Monday, 23 September 2013

Circle times

Circle time, carpet time, together time or whatever other name you give to this learning opportunity can be one of the most challenging times at nursery... but can also be one of the most rewarding!

Challenge: Children needing the toilet.
It never fails, as soon as the children sit down together I hear "can I go to the tooooooiiileeeeet?" (just like that!) and when one child has asked, then another does, and another, and another, and another, until you have more children in the bathroom than participating in your group!
Image from

 Method: There's a few ways that you can tackle this, depending on the type of activity that you are leading.
  1. You could pause the activity every so often to ask the children who is needing, and allowing small groups to go at a time.
  2. You could have another member of staff to quietly and unobtrusively send children to the toilet a couple at a time. This does not interrupt the pace of the activity and leaves you free to focus on the learning.
  3. You could have a visual clue for the children, such as a wrist band. For example the children who are in the bathroom wear a wristband, when they return they pass it to the next child who is waiting. This prevents children wondering if it is their turn or thinking that you have forgotten about them.
  4. And of course, there is the classic list. Perhaps using a whiteboard where the children can wipe their name off the list once they have finished in the bathroom. This allows the children to see who is next, it can also promote name recognition.
Challenge: Children struggling to sit for longer periods of time
I must admit, I'm guilty of this one sometimes. Even when an activity is going really well, it is important to keep in mind the amount of time that the children have been sitting/ focusing for. This is even more important when working with a younger group or a group with mixed ages.
  1. This may seem obvious, but plan for your group. When you are planning your group times, remember which children will be participating. If you know that you have a younger group, you may need to plan shorter, snappier activities that you can repeat at a few different times, rather than a longer activity.
  2.  Split the group into smaller groups. If you have enough staff, it may be helpful to split a larger group into 2 smaller groups. 
  3. Take a break. If the children are participating in a sitting down activity such as 'news time' and are beginning to get restless, why not take a quick break to do something physical? It could be as simple as 'stand up, turn around and sit down again.' This very quick and easy distraction adds an element of fun and keeps the children who have already taken their turn involved.
As the children have more practise at sitting and focusing on an activity for small periods of time, you can then begin to encourage them to work for slightly longer.

Challenge: Children struggling to take turns
If your children are anything like the children at my nursery, they will be BURSTING to offer their thoughts and ideas all the time.Of course, we don't want them to think that we don't want to listen to them, or that their contribution isn't valid, but at the same time, children need to learn the valuable life skill of listening and taking turns.
  1. Visual clues are very helpful. It could be a special 'talking stick' or something that the children have created. It could be a soft toy or a item of clothing such as a cape or a necklace... the sky is the limit! Just be sure to reinforce to the children that the child who has the item is the child who is taking a turn. 
Here is a wonderful example of a Native American Talking Stick (Taken from Activity Village - click the image to follow the link)

Challenge: Fidgeting and fiddling.
It's a given, children will always find something to fiddle with! Whether it is a toy, a button, the Velcro on their shoes or their friend's hair, you can guarantee that those little fingers will be fidgeting!

  1.  Consider your environment. When preparing a group activity, try to plan so that there are the minimum of temptations around. After all, how can a child resist if the box of toys is within reach?
  2. Pick your battles. As annoying as it can be to have a child fiddling - remember, if it is not dangerous, they are not disturbing the group and if they are engaged in the activity, what is the problem? As an adult, I tend to find fiddling (clicking my pen, twisting a button, squeezing a stress ball) can help me to think! From time to time it may be worth considering letting the little things go. 

Challenge: Range of abilities
If you have a large group of children, you are bound to have a wide variety of abilities. It is important for all children to feel that they are able to take part without failure.
  1. Careful planning is the key to this one, and knowing your children well. 
  2. Allowing the more able to take on 'helper' roles such as turning the pages on the book. This can help to stop them from getting bored when less able children might need a little longer to participate or work out a problem.
  3. PRAISE PRAISE PRAISE. Whether a child is more able, less able or somewhere in between, they all need to gain the confidence to have a try. All children should feel like they have achieved and done well. 
Image from
Challenge: Disruptive Child(ren)
It can be very frustrating when all of your hard work is being disrupted by a child or group of children. 
  1. Draw attention to the positive, not the negative. For example "look how lovely Tommy is sitting!" instead of "look at Billy being silly". We all love to be praised, and children will usually respond to this praise by imitating the good behaviour.
  2. Stay calm and pick your battles. Yep, I'm using this again! Remember that negative attention is still attention, and can affect a child's self esteem.
  3. It's not always possible, but it might be worth removing the disruptive child(ren) and taking them to do another activity with a different member of staff. 
Remember: Sometimes activities don't work. It's important to recognise when the children are not engaged or when an activity is not working to plan. This way you can adapt it, alter it, or even scrap it and try something new! The activity is for the children's benefit so, if they are not engaged, it's time to try something else.

At my nursery, we also use visual cues to remind children of our 'Rules of the carpet'. These simple rules are displayed in picture form which the children can easily identify and we regularly remind ourselves of them. There are some nice clear example here: 

I wish I could say that I remember all of these and follow my own advice, but at the end of the day, I am a human. Sometimes I am not as patient as I should be, sometimes I am more focused on what I want to achieve rather than what the children are achieving... but I try every day to provide the best possible experience for the children. 
If you have any methods or challenges during your own group times, I would love to hear about them!

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