Monday, February 29, 2016

Circle Time: The Best Time of Your Day or the Bain of Your Existence?!

"You is okay, Miss Cheryl.  You can play!"

Circle Time is one of my favorite times of the morning.  

I love hearing about the children’s adventures since we last saw each other (even if that was just yesterday!).

I love sharing new ideas and new materials.  

Sometimes I even have my blood pressure checked by a resident doctor! It’s an exciting time in preschool!

However, it was not always like that!  

Circle Time used to be the bain of MY existence.  

Figuring out how to get 16-24 children to focus on what I was saying was akin to herding kittens!

Circle Time is a common part of the preschool day and a traditional time spot in most preschool schedules.  It is meant to be a time of coming together as a group, or preschool family if you will, where learning and bonding happen. 

Unfortunately, with the pressures of trying to “get it all in” before kindergarten, many preschool programs have “morphed” preschool circle time into a version of the Kindergarten Morning Meeting with one ingredient missing:  Kindergarteners!  

In efforts to properly prepare preschoolers for Kindergarten, the expectations of preschoolers has been adapted to kindergarten expectations, but preschoolers are still preschoolers—not kindergarteners.

Unfortunately, for children it can be a time filled with boredom and frustration leading to disruptive behavior.  

This results in more frustration (for all involved) as they are corrected for sitting in the wrong spot, not looking where they should or not remembering and/or recalling what was just taught or discussed.

For teachers, it can be a frustrating and seemingly futile undertaking as stories are endlessly interrupted, multiple potty breaks are needed and, it seems, most of the time is spent redirecting children’s focus or rearranging carpet mats or squares.

Many early childhood teachers are instructed in college about all the wonderful opportunities we have to prepare children for Kindergarten through our preschool Circle Time. 

They are taught to take advantage of this window of opportunity each day where we have the children’s undivided attention as a group and use this time to teach the concepts they’ll need to know such as:

  • Calendar (including ordinal counting, “yesterday/today/tomorrow”, days of the week and months of the year)
  • Weather (including dressing the weather bear and therefore learning about seasons and dressing properly for each)
  • Letter recognition (letter of the week)
  • Number recognition (number of the week)
  • Shape & Color recognition (yup-with shape and/or color of the week)
  • Attention span/focus through reading a story

What they don’t teach is what to do when preschoolers act like….I don’t know…….preschoolers.

Many early childhood college classes focus so much on “preparing our children for kindergarten” that we begin treating them like kindergarteners and imposing kindergarten level expectations on their preschool levels of understanding and ability.

My mantra has become loud and clear:

We all need to remember that preparing preschoolers for Kindergarten involves giving them meaningful experiences withe time to explore, question and interact with the tools, materials and environment they are in now.  And that includes Circle Time!

Yes, they will have Morning Meeting in Kindergarten where they will be expected to sit in a large group and:

  • Respect their own space and that of others
  • Not poke the friend next to them
  • Listen to a 15 minute story
  • Focus on the person talking
  • Participate in Calendar, weather, and learning letters, spelling, numbers, addition and more.

This does not mean placing the expectations of mastering these skills on them now.  These areas take time to develop.  
In many preschool classrooms I have observed this type of Circle Time happening and it lasts 30-40 minutes! That is not learning.  That is conforming.  And frustrating.  And ineffective.  And, yes, it is like herding kittens.

Let's face it, we are spending most of that time trying to control their focus--which was lost about 18 minutes ago! 

Having effective and successful Circle Times happen by planning the activities that will be presentied in the same way as any other Interest Learning Center activity in the classroom is planned:  

Intentionally and with the abilities of the individual children in the classroom in mind.

Let's consider Tanagrams for a moment.  

The first time we introduce them, it might be at the Math or the Manipulatives/Game Center (or even at Circle Time).

We don’t expect the children to begin creating patterns & shapes and understand parts and wholes immediately after removing the tanagrams from the box.

We give the children time to explore the materials in ways that make sense to them: touching, stacking, sorting, spreading them across the table, etc.  

Once they have more experience with them, we introduce the pattern or shape cards.

It’s the same with Circle Time.  We should not start preschool with the expectation that they have the skills and experience to meet the end goals as listed above (focusing on a 15 minutes story, taking turns speaking, etc.).  We need to give them visual reminders, time, and hands-on ways to learn these things and continually do this throughout the year. 

For Storytime we can find ways to make the story intereactive.  We can provide story related props for the children to use and hold during the story, flannel pieces to add to the flannel board throughout the story or opportunities to act out the story as we read it.

