“Circle Time” in Early Childhood Centers:
by Dr Jana
These are the items we cover during “circle time”, age appropriately.
This is a comprehensive list for staff, and some suggested guidelines of methodology to follow for each age group.
It’s important for parents and staff to know that we do cover these basic items in addition to any other curriculum we embellish these with.
Most master curriculum’s don’t mention these items in their list of “themes”, because it is taken for granted that these basics are done, generally in circle time, in addition to those other themes.
Here is a list of our basic early childhood “work” introduced generally at circle time, and supported throughout the day with activities that reinforce these skills:
Days of the week (mention the day in circle time and the weather) We sing the various “Days of the Week” songs at this time. This can be sung with all ages, including infants.
Ages 3-4 can be introduced to the words in print- on a chart on the wall- but you must point to them, running your finger across the word moving from left to right – as you sing them through the song.
For ages of 4-up, do the same.
For ages 4-up, additionally, the words may be written in their notebooks and the children may be also encouraged to point to them as they read them aloud, with the teacher during small group time.
Extended activities for those able to do so may include matching the written words, identifying the first and last letter in each word, and eventually printing the word itself.
Months of the year (Mention the month in circle time)
We sing the song that repeats the months every day.
As was done with the days of the week, age 3-up can do the same activities with the written words integrated. Programs such as universal pre k and head start do not like us to use calendars, but since we do not have those programs here, they may be used in the classroom if desired.
Remember to include mentioning all upcoming holidays, showing pictures of subjects having to do with these, again associating the names of the items to their spoken word, for Phonemic awareness.
Supportive activities include collage with age appropriate materials associated to these (child generated art, not arts and crafts).
Older ages can match the names of holidays to their “like “ term, be able to identify the beginning and last letter, tell any aspect they know about the holiday where the teachers records their name and what they said on a language experience chart to be written on the wall and read aloud together at circle time. (Teacher of course will point to the words being read out loud while class “repeats” with her. The hope is that eventually they will recognize the words “by sight” and read them with mastery!)
Seasons (Mention the season in circle time) We discuss the details age appropriately, show picture books with seasonal attributes (trees with leaves changing colors, bare trees, snow on the ground, etc.)
Homework at the beginning of the season can be to “say the name of the season “clearly out loud” with family, for the purposes of Phonemic awareness , for 4-5’s you can add :To begin to recognize the name of the season “in print” and tell one attribute for the season.
For ages 2: HW can be to “attempt to say the name of the season clearly out loud for Phonemic awareness”, with a family member. We send that home on a printed sheet attached in their notebooks, see who comes in the next day and seems to be able to say it!
Those parents who are interested in HW will do it- and those who are not, do not “have to”. But it should be given as the opportunity to know what their child is doing in school as age appropriate methodology.
For infants- We paste a picture of the season in their notebooks- and ask family to point to the picture of the season and say its name “clearly out loud” for the infant, to reinforce the concept we introduced in class!
Upcoming holidays: Children should either attempt (ages 2-5) or be able to say (ages 3-5) clearly, the name of the holiday, and be able to recognize and say the name of symbols associated with the holiday.
For age 3-up- children may be introduced to the written word associated to the symbol at this time.
(Children may be given the opportunity to trace, color “in”, collage “on” or cut out (ages 4 up) a holiday symbol for eye hand coordination and visual recognition, oral language use, etc. as supportive activities related to the symbols you cover here at circle time.
You must remember to associate the names of what they are doing to those symbols- for “Phonemic awareness”. (Also, the concepts of “on” and “in” are social studies positional concepts; they are integrated here with the language acquisition and phonemic awareness skills through art.)
Infants can be shown various symbols associated with the holiday- one a day, and the activities written in the seasonal curriculum regarding looking up at, reaching for- holding onto, etc. are to be followed.
Even infants can have the Hw or a paper symbol pasted in their notebook, where the parent can show it to the infant and repeat the name of the item” clearly out loud”, for the purposes of Phonemic awareness and visual discrimination of the item.
Anything you introduce to an infant now- we are building a visual and auditory memory for- so that they will be that much ahead next year- when the ability to speak starts to emerge.
