4 Secrets for Setting Up Your Circle Time Space

circle time setup

When it comes to circle time, many teachers spend a considerable amount of time finding activities to keep the children engaged. But they fail to think about how the space where their circle time is happening may be just as important.  I am so excited to share with you a few easy tricks I have found over the years that have made a ton of difference when it comes to making the most of circle time. The great thing is, they are pretty easy changes you can implement right away! Here are a few simple steps you can take to get your circle time space ready to rock. 

1. Just the Right Size

When choosing a place to designate as the circle time area, it is important to not only think about the number of students in your class that will need their own personal space, but to also consider all of the activities the children will be participating in while there.  From story times to movement activities, this space needs to be large enough to accommodate it all.

While book cases and walls do a great job of defining a space, if they close the space in too much it actually creates a problem on a few levels. 

With sitting activities like “Whoa, Jack!” where kids roll back, they need room to do so without hitting a shelf or a wall. In “Balance Boogie” when kids are up and moving, they need room to move about freely and not bump into the other children.

The other issue walls and bookcases don’t allow for is core strengthening. When children (and adults too) have a place to rest their back when they are on the floor, they’ll take it! Problem is it means they miss out on the chance to activate the muscles needed to support one’s body in a seated, unsupported position. As the experts over at Inspired TreeHouse tell us, core strengthening is SO important for kids on a ton of levels.  

For these two reasons alone, an open concept circle time space with little or no vertical barriers is ideal.

2. Make a Circle 

You are probably thinking, duh, I know it should be a circle, it’s circle time! The reason I am taking the time to explain this piece is because I have seen many classes sit their children in rows rather than a circle. While seeing a book being read may be easier while in rows, it doesn’t change the fact that when kids are sitting in rows, the further away the child is from the teacher, the more likely they are to misbehave. I also feel it is not as welcoming.

A circle is an ancient symbol for unity and wholeness and has no beginning or end. Since community building is a key outcome for circle time, honoring this shape (or some variation of it such as an oval or rectangle) will allow each child to feel like an equal member of the group. 

If possible, find a carpet to place in the circle time area that is big enough for all children to sit around the edge of while still allowing for ample elbow room (refer to picture below). Carpets that have letters, shapes etc. around the outside edge work best as they give a visual representation for where each child’s personal space is located.  If a carpet is not an option, use carpet squares laid out in a circle or masking tape a circle or oval onto the floor. 

Amazon has tons of great carpets that fit my requirements. Click here to start shopping.

3. Circle Time Materials

Until materials are needed, they should be kept out of children’s reach. If possible, even out of sight. Doing so eliminates distraction during the other activities and keeps the children wondering what you will put out next.  Finding boxes with lids will not only help keep materials organized, they will also help keep curious fingers from getting into the materials before it is time.  Be sure the materials are still  easily accessible for you so when they are needed in the lesson, you can quickly retrieved them without leaving the circle time area.

4. Reduce or Eliminate Distractions 

When children lose interest in what is happening at circle time, they will naturally search for something else to keep them busy.  Often times that means something they can put in their hands. To avoid this, make sure the area is free from items that may capture their attention such as books or blocks. Turn bookshelves around so they face away from the circle area or cut a piece of fabric to fit the bookcase or shelf to hide the contents. Think, “out of sight, out of mind”.

Classroom Example

Now that we’ve reviewed the 4 tips, let’s take a look at a classrooms to get a visual understanding of what is and is not working based on my recommendations.

What I like: I love that there are little or no objects within an arm’s reach. That means children can stay focused on what the teacher is presenting and not get into what’s behind them. The carpet is also ideal as the letters around the outside edges clearly designate a space for each child. There are no bookshelves or walls near by which means the children will have no problem rolling backwards and hitting anything. They will also have ample room for movement activities and can even go out into the classroom area and easily return to the circle at the end of the movement without creating a traffic jam.

What I’d change: I do prefer to sit on the floor with the children and be at their level, but if physical limitations do not allow for this, a chair is absolutely acceptable.