To teach children how to focus on the person talking and take turns talking, we can provide a visual reminder such as a Conversation Rules Poster (click here for a free download of the poster)

We can also plan activities where they can practice this in shorter time periods rather than expecting the group to sit through loooonnnnng coversations and stay focused!  For example, ask a question (such as their favorite color, favorite character from the story you just read, etc.) and then roll a ball to one child to answer the question.  That child then rolls the ball to another child and he/she answers the questions.

When a child starts telling you their favorite color or character, now is when we can remind them about taking turns:  "Cheryl, it sounds like you want a turn answering the question!  Right now Billy has the ball so it is his turn.  One moment, your turn is coming!"

Getting Back to Circle Time!

Let’s get back to what preschool Circle Time was meant to be: A time to share experiences.  A time to connect and bond as a group and as a classroom community. 

Here are the Top 6 Do's for Circle Time:

1.       Time:  Do not make group time longer than preschoolers can handle! 

2.       Balance:  Provide a balance of active and passive activities throughout group time.

3.    Flexibility: Ditch the activity when you see you are “losing” them. 

4.    Intentionality: Treat Circle Time as an Interest Learning Center!  Know your goals for group time each day.  Plan for it as you would any other area of your weekly planning with hands-on,  developmentally appropriate activities and expectations.

5.   Preparedness: Have a plan! Be prepared!  Many times I see teachers gathering the supplies or book or items they’ll need for Circle Time after they’ve gathered the children.  Having them sit there for 5 minutes while you get ready……well, you’ve already lost them.

6.     BE:  Show up for Circle Time!  Be sure YOUR mind is focused on the children and not on the next activity, or tonight’s staff meeting, or chatting with a co-worker about the weekend plans.  The children will know if you want to be there…..and if you aren’t focused and excited about this group time, why would they be?

I’ve written a couple of articles about Circle Time that give more information that you might be interested in:

About the author
Cheryl Hatch has taught and directed preschool programs for over 20 years.  She is the Creator and Owner of Preschool Plan It, a website dedicated to sharing preschool themes, activities, articles and training with early childhood educators.  She volunteers as the coordinator and teacher of the MOPPETS program in her town (a preschool program for the M.O.P.S.--Mothers of Preschoolers Program).  She has her undergraduate degree in Early Childhood Education.  Cheryl has been an active, integral member and leader within the Teachers.Net Early Childhood community for many years, moderating live chats and providing peer support on the Preschool Teachers Chatboard.  You can read Cheryl’s articles, activities and themed preschool lesson plans at 

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Fit Bodies = Fit Minds

Fidgety bodies make for closed minds.  The vestibular system needs to be activated to learn.  (This is why Debbie Clement has those  Wobble Seats everyone!

• Swinging, rocking, vestibular activity is related to the highest level of thinking. (Joan Firestone)

 • What makes us move makes us think.  Movement builds the framework for cognition & brain development. (Jean Blaydes-Madigan)• Combining language with movement increases cognition 90%. (Pat Wolfe)
                    And what is the best partner to all of this?  You know the answer.
Classroom teachers.  I know.  You are frustrated.  You say "We are not allowed" an awful lot.  How frustrating that must be!  Let me offer some suggestions on how to integrate music and movement into the day without disruption.

Many schools are now beginning their days with Brain Gym or Yoga type exercises.  And, they are seeing HUGE improvements.   Recently, I released a CD I worked on with Tere Bowen Irish, a well-respected OT.  It is called My Mindful Music

Children and teachers alike are enjoying the activities that help refocus our tired or disrupted minds.  Or, re-energize our minds when we just don't want to do any more!!!!

Here are a couple of activities :
 Stretchy Bands are a great
tool for teamwork and working our muscles.  Just ask Carole Stephens!  She has a lot of ideas for these.

 StretchyBand Songs I use.

The first song is VERY easy.

"Who can pull the stretchy band?"  Children answer "We can" while taking 2 steps back
Follow the words
"Pull it out, pull it out. Pull and pull and pull.  Now, walk the stretchy band back in"
Take four steps out - 1, 2, 3, 4.  Take four steps in - 1, 2, 3, 4
Like I said, easy.

Sometimes, it's just good to breath.  Every time I do this in a workshop, the teachers are so quiet afterward and say "That feels so good."
Close your eyes.  Put your hands over your belly button and relax.
Breath in.  Hold it.  Release the air while saying "SHHHHH"
You do not need the song to do this activity.  Put on some quiet, instrumental music (preferably new age or binaural music).  

