“Jalin, will you forgive me for not using kind words yesterday?”
“Yes, I forgive you.”
My first year as a teacher, I was amazed as I observed the Pre-K classroom where this conversation occurred. Four-year-old children humbly volunteered that they made a mistake and asked each other for forgiveness. How could I create that kind of trust and community in my classroom?
Circle time can mean many different things to different teachers. But when used effectively, it is a time for children and teachers to gather at the beginning of the day, share information, discuss important topics, and deepen relationships. Circle time is a powerful tool because it sets the tone for the day and establishes the classroom as a safe space. And it's one of the ways the teacher I observed that day fostered a collaborative culture in her classroom.
While there are many ways to structure circle time, one simple and consistent routine that can be effective is:
- Meet: Gather in a circle and greet each other (handshake, high five, silly face, fist bump, song, dance, etc.).
- Read: Read a quick morning message you have written to children so they know what to expect for the day (and a great way to authentically weave in early literacy and math skills).
- Share: Answer a question of the day.
- Close: Say or sing a special cheer, promise, song, or poem.
It was that third step that transformed my classroom from a group of individuals to a true community founded on respect and caring. Every Friday became “Forgiveness Friday” and my young children answered the question: “Who do you need to ask for forgiveness today?”. And I answered too. One day I forgot a special surprise I had promised at home. Another day I forgot to call a child's parents after school to let them know what a great day we had together. I made a point to model the same honesty and vulnerability I wanted my children to feel comfortable expressing.
There are many questions you can discuss with your children during circle time. For example:
- What will you do to encourage a friend today?
- What is one way you will share with a friend today?
- What will you do to show kindness today?
- What is one way you will be responsible today?
- What is something you are proud of today?
- Who is someone you are thankful for today?
This sincere practice became the cornerstone for how we treated each other. Some days I came up with the question, and other days one of my students came up with the question for the day. By providing my children with a shared language that included words like “forgive”, “kind”, and “thank”, the way my children interacted with each other throughout the day fundamentally changed.
When I talk about this daily practice to friends, sometimes they laugh and ask me, “what could a four- or five-year-old know about forgiveness?” My answer: “Usually more than adults!”
About the Author
Anna Marrs is a former early literacy curriculum developer and a former certified teacher in North Carolina. She holds a Master's in Education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education and now works on the Education team at Kaymbu.