Hopefully these 4 secrets will provide some ideas for how you can improve your circle times.  Some or all may not be possible in your current situation, but keep them in mind when setting up your classroom in the future.

I’d love to hear if any of my suggestions worked for you as well as learn any tricks you have to share!

The Dangers of “W” Sitting at Circle Time

How to break the habit of w sitting with a song.

As a music teacher, most of the time I spend with children is at circle time. This means we do a lot of sitting – but not too much, because that’s not good either! Because I am often on the carpet with children, when I heard about the dangers of “w” sitting, it got my attention. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the term, it’s most likely because you didn’t know it had a name. Simply put, it is when a child has one leg on each side of their body in the shape of a “w”.

Now that I am familiar with the long-term effects of sitting this way, it is something I think about all the time and correct children every chance I get.  Check out my video below to learn reasons why children “w” sit, the dangers of “w” sit, and a simple way to change the habit with a song.

After you’ve watched the video, If you are interested in learning even more about “W” sitting, check out a great article that gives a variety of alternatives to “w” sitting as well as a really cool infographic just below the video in this post.  Then share your new-found knowledge with teachers and parents!

Not a video watcher? No problem! Here are the highlights….

3 Reasons Why Children “w” sit

  1. Structural Abnormalities of the Hip – If a child’s head and neck of the femur is rotated anterior to the femur, the child is more likely to walk pigeon toed, toes pointing in, as well as “w” sit.
  2. Poor Balance or Core Weakness – When children lack core strength and balance, “w” sitting can offer them a strong foundation on which to sit.
  3. Habit – When learning to crawl, “w” sit offers a quick way to transition to sitting up without moving the legs out front. When children realize this form of sitting takes less effort, it can quickly become their go-to position.

3 Reasons Why “W” Sit is Dangerous

  1. Stress on Joints –  “W” sitting can actually put undo stress on the joints and muscles. For children who have hip dysplasia, it can predispose them to hip dislocation.
  2. Decreased Mobility – When children are “w” sitting, playing with toys directly in front of them is no problem. But, reaching from side to side or transition items from their left to right hand, is more difficult so they don’t do it. Therefore, they don’t practice these much needed skills.
  3. Decreased Core Strength – Because “w” sitting does not take the same core strength as sitting on their bottom with legs out straight or even in criss cross, children lose the opportunity to work on strengthening their core.

How to Break the Habit of “w” sitting with a song!

We all know songs are a great way for everyone to learn new information. They can also be an effective way to create a new habit. If children in your class are habitually “w” sitting, try this little tune below every time you move into a sitting position. Click here to hear the tune! If you’d rather chant the words, that works too!

song for "w" sit

 

January News – Check out what’s happening this month!

Is it really January 2018? It is hard to believe just how fast time flies. I hope you all had a wonderful holiday season and are ready to start a new year.

This month I am teaching all about the weather. We have actually had a pretty easy winter here in Seattle compared to other parts of the country.  We did have 7 inches of snow on Christmas Day which was a treat especially for my girls who played for hours in the yard. Can you guess what they used as a hat?

snowman

Natia and Maci’s snow girl.

But before I get to sharing some fun activities for the month all about weather, I have to pass along some research worth checking out.

PREK EXPERIENCE IMPACTS MIDDLE SCHOOLERS

teacher at table with kids

The research continues to pour in on the importance of a high-quality, early childhood education.  How children learn during their very first years will have a profound impact on their success in school and life. We believe when a musical component is included in a child’s education, it only enhances their learning.

In a recent groundbreaking, longitudinal study, researchers at Georgetown University tracked children who participated in Tulsa, Oklahoma’s universal pre-K program through middle school. What did they find?

Middle school students who were in pre-K years earlier have higher math test scores, are more likely to enroll in honors courses, and are noticeably less likely to have been retained in grade.

Musically Minded is honored to provide music classes and trainings for so many amazing early childhood programs. Partnering with teachers who recognize the importance of high-quality early learning is truly a gift. In 2018, we look forward to continuing to be “a part of the team” that fosters a love of learning in our future leaders.