Taking 5 minutes here and there will benefit you and your children.  It will put tools in place for how to self regulate.  And, it will get the brain ready to move onto the next task which will be learned more easily and retained longer.

Visit my Daily Brain Facts on Facebook   Make music and movement an important part of every day.  Please leave comments on what you are doing in your classrooms to get everyone moving.  I LOVE hearing from you!

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Driving the Imagination

It's Scott from Brick by Brick. I love to repurpose materials—use materials in ways different from their intended purpose.

I want to share with you one of the all time favorite activities in my classroom. This activity has been enjoyed by numerous groups of children. In fact, whenever I have this set up in my classroom, someone always plays here. Always. Here's the complicated preparation for this activity.

It's a car! 4 chairs and a steering wheel. My steering wheel is a steering wheel cover. It's just like I bought it at the big box store - on a circle that looks like a steering wheel. I added a little tape to keep it from sliding off. Don't have a handy steering wheel? Use a paper plate. Cut it to look like a steering wheel. Or just use it as is.

My children love this. Every group I've taught loves this.

They pretend to drive to all kinds of places - the store, Chuck E. Cheese, Disney World, grandma's house.

This car is definitely powered by imagination. I usually don't add many other items. Sometimes I put purses (from the thrift store) nearby. Sometimes I add our regular dress-up clothes (also from the thrift store). Sometimes the baby doll and diaper bag. Sometimes a small suitcase to suggest a longer trip. 

But usually just the chairs and steering wheel.

It's a versatile vehicle. Sometimes it becomes a sports car, with seats for a couple of friends.

Sometimes it grows to be a everyone can ride at the same time.

Add this magical mode of transportation to your classroom. Then sit close by and listen to the conversations and interactions. I guarantee you'll be driving with imagination in no time.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

KINDNESS - Be Kind, Teach Kind - Part II

 How to Be Kind, How to Teach Kind 

Ms. Brigid here, from Merit School of Music  in Chicago. Thank you for joining me!

In a month that celebrates love and friendship, I’d like to revisit last month’s topic – Kindness. As part of my January post, I put out a call for books and activities that helped foster kindness in the Pre-K and Kindergarten classrooms, and received many thoughtful suggestions. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

My favorites for use in music class:
Because of You by B.G. Hennessy is a sweet picture book. The text and bright, cheerywatercolor illustrations make easily understood points for younger Early Childhood kiddos. I created a musical chorus that I inserted every few pages. It’s not rocket science, but the kiddos learned and sang the simple chorus easily and with great sincerity.
Because of you, because of you,
You make the world a better place.
Because of you, because of you,
You put a smile upon my face.

Flora and the Penguin by Molly Idle, is a book without words – but nevertheless, it documents perfectly how misunderstandings occur between friends, and the reparations needed for a thoughtless response. I pair the book with a post-reading paper plate skating session to an excerpt of Waldteufel’s The Skater’s Waltz and encourage fancy stuff like twirling, skating backwards, etc.

If you have more time, the next three books are great for small groups: Helen Lester’s All For Me and None For All about the reformation of a greedy overbearing pig: Iza Trapani’s Baa Baa Black Sheep, recommended by friend Anna Stange, about giving and misgivings: and Kadir Nelson’s If You Plant a Seed, the alarming yet beautifully illustrated (eek) picture book drawing the similarity between planting a garden and planting seeds of kindness.

For older kiddos in First or Second Grade, I recommend Trudy Ludwig’s The Invisible Boy. Patrice Barton’s beautiful illustrations perfectly capture the essence of the poignant story about a boy who is overlooked and ignored by his classmates until...well, I’ll let you find out for yourself!  From the book jacket: “…this gentle story shows how small acts of kindness can help children feel included and allow them to flourish. Any parent, teacher, or counselor, look for material that sensitively addresses the needs of quieter children will find ‘The Invisible Boy’ a valuable and important resource.’ I agree completely.

Each Kindness by Jacqueline Lewis, is also highly recommended for older kiddos. I shared this with one of my Second Grade teachers, and she read it to her students. They commented that the book embraced the same theme – inclusion - as R.J. Palacio’s book, Wonder, but with a fraction of the pages! There is no resolution, but the protagonist comes to a greater self-realization, and is “…stung by the opportunity that’s been lost. How much better could it have been if she’d just shown …a little kindness and opened her heart to friendship?” (from the book jacket).

The Children’s Music Network’s Peace Songbook: Peace Songs for Children yielded a number of wonderful song, among them, Pam Donkin’s Kindness is Everywhere, which my kiddos loved singing.   

