I teach a parent-child class where the toddlers are 12 – 30 months in September. Each week, we do a circle time for music and stories. I tell the parents that not only does music have many benefits for children’s learning, and not only do rhymes and songs help teach language skills, circle time is also a chance for children to begin to practice key skills for kindergarten readiness: the ability to sit still, to listen to a teacher, to notice and do what the other people around them are doing, and to stop doing something when asked. (We do the shaker song every week, “oh you shake and you shake and you shake and you stop” and I talk about how huge this is for practicing impulse control.) My secret agenda is that teaching parents things to do with their children builds connections. Plus, of course, circle time is fun!
At the beginning of the year, I make sure parents know that their children will not yet be good at sitting still and paying attention for the full circle time, but the more we practice, and the more we model that behavior for them and encourage them to try, the better they’ll get. At the beginning of the year, circle time is about 10 minutes long. By the end of the year, it’s 20 – 25 minutes.
I always go in the same order each time, just adding more pieces to each segment as we go along. That way the children learn the ritual, and are better able to participate because they can predict what will happen next.
- Greeting Songs – each week we do the “I roll the ball to [name] song” and one other greeting song which uses the child’s name and gives each child a moment in the spotlight.
- Lap Songs – when we bounce children in a rhythm, it helps to instill rhythm in them at a fundamental level. It also helps to build their vestibular system. These songs are also super fun, and get lots of giggles going.
- Finger Rhymes – these teach a lot of vocabulary, and also teach children to notice patterns… “after dad says ‘with a one step and a two step’, he’s going to tickle me.”
- “Theme Activity” – I always have some small toys, puzzle pieces, or decor items tied into the theme gathered in my red gift bag. We sing “what’s in the red bag, the red bag, the red bag…” song. The kids come running over to find out. I give each one an item to take back to their parent – they talk about it together, then we do a few rhymes or songs that are related, then they bring them back to me.
- Book (we start these about halfway through the year)
- Shakers – we do the shake and stop song, sometimes some other songs, sometimes we turn on recorded music and dance and shake to the music.
- Active Songs, with or without parachute. Moving around the room in rhythm to the music is great at building coordination, rhythm, and large muscle skills.
I’ve gathered the ideas for my circle time rhymes and songs from many great sources. I have lots of favorite songs (here are links to lyrics and to videos showing hand motions). I have some favorite toddler books I share.
I have a full year’s worth of circle time plans for my toddler class – it’s organized by theme, and we do each set of songs for about 4 – 6 weeks. Themes include: fall, winter, spring, farm, zoo, stars, transportation, ducks, and beach.
For my science class for 3 – 6 year olds, we do two completely different circle times each week – opening circle teaches a rhythm activity, a discussion of the day’s topic, and a non-fiction book. Closing circle teaches a song, we read a fun imaginative fiction book related to the day’s theme, and we often do a group game to reinforce the day’s learning. You can find about 35 topics worth of circle time plans at www.InventorsOfTomorrow.com.
Do you have any great tips for how to help circle time go well, any favorite songs, or favorite resources for finding more ideas?
I teach preschoolers, not toddlers. I alternate active and quiet activities, as active stimulates the brain so learning is more effective during quiet activities. Props with stories and puppets to do the talking are always favorites. I play the autoharp – only a few notes, but that’s all a song needs. This is hands on music. I make up rhyming on the fly, and have plenty of different movements. Of course reading books is the best of all.