Toddlers need to move. They need to bounce, they need to wiggle, and trying to make them stop isn’t only unfair, it’s pretty futile. Toddlers should not be asked to sit and listen to a story that doesn’t interest them just because a teacher has put it on the lesson plan. Circle time for toddlers needs to be very active, and they need to be moving a lot. Keep things short and set your students up for success. Some people don’t think 2-3-year-olds need circle time, and I disagree. I believe that a short time to gently learn how to interact in a group is vital, and when we keep it appropriate, it’s beneficial. My students come into my classroom sometime before their 3rd birthday, so you can imagine toddler circle time can be tough, but it doesn’t have to be. Here are my best circle time tips for toddler classrooms.
Keep circle time short.
When I was a new teacher, I thought I had to have 15-20 minute circle time lessons filled with teacher-directed learning and quiet listening students. That was my job, right? No, our role as preschool teachers is to teach our students skills, prepare them appropriately for their next step in learning, and to make school a positive place to learn. Making lessons too long misses the mark on all of these, will probably end in some significant disruptive behaviors from one or more students, and the experience won’t be positive for anyone.
Keep circle time short, really short, and positive. This shows toddlers that they can sit and listen; they can participate, take turns, and succeed.
Use a circle time routine.
Routines are essential, in my classroom, we move to circle time after snack, children grab a book until the whole group is done snack. We put books away, and then I do a silly rhyme standing ( touch your toes, touch your nose, touch your hips, touch your lips, touch your knees, sit down please), and we sit down. This rhyme is something I added this year as I have a more active class that needs things like that for transitions.
Then we read a book and do a simple activity.
Short interesting books and active circle time lessons
Before we read, I encourage the children to find a comfortable way to sit. For kids that need to move, I encourage them to lay on their belly so that they can wiggle their legs. If you have an assistant teacher having them sit with a wiggling student is a great way to use proximity and modeling. They don’t have to discipline the child, usually just being there is all that’s needed. Never force a child to sit at circle time; they will come when they are ready.
Get to know your students, and adjust your lesson planning to their interests – a child who might not participate in a color matching activity with shapes might decide it’s worth participating if you are color-matching with dinosaurs.
Here is an excellent collection of circle time activities to use –> Circle time activities
What these activities all have in common is that they require children to yell out, move, or walk up to the board for some task. They are active.
Try reading at different times if it’s not working at circle time.
Over the years, I have had classes of 2-3-year-olds that have sat for book after book, and others that take months before we can read more than a few pages at circle time. Instead of forcing students who aren’t ready to sit for a longer book at circle time, if there is a longer book I want to share but know it won’t work at circle time, I read it at snack time instead. If your class isn’t ready to sit long enough for short books at circle time, I think reading at snack is a great way to get reading in ( which is a must) but being respectful of your students’ abilities. Keep testing it out at circle, and they will get there eventually.
If circle time isn’t working, get up and move.
My go-to “save circle time” song is the Hokey Pokey, or Head Shoulders Knees and Toes. It doesn’t matter what the song is, as long as it involves lots of movement! I try to keep my students in our circle time area because I want them to get used to our routine, but if they need to move, we get up. That way, we are still succeeding, and everyone’s needs are being met.
No matter what, keep your cool.
Your students aren’t trying to make you angry by wiggling, getting up, or calling out during the story. They are still learning how to participate at circle time, and it’s our job to create an environment where they can do that successfully. All behaviors are needs trying to be met. It’s our job as teachers to make sure those needs are met either before or with the activities we ask our students to participate in. Getting angry and punishing a young child for trying to get their needs met is not appropriate. While it might work immediately, it won’t help the student learn how to participate positively in your group activity, and isn’t that the whole point?
You can do this – keep it short, keep it active, and keep it positive!