders, new toys, etc...) and dismiss them and ask, "Where are you going to play?" Note: This does not tie them into that space, it only gives me an idea of what they are thinking and how far along they are in their thought process (If they say to the blocks and they get side tracked on the way there to the art table, they still are working off impulses).

For 4 year old classrooms, this is how group gathering runs:
Roll call song. Once a week at the beginning of the year and two to three times a week towards the end of the year, I do this strictly as a call the name, raise your hand and say "here". This is to get them in the practice for kindergarten.
Again, we do the weather and then sing the days of the week. Again, we do yesterday, today, and tomorrow.
However, we then follow this up with the calendar pattern. THIS IS A PATTERN BOARD. This is really the reason why we do the calendar; to make a pattern. Yes, we count the number of days, but every month we work on a different pattern. The first couple months we might do a simple two item pattern. But, as the year progresses we may make it more complex.
Then we sing the months of the year and then discuss today's date. This is as far as we go discussing the date. They really don't, developmentally, grasp the concept of the date, so the most important is the yesterday, today, and tomorrow.
We then look at the question of the day. I make this part of their coming in routine. The question is already up and as the parents bring them in they sign in, then take their parents to the question of the day and answer the question with them. At gathering time we look at the question that was asked and how the group as a whole answered. Which has the most, which has the least, etc...
At this point, if it's before free choice time, we discuss the choices available.
Then we stand and recite the pledge of allegiance. The children are dismissed after the pledge to whatever is next (breakfast or free choice); again asking where they will be going and possibly what they are planning on doing.

Since this post has been so long, I am going to cut off now and tomorrow I will continue with what circle time consists of.

*skill builders are those planned activities that build on a particular skill such as letter recognitions, patterning, fine motor work, language and literacy, etc...

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