Then, they will already have a memory for correct pronunciation, as well as the “name to symbol” relationship for common items!
A variation on this HW is for the parent to encourage the infant to reach out for and “point to” the picture on the paper while the parent says the name.
This integrates motor skills with “visual discrimination”, and also auditory discrimination skills! Any child that may have potential problem in developmental delays at this stage- as well as potential autistic spectrum features can also be helped by these methods.
Given the opportunity of doing skill activities at this age- damaged brain cells can prune back and die- and new cells can rewire the brain through reinforcement.
Letters of the alphabet: For infants through ages 5:
We sing the song with the class while pointing to each letter as we pronounce it clearly out loud, for the purposes of phonemic awareness skills (that means clear pronunciation and the child having a clear understanding of the correct name of the letter.)
We DO NOT mention sounds, well until after each child has demonstrated the ability to identify the name-to-symbol relationship of each letter.
That is the age appropriate way to do this.
First we work on the ability of the child to associate the name of the letter to its written form, in upper case letters.
In early childhood educational methodology this is called a “visual discrimination skill”- to be able to recognize the written letter associated to it its name.
For infants and ages 1-2 we merely sing and point as an intro to building some memory for the spoken alphabet letter names.
Those toddlers from 1-2 should become very familiar with hearing the song and seeing the teacher point to the letters in order as the song is sung during circle time. It’s also good to sing the song throughout the day, while gesturing to the letters, for periodic reinforcement/introduction. 1 year old’s can be given an upper case letter to be sent home pasted in their notebooks, to “run their fingers across” with their parent- while the parent says the name of the letter clearly out loud to the child. You can also do that for infants- although it’s a bit abstract, infants and toddlers this age will still develop a visual and auditory memory- and it can be further enhanced with some texture on the letter, when it is reinforced frequently. Good things to do in class are to finger paint on letters with textured whipped cream, etc., while you repeat the name of the letter clearly out loud to the infants and toddlers.
Again- as abstract as it sounds- if it is repeated- the hippo-campus part of their brain will gather the information and store it- retrieving it at some later date when they are formally taught letters at a later age. (We call that the unconscious memory, by the way!) And yes, the brain really does work this way. It gathers and stores information it acquires until it’s old enough to apply it or needs to use it elsewhere. Anything we “repeat” and store in infancy stays forever. The beauty of that is generally- it also provides an opportunity to rewire parts of the brain that are damaged and have not begun to fire and send messages to the right places until now. It is possible for damaged or “bad” brain cells to prune back, and be replaced by newly formed better, more “normal” ones. This type of activity helps to promote this.
For ages 2-3, Children should begin to sing all the letters with the class, and potentially be able to do so, on their own, but clearly, with the correct pronunciation.
Staff should be mindful when they sing the letters that they pronounce them clearly out loud- and correctly.
For HW, items such as a page with the letters written on it in upper case letters can be attached to their notebook, where the directions to parents say” put your finger on each letter- moving from left to write- and sing or say the letters of the alphabet clearly out loud. (Maybe “each night”…) If and when a child successfully masters the ability to recognize every letter, then you may do this in lower case. Again, those parents that want to do this- can, those that don’t, do not “have to”. Some parents like to know what they can do to help their own child, so this is how we can educate parents as well.
For ages 3-4: Developmentally- children by age 3 should be working on identifying the names of the letters of their name, beginning by the ability to identify the letter their own name begins with, and ends with. If they do not know the letters of the alphabet yet, or are “weak”- do as in the directions for 2’s, then proceed from there. Do not move forward with any child that is weak in the age appropriate knowledge- you will lose them, they will become inattentive, and hopelessly confused, anxiety ridden, etc.
4 year olds and up, who have not mastered the preceding items, – should begin those before they move on to other things. Ages 4-5 should eventually be able to recognize the name of each letter associated to its written symbol, first in upper case, then in lower case, then in both, before you move on. After that is mastered, they should recognize the name of the first and last letter of their name in print- then name all the letters in their name, given their name in print to look at.
No sounds that are associated to a letter specifically are to be taught until the child has successfully mastered the ability to recognize the name of every letter of the alphabet in upper case letters, then in lower case letters, then in both. Age appropriate HW can be a printed page of first upper case, another one for lower case, another one that is “mixed” where each night children point to and read each letter aloud with their family. Add to that their name in print- and practice the ability to recognize the name of the letter their name first begins with, then ends with- then all the letters of their name.
