Circle Time

Building Classroom Community

· Social-Emotional,Community

“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:

  1. Meet: Gather in a circle and greet each other (handshake, high five, silly face, fist bump, song, dance, etc.). 
  2. 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).
  3. Share: Answer a question of the day.
  4. 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:

  1. What will you do to encourage a friend today?
  2. What is one way you will share with a friend today?
  3. What will you do to show kindness today?
  4. What is one way you will be responsible today?
  5. What is something you are proud of today?
  6. 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.

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