A GOOD GROUP TIME can make the day. It's the perfect time to set the stage for learning, to share and listen, and to experience all the skill areas within a supportive group context. Without a cohesive community of children, all the other academic, creative, and physical goals are much more difficult to achieve.
As the year progresses, you'll see children who were disruptive at the start learn through their peers how to participate in group discussions, express their feelings, listen to one another, and focus on both large and small group activities. This magic happens when children feel that they belong to - and truly want to be a part of - the group.
The circle is perfect for creating a sense of community. Each person has an equal voice in a circle, and everyone is seen as an equal. One person speaks and all others listen. Because each person is heard in the circle, even shy children feel comfortable sharing. The circle has an uncanny way of solving social problems because it creates unity among the children, even when they're just getting to know one another.
Set the Tone
Beginning group time with a silent routine can calm children and help them focus on themselves and one another. In many programs, the Native American talking stick is used as a means for taking turns and listening. With young children, I prefer passing around a stone to help us all gather. But the object that's passed isn't important - it can be a stick, a stone, or even a block.
Invite children to silently pass the item around the circle, each taking a moment to hold it before passing it on. You can pass the item around again, this time encouraging children to say their name or share some news.
You can also suggest a topic for children to talk about, such as favorite colors, foods, or pets, or invite them to share one word to describe how they're feeling that day.
This simple activity helps children quickly learn the importance of listening, speaking, and taking turns.
Group Time Guidelines
Here are a few basics to keep in mind:
- When? The best time to meet is after a short free-choice period in the morning. Children are fresh and interested, but they may also be unfocused as a group. An early group time can set the tone for the rest of the day. Another gathering in the afternoon is a great way to celebrate the day together.
- Where? An open area, large enough for everyone to sit together in a circle or oval, is best. A library or block area or even the center of the room can work well. It's important to define the space for children no matter where you are. A large rug, individual carpet squares, or pillows to sit on remind children that they have a space in the circle!
- What and who? Be interesting. Be flexible. Be brief. Children may not want to participate in group time at first. Don't force it. If you're doing something interesting, they'll become curious, watch, and eventually join in.
- Prepare a quiet activity that children who don't want to participate can do on their own. Let them know you've saved a place for them in the circle.
- For how long? Keep it short! Children need to have successful experiences participating in group time. Talk a little, sing a song, and move on. Save more involved and lengthy activities for later. A brief and happy group experience will encourage more participation in the future.