Do not go to the next step until the first step has been successfully mastered, or else you do the children a dis service.
For anyone that has not taken early childhood methodology courses:
In early childhood, age appropriate methodology, it’s considered too confusing and thus detrimental to begin teaching sounds at this age because the part of the brain that is capable of analyzing where to use three pieces of info- meaning the ability to identify the name to the written letter and then to apply the sound to both of these- is not fully developed until the growth spurt between the ages of 4-6.
This is in keeping with NAEYC guidelines, CDA, Head Start, Universal Pre K and other developmental programs, as well as ACS guidelines.
When educators or parents teach something that is age inappropriate- A child becomes confused, withdraws, and that stress can cause a child to become inattentive, blank out- and thus learns nothing. This is medical fact; “blanking out/inattentiveness” is sometimes considered a form of “Dissociative Disorder”. (Pre Morbid). This is one way ADD/ADHD can be caused by a poor educational environment. We don’t want to do that here, so please teach along the developmentally correct venues. (That would be referred to as environmentally induced ADD/ADHD, due to inappropriate teaching methods.
For those children who know all the above mentioned items and are “reading ready”, it is developmentally correct to begin teaching the Dolch sight word list- and then sentences and stories, leaving the phonics and letter sounds for later.
Children learn whole words “by sight” faster and with more confidence because the word says what it is- there is no need to employ what we call “word attack skills” to sound it out- this is why we don’t teach “sounds” associated to the letter and its name) at this age!
It’s ok to eventually ask what the beginning and end of a word “sounds like”, but leave associating the sound to a letter’s actual name and its written symbol, “for later”.
As confusing as the sentence I just wrote sounds- imagine forcing a child at the age of 3 or 4 to employ phonic sounds to sound out a word. “Sounding out” words requires a whole method of taught skills called “structural analysis” techniques- so for these ages-
DO NOT GO THERE. IT IS NOT APPROPRIATE for this age!
It is not correct methodology. (And sounding out words, is called a “word attack skill”- those are taught as “structural analysis”.)
These “word attack skills” are formally taught at the end of the first grade, because these require learning a whole array of other things, like the sounds letter combos make, etc.
So, we do not teach phonics here, at this age. Nor do we teach “sounding out” a word.
We age appropriately stick to the ability to identify the name of the letters associated to their written symbols- in upper then lower case, and sight words.
We do add to that telling what they hear as a sound at the beginning and end of a word- only when they have mastered the other items.
As supportive activities, you can do simple activities like games in circle time with identifying letters, such as putting cut out or sponge shaped letters in paper bag, playing “guess the letter” you pick, a “hide the letters in the room” hunt where children search and find hidden letters and when they tell you the letters they found- they get a star, etc.
If appropriate, we do matching in their notebooks, with one to one correspondence coming first (see me if you don’t know what that is), then mixed practice, and free hand attempting to write the letters of their names first- then eventually the letters. (See me for the set-up of this kind of activity).
Our first priority for the ages of daycare children in regards to the alphabet is that by age 4-5, they should be able to recognize the letters by the letter’s name associated to the written letter, first in upper case, then in lower case- then in both mixed. (This is called visual discrimination).
Included in this, is teaching children to identify their name written in print- then to be able to identify the name of the first letter, then the name of the last letter in their name.
After they have successfully mastered that- then they should also be able to identify all the letters of their own name. NOT THE SOUNDS.
This is called “reading readiness.
When children have mastered “reading readiness” skills- then they are considered to be “ready” to learn phonics, “sounds”, and word attack skills”. Our job is to teach them “pre reading readiness” skills (ages 0through 2), and then “readiness skills”, ages 3-5.
This is why daycare has 2 licenses, one being “infant- toddler”- the other being “preschool”. See?
Only after children demonstrate the ability to have successfully mastered these- may you begin to integrate the sounds of the letters associated to the written letter and its name, in words. That begins formal phonics teaching, called “word attack skills”.