I Will Be Your Friend, published by Teaching Tolerance, yielded more treasures, among them, Bob Blue’s Courage – which still brings me to tears. It is not a song for Pre-K, or even K, though others may hold another opinion, but definitely a song to hold in your heart. This book is out of print, but may be found quite easily on secondary book markets. It originally came with a CD of the songs in the book – and if you find a copy with a CD, you have truly struck gold.

Lastly, I stumbled upon a site called Erase Meanness. The brainchild of Eric Johnson, a 6th grade teacher in Mishawaka, IN, his original idea has grown into an international movement involving thousands and thousand of students in over 15 countries and six continents -  and going strong! 

Merit School of Music, Chicago
Call on Merit School of Music! Our onsite school is in the West Loop. We work in the schools throughout the area providing band, orchestra, percussion, choir, early childhood, and general music instruction with project based units including Recorder, Music and Storytelling and Songwriting. We do great work! YoYo Ma is a supporter!

Chicago Families
Please come to Merit’s Storytime sessions. It’s free, fun, and facilitated by singers and storytellers Amy Lowe, Irica Baurer, Janet Janz, & Brigid Finucane. Stories and songs start at 11am, and we end with time for family networking. Storytime is be offered once a month on the 2nd Monday. The next session is March 14, 2016.

I am continually inspired by the Children’s Music Network (CMN) community, an international group of socially conscious musicians, educators, librarians, families, songwriters and good people, who “celebrate the positive power of music in the lives of children by sharing songs, exchanging ideas, and creating community.” Please visit CMN, and find a gathering in your region.

©2016 Brigid Finucane  * 847-213-0713 *

Blog History
June 2015. Summer Songs

Aug.2014. Educators Who Care, Share. Singers, Sites & Songs – Part II: Midwest & Great Lakes (Listening Locally)          

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Here We Go Looby Loo!

Here we go Looby Loo!
February chill have you stuck indoors more often? Need an easy circle dance that anyone from toddlers who walk to K’s who need a brain break can do? “Looby Loo” may fit the bill perfectly! Miss Carole of Macaroni Soup here in chilly, finally snowy Chicago where outdoors won’t be happening until the temperature/wind chill creeps above 0!

Though “Looby Loo” is over 100 years old and from English folk tradition, it’s still a favorite in my classes. And btw – if you learned it at Loopty Loo or Loop de Loop – try the original lyric - it’s easier for kids to sing.

"I give my foot a shake shake shake!"
“Looby Loo” is a good first circle dance to teach.  No one falls down at the end (…I’m just sayin’…)  It can be done appropriately slowly with toddlers, or with bounce for older children.  It can be done holding hands, or not. You decide what works best for your group.

Hear it on my Tiny Tunes recording, or watch a bouncy version with my buddy Patty Shukla on YouTube.  Either way you do it, please learn the song (it’s really easy) and sing it – without a recording.  That encourages the children to sing, too.  That’s important!

Here we go Looby Loo - again!
Here we go looby loo
Here we go looby lie
Here we go looby loo 
All on a Saturday night

I put my hand in
I put my hand out
I give my hand a shake shake shake
And turn myself about, Ohhhhh….

Additional verses: foot, head, backside, whole self!

NOTE:  I don’t use “right” and “left” hands/feet because most of the children I work with have not mastered that concept.  Same for “The Hokey Pokey”.
We're leaning in to shake our heads!

The Dance:  Form a circle - I have the children hold hands.  Walk in the circle for the chorus.  Let go of your neighbor's hands for the verses - doing what it tells you to do in the song!  I extend the "Ohhh" at the end of each verse until everyone is holding hands again.  The kids love that part!

Whole self?  Shake Everything!

I’ve been singing this song since I was a child – I actually remember my sister, Mom and I singing it in my living room!  Sometimes the simplest things are the best.  Look at the smiles on the kids’ faces – they don’t (looby) lie!

Put your whole self in!
Summer Looby Loo!

Teacher Looby Loo!

Thanks to the students and Mrs. Frey at St David's Nursery School in Glenview, IL for Looby Loo-ing with me!

Yours for a Looby Loo Song!
“Miss Carole” Stephens
Check out my new YouTube Channel!

PSST: Miss Carole is coming to Colorado in July - want a Family Concert at your library or camp? Then she's in Tennessee for the ETSU Early Childhood Conference, then on to the SDE "I Teach K" and "I Teach 1st" in Las Vegas, baby! Hope to see you somewhere along the way!
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...