My Two Cents on Circle Time

I’ve been seeing lots of posts on various message boards, email loops, and blogs about circle time and I figured what the heck, I would give my unsolicited opinion as well.

First, I’ll engage in the ultimate form of hubris, self quotation. From Seasons of Joy:

Circle time is both one of the most rewarding and one of the most difficult aspects of Waldorf
education to duplicate in the home. In fact, it is impossible to “do” a Waldorf circle time in your
home the same way it is done in a Waldorf school, unless you plan on inviting 8 to 10 close
friends over each and every day. Find what works for your family. Some families have a set time,
others fit it in when they can, and still others don’t have a circle time, per se, but try to work in
songs and rhymes throughout their day. Experiment a bit, and see what works best for you.

Whenever I am struggling with some aspect of our daily rhythm or my interaction with the children, I ask myself this one question:

What is the heart of this matter?

I tend to save doctrine and dogma for salvation issues. For the rest, I try to boil the issue down to my main goal or purpose.

So, in the matter of circle time, I ask myself (and I encourage you to do the same) what are my main goals in having circle time and how can they best be accomplished? Why am I doing this?

Now, I have never professed to be an anthroposophist, so my reasons for having a circle time might be different from a Waldorf purists. Along this vein, I really love what Donna Simmons has to say on the subject in her book Kindergarten with Your Three to Six Year Old:

What is important about Circle Time, other than the social element, is that it is a focused time to sing, chant, and move. This is necessary for a kindergarten setting, otherwise it would be chaos as it is unlikely to be possible to weave such activities in here and there with a large group of children. At home, though, you can find many opportunities, indoors and outdoors, to work with verses and movement. What is essential is that you do it!… As always, think how you can make your homelife the vehicle for your child’s experiences- not how you can patch kindergarten things into what you normally do. (p. 30)

I have several motivations for having a circle time in my home.

1. I want to an intentional time to share music, movement, and stories with my children, especially my smallest three.
2. I believe that there is a cultural literacy to be gained in sharing childhood songs and nursery rhymes.
3. I believe that circle time is an excellent medium through which to gently bring the children to awareness of seasonal themes and ideas.
4. I believe circle time is a great way to strengthen both gross motor skills (through movement and dance) and fine motor skills (through finger plays), musical concepts, inhibitory control, as well as other pre-academic ideas such as counting, rhyming, colors, and shapes. Sorry, that’s the early childhood teacher in me coming out!

For me, these goals are best met through a formal circle time. Our circle times always follow a rather predictable pattern. We start with a “call to circle,” a verse or a song that says “Hey! Come on into the living room. We’re going to do something special.” Right now, our circle is me, the twins, my 4-year-old, my 8-year-old (who still loves circle!), and my 10-year-old, who likes to be my big-girl helper with the babies. Once we’re all there, we say a quiet, gentle verse and light the candle. I immediately start in with our main circle. Sometimes it tells a story, sometimes we take a “movement journey” or sometimes it’s even just sitting and singing some favorite songs. When it ends, we again say a quiet verse and blow out the candle.

Our current candle set up

We do NOT use circle time as a formal preschool might, with calendar activities, discussion of topics, or even books. I am definitely the leader and have it planned out ahead of time. I don’t take requests, although I may add or delete elements if I feel they aren’t working. We do occasionally play little games as part of our circle time if they fit the theme. I don’t play the piano, but we do sometimes bring in rhythm instruments. But again, this is what works for us and has been refined over 13 years and 6 children!

One thing I do try to be conscious of is balance in my circle. We breath in, we breath out. We try to balance rollicking, high energy activities with quiet moments. I used to end circle time and go straight into my one-on-one time with Daniel, but I found that with circle time as a whole being an “out breathing” activity, he needed to follow it by an “in breathing activity which for him means exploring the “wonder boxes” I set out for him.

Daniel, asking “Mr. Squirrel, Mr. Squirrel, Where did you hide your seed?”

So, if you are struggling with a daily circle time, I would encourage you to start by asking yourself why am I doing this? What are my goals? Once you have those answers, you may have an easier time going forward!

Looking for other perspectives on circle time? Try these!

Lisa’s post from Celebrate the Rhythm of Life

Circle Time 101 from Parenting Passageway

A sample circle from Thinking Willing Feeling

Creating a circle time in your home from Simple Homeschool

More circle time posts here on Seasons of Joy, including several complete circles