Also-Tracing letters is frowned upon by all educated early childhood methods in NYS. There are sequenced items you can use to “trace”, that lead to the ability of a child to be more able to learn to write, ask your supervisor for these if you do not have them.
Do not trace their names or letters…
It is considered busy work- especially when not done the way the letters will actually be written by hand.
Workbooks that employ these being sold in stores do this because they want to make money- and sometimes parents don’t know any better, so please refrain from doing this here with any children who have not already done this.
DO NOT do this with any new children in any classes, please. Give all new entrants and children who have not traced letters as of now- the correct tracing patterns, if they “must” trace. Better to learn to write freehand, and to do that first, without lines.
Children this age don’t have the eye hand coordination to aim for the line, and be able to write at the same time. The ability to attempt to write comes first- free hand – all over the page. THEN we “aim for the line”- not before.
Also, NEVER force a child who does not want to write- this begets emotional problems that only lead to a dislike of school, and environmentally induced ADD/ADHD, so let’s not “go there”. Eventually when children see their friends writing, they will want to follow.
The general developmental progression in writing is considered to be that when they make a picture- they eventually want to write their own name- and through their own trial and effort- they copy it and succeed. That leads to their desire to write a story or tell us something about their picture- and they begin to ask us to write words for them- thus the natural writing process begins!
This is considered the most successful way to teach letters and writing skills. Once you start teaching “sounds”, it distracts from the natural order of this.
Clothing we wear
We introduce appropriate types of clothing by name for each season. We discuss them as per the season we are in, follow up with pictures and have the children associate the name of the clothing to its picture. Have children tell you when to wear each type of clothing. Follow up with coloring “in” age appropriate non-complicated pictures, use matching games using these for 4-5s. Play dress up games, have types of clothing in doll areas, etc.
If possible we can create paper dolls with removable seasonal clothing older children can either design, color in, or embellish with collage materials like sequins, etc. (School age, after school program)
We mention clothes we wear to bed, to a party, to the beach, etc. for 3-5’s. (We do this with after school programs, ages 6-8, too!) The older the class, the more elaborate you detail the clothing, adding things like “ear muffs, fluffy collar”, etc. (Building their descriptive vocabulary is also good to do here- soft mittens, fluffy furry collar, etc.)
You can have children draw their own clothing- paste pictures that are precut by staff from magazines, (older kids ages 4 up can attempt to cut their own picture out if it’s appropriate), even place stickers on pre-cut out simple patterns that clearly associate the “name-to the picture-symbol” relationship. (See sticker activity document for those “how to” plans).
As mentioned before, ages 3-4 can be introduced to the words in print- on a chart on the wall- but you must point to them, running your finger across the word moving from left to right- as you sing them through the song.
For ages of 4-up, do the same. For ages 4-up, additionally, the words may be written in their notebooks and the children may be also encouraged to point to them as they read them aloud, with the teacher during small group time. Extended activities for those able to do so may include matching the written words, identifying the first and last letter in each word, and eventually printing the word itself.
Names of colors:
First, we work only on primary colors of red, yellow and blue- then move on to the secondary colors of green orange purple, etc. Do not move past the three primary colors until children have successfully demonstrated the ability to identify those three! After the three colors have been done- give them red and blue- do not tell them anything- and let them discover for themselves that red and yellow make orange- and name that color for them. Then you will introduce orange in circle time. After “orange”, do yellow and blue (make green), and red and blue (make purple).
Supportive activities are working with crayons, color dot stickers, and painting at the easel or table.
With paint, first give only one color.
After they have satisfied what is considered their normal, “developmental” stage of satisfying their personal own, “physical act of dong” and appear “done” (or bored) with the experience- then give another primary color, then the last primary color.
Do not give two colors until they have “processed” each primary color individually. Once we start to give two primary colors- we want them to learn by self-discovery that when they put the paintbrush into another color- it makes a third, so do NOT tell them, let them discover this and let them tell you what they “made” or did!
Document their experience and hang the “story” on the wall!
You may also give them dimensional items to paint “on” such as toilet paper rolls, small boxes (gift size, jewelry sized, cereal boxes, cartons they can work on in a group, etc. These help integrate the math concepts of volume, mass, width and depth- all spatial concepts that also open that part of their brain responsible for learning math (the parietal lobe).
