1, 2, 3 Eyes On Me!!

Written by Sonja, CAECE Trainer & Assessor


Group time, circle time, mat time or storytime is a daily event in most early learning services. It is a time for reflection, connection, intentional teaching, and a good old story or two! As an early childhood trainer, I am fortunate enough to get to observe many of these gatherings during my regular centre visits. While I do not have a problem with structured group time, sometimes I do wonder though what the purpose of these gatherings is? It can at times seem like educators are going through the motions with intentional teaching drills (days of the week, counting, weather etc) and enforcing 'rules' and expectations that are not realistic or developmentally appropriate for the children they are aimed at.


I don't mean to sound critical as I know these educators have the best intentions (and I was one myself for many years), but I think we need to rethink our broad goals and aims for these times so children are getting the most out of the experience and it is less stressful on the educator!


Sometimes the focus seems like it is 'getting children ready for school' by teaching them to sit cross-legged (not developmentally appropriate for some children by the way), raise their hand when they want to say something (I feel for the very enthusiastic child who is so keen to contribute that they forget to raise their hand and then get punished by not being allowed to speak), or the focus might be to teach specific concepts, or maybe it is 'crowd control' so the other educator can get the room ready for lunch or rest (totally understandable and sometimes a necessity - I know!). At the risk of sounding idealistic, I think the most important school (or life) readiness concept we can gift to children in the early years is to 'develop a love of learning' (not something you will see on many 'school readiness' checklists).


As structured group times are a regular occurrence at 'big school' we have the opportunity to get children excited about learning and develop this 'love of learning' if we make these group times a place that children choose to attend and get excited at the prospect of them. How do we do this? for a start, we need to take the pressure off by making it a safe place to be where they are not going to get 'put on the spot' if they are not ready, where they can sit where and how they like (so long as it is respecting others) and where there is a sense of anticipation and wonder - 'what's going to happen today?'


Educators can get children excited by - showing enthusiasm themselves, having a surprise in a small box or bag (a great drawcord and settling tool) also by using visual aids like puppets, finger puppets or other props and follows children's interests or cues and making sure all children have the opportunity to participate or 'have a turn' if they want to (very important to children at this age).


Also, mix it up with a fun game and some movement and take it in another direction or cut it short if it is not working. This does not mean that you have failed, it means that you are a skilled educator that can read a group of children and adjust accordingly. Why not let the children lead the group time by asking what they would like to do or take it outside if it's a nice day, break it up and have two smaller groups or don't have a group time at all if it's 'one of those days'.


Some tips that I have found useful over the years to help with managing behaviour and keeping children focused during group times are - letting children choose if they want to sit on a chair (at the back) or on the floor, using a 'talking stick' or other visual aid so everyone knows whose turn it is, getting the children to 'create a magic bubble' around themselves and tell them they must keep their hands inside the bubble so it doesn't pop, having a balance of active and passive activities, if the noise level is rising - whisper at the children so they need to quieten down to hear you and give them lots of positive feedback when they are doing the right thing - 'I love how you are sitting so beautifully', try to ignore or redirect inappropriate behaviour or get another educator to sit with children who need extra reminders.


Some children may not want to attend at all and rather than forcing them to, educators should be challenged by this to make group times so much fun and so interesting that no one wants to miss out! This can be achieved by keeping these times light and relaxed and by having fun and being silly with the children - it is then that the magic and real learning can take place!