Using a brush also helps their fine motor skills, provide thick handled age appropriate brushes, and then graduate to brushes such as those used for painting walls, in three sizes, when you paint on big items like cartons.
Do supportive “collage” activities that involve reinforcing the color you work where they can paste colored strips of paper or shapes onto paper, tp rolls or boxes, again for the purposes of reinforcing special math concepts!
(Use exact quantities when only associated to a one-to-one relationship or as per age appropriateness, add concepts of many some few one “a”, etc. Group quantities of “like terms” in number amounts during circle time, such as having children come up and put three squares in a box, or point to 4 cookies in a picture that are “alike”, etc. this integrates sorting, classifying and combining like terms, with quantities (ages 3-6) Ages 3 can be introduced to the written names of numbers, but only well after they have successfully demonstrated the ability to identify each number up in written numeral form, and ages 3-7 must also be able to associate those numerals to quantities.
As supportive activities they can do matching of number to number (the way you start this kind of matching is by first making a one to one relationship- where you match the number exactly to the number across from it, then the next activity has the numbers mixed but close, and lastly match numbers to quantities (again as first, one to one correspondence), lastly actual quantities of “like” same items, then mixed items, – then mixed practice. (See me and I will show you).
Shapes (use different colors and different sizes.) Work on one shape at a time, first one shape in one color. After children have successfully mastered the ability to identify that shape in that color, add the shape in a bigger size, same color.
After the children successfully master the ability to identify the shape in two sizes same color, add yet a smaller size, same color.
If you change the colors- then the children get confused; remember here you are only working on the shape!
After the children have successfully mastered the ability to identify the shape in one color- in several sizes (that also integrates the concepts of either “big”, and small”- for the infants through toddler ages, and small medium large for the 2-3 ages, adding “jumbo/huge” for the 4 -6 ages) – then work on the same shape in the next primary color, repeating the sizes after they have successfully mastered the ability to identify the new shape.
After the next set of shapes has been successfully mastered, go back and integrate the previous shapes with the new shape- first in the same color- then in two colors- then in three.
DO NOT mix the colors first, the children will become confused.
3’s will be “introduced” to the written word for the shape in print by listing the word under a picture of the shape being used.
4-6’s will be introduced to the word in print, and they will attempt to run their finger across the word moving from left to right- as we “read it” out loud with them.
Eventually the ages of 4-6 may do matching activities with shapes, integrating the words associated to each shape- only if this is appropriate for children.
Ages 3-7 should attempt to draw shapes free hand.
The older (4-7) children may be encouraged to attempt to write the name of the shape as well as draw them free hand, and be asked to identify the name of the letter the word begins and ends with.
- Names of animals
- Farm animals
- Baby animal
- Jungle animals
- General insects
During circle time introduce pictures of the animals in these groups and say their names clearly out loud, while pointing to the pictures, for the purposes of phonemic awareness. Only cover animals as sets of their groups, so that children learn the concept of “sorting, classifying” an “combining “like” terms”- which integrate math with reading skills.
In order to make a sentence in the future- you need to have a comprehension of which words go together to make a sentence- this is one way we train the brain to think “in order” at these ages.
The expectations by age are: infants will “look at” the picture while you introduce it (focus), the 1’s will attempt to say the names and associate the picture when asked to the spoken name- the 2’s will master successfully the ability to say the name of the picture clearly out loud while identifying the animal when asked, the threes will say the name clearly out loud, associated to the picture, and also be introduced the written name of the item in print below the picture.
The 4-6’s will additionally be able to run their finger across the written name of the animal in print, moving from left to right- and associate the name to its picture.
Eventually the picture will be taken away and they may attempt to “read” the word in print- if this is task appropriate for certain children.
Older children may do activities that include matching the names of the animals associated to their pictures, written words, and be asked to identify the letter the word begins and ends with.
It’s helpful to cut out large animal pictures and put them eye level all around the room in order, and every so often point to them as you pass by and ask children the names of these, eventually you will see them doing that with each other, they will come up and touch a picture and repeat the names to themselves, too. This is something the children enjoy, and find pleasure in looking at. Old dollar store calendars with animal pictures are a great way to get big pictures if available.
Show pictures and use books with pictures that clearly show real versions of the food you discuss .Have children paste pictures that are precut by staff from magazines, (older kids ages 4 up can attempt to cut their own picture out if it’s appropriate).
You can also use food store handouts, cut out matching pictures and either make teacher made matching cards by pasting them on cards used to “match”, or you can cut “like” pictures from ads, paste them in each child’s notebook along with the word, and have the children point to the picture, identify the name of the item, then run their fingers across the written word to “read” that! (The picture will be a “context clue”, and eventually they will simply remember the written word for it by sight!
That’s known as a sight word!
Put pictures of foods around the toy kitchen area and for ages 3, 4-5 also include for these older children pictures of items needed to cook or “process” foods (blenders, toasters, etc.) these can be found in sale ads . They can also be cut out for children to paste on paper, bags
Methods of transportation:
Practice the name–to-symbol relationships, children should be able to associate the name of the picture representing something in transportation (such as a train) to its picture.
4’s and up may be given the written word labeled on a picture to associate the written word to its symbol, in addition. Eventually they will learn to read the name of the item “by sight”, initially the picture is a context clue.
Make sure pictures you use are realistic- and not outdated or “cartooney”; otherwise you will confuse them. Play matching games with pictures you can cut out of magazines of “like” trucks, and cars, to notice similarities and differences, etc.
For ages 4 up discuss what each vehicle does- allow children to tell you what they know and document something they have said on a language experience chart- with their names in print posted by what they said. Have them come up and point to their name- and read with them a simple sentence they stated about the vehicle while the child points to each word written as the others repeat with you, if that works in the particular room.
Vehicles that do work: (police car, ambulance, tractor, plow, fire engine, truck (for 4’s add: tug boat (sail boat and ocean liner are “methods of transportation, a tug boat does work, it tugs a barge), crane, etc.) Do the same as you do with the methods of transportation above.
Tools that do work: Age 4-up: be able to identify pictures of a hammer, saw, screw driver, and nail, screw. Some centers have work stations where children get to use toy tools, and sometimes real ones, but that is at the policy of the school. Ages 3 can begin to identify these by naming the picture of tool they may have in the room.
Occupations: ages starting at 3 up should be able to identify picture of and tell something about: police person, mail person, firefighter, doctor, and nurse, store clerk, etc.
Clothing that is appropriate to season and weather
Reading Readiness Skills:
Positional words (up/down, in/ out, over/ under, above/below, etc.). (This is considered to be “Social Studies work in early childhood skills)
Opposites Ages 4-6)
Synonyms (ages 5-6)
Homonyms (ages 5-6-7) (For those who evidence maturity and advanced skills, only!)
Rhyming words (words that “sound the same”) Ages 3-6, but there is an intro to these at infancy-age3, by use of nursery rhymes read during circle time!)
Being able to identify the first and last letter of your name (ages 3-5)
Being able to identify words that begin and end with the same “sound” as other words (NOT the “letter”- here we are doing Phonemic Awareness skills) (ages 4-6)
Saying all words we use, clearly out loud and with confidence (Phonemic awareness)
Children are supposed to be introduced to “playful vocabulary”, and descriptive vocabulary.
Onomatopoeic words are also to be introduced (meaning words that sound like what they say: boom, twinkle, wow, etc.)
Past present and future forms of action words (verbs) (ages 5-6) (“ed”, ”ing”, etc.)
Phonemic awareness of the sounds taken as “context clues to signify past present and future word meanings such as: was, were, saw, have seen, will be, went, have gone, came, am, yesterday, today, tomorrow, once upon a time, some day, long ago, etc. (ages late 5-6)
Dolch sight word list, Dolch noun list, making sentences and stories: ages 4 up
Famous Fairy Tales
Books that tell about nature, animals, the world around us in children’s terms
Child’s full name (including being able to recognize their names in print- starting at age 2)
Age (age 2-up)
Birthday (age 3-6)
Names of parents or guardians
Address (age 4-6)
Phone number (age 4-6)
Home number and/or caretaker’s cell number (ages 5-6 up)
Names of siblings (ages 4-6)