ALL ABOUT WEATHER

umbrella

Winter is a fun time to sing about the weather in Seattle as you never know what you’re going to get! Each class we’ll warm up with the song, “Oh, What’s the Weather Like Today?” It’s a Musically Minded original! Is it sunny, or rainy, or foggy, or snowy… or all of the above! We’ll experiment with our sharing instruments to mimic the sound of weather and use our class instruments to explore dynamics and tempo as we create a musical thunderstorm. There’s also lots of room for imaginative movement and play as we make our scarves into snowballs or try to blow them across the room on a windy day, dance in a bubble snowstorm and we’ll even bring out our parachute to use as an umbrella!

Sharing Instruments: Wind Chimes, Thunder Drum, Rain Stick

Class Instruments: Hand Drums, Jingle Sticks

An Activity to try…

You can create your own rainstorm in your classroom using body percussion. Get the whole class involved and children can take turns being the leader.

  1. Silently rub your fingers together
  2. Then rub your two hands together, making a very soft sound, as you rub faster the sound gets louder.
  3. Next, quietly clap your hands together.
  4. Then snap your fingers.
  5. Now go back to clapping and clap a little louder than you were snapping.
  6. Then a little louder.
  7. Then clap as loud as you can
  8. Then stomp your feet and clap or drum on your legs, making a lot of noise.
  9. Now do it in reverse until it is silent again.

*Stay tuned this month for another activity or two all about the weather!

 

 

 

 

 

I Got a Letter This Morning!

Everyone LOVES getting mail and that includes kids. That’s why when I saw this adorable mailbox at the dollar store, I had to get it. I immediately was reminded of a favorite American Folksong called “I Got a Letter”.

Check out the video below and find out how the activity works!

Now for the details…

Mailbox: I got my holiday mailbox at the dollar store. But, you can use any sort of mailbox or box for that matter to pass around the circle.

Song Track: This song can be sung acapella or with a recording.  To access the recording by Matt Kalin, click here.  Then just find the song, “I Got a Letter” in the list of tracks.  The cost for the song is .99 and you can by it right there through itunes.

A capella: If you want to go with the a capella version, the words can be found below. Or, click here to see the notation at “Beth’s Notes” blog if you need help remembering the tune.

I Got a Letter                                                                                                                                                                                                    I got a letter this morning,
Oh yes,
I got a letter this morning,
Oh yes.

Movement Cards: I found the movement cards at the blog “Oopsey Daisy”.  Just click here to go to her website. Then scroll down and you will see the cards that look like the ones below. Print, cut and laminate and you can use them for years to come!

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10 Songs Every Preschool Teacher Should Know

Problem is, we get stuck in ruts singing songs like “Wheels on the Bus” and “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” EVERY SINGLE DAY. Why? Because it is easier and more comfortable than going out and finding more songs to add to your repertoire.

Don’t get me wrong, repetition is key to learning so repeating songs over and over again is very important. Often times children will ask for the same songs over and over again and so it makes it easier. The songs become like an old friend, they know what to expect.

But, what about all of those other “just as engaging” and entertaining songs out there you’ve yet to teach them? There are so many amazing ones waiting patiently to be discovered. So, I’ve compiled a list of 10 Songs Every Preschool Teacher Should Know as a way to get you out of the rut. Most likely, you will know most of them and can easily work them into your repertoire pretty darn quickly.

What are we waiting for? Let’s get started!

 

1. My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean 

This classic song is super handy because it can be sung with a ton of energy – a perfect way to get the wiggles out. Or as a lullaby to put them to sleep or calm them down after too much movement.

For the calming approach, have children pretend to rock in their boat as they move their bodies back and fourth to the beat of the song. The slower you sing the song, the calmer kids will become. By rocking back and fourth, not only will you be keeping them physically engaged, they will also be able to feel the beat of the song in their body as they sing the words. This two-pronged approach is key to making learning stick.

For older children, add some serious movement by having everyone sit down or stand up on every word that starts with the sound “B”

Can’t remember the tune? No worries! Check out the video below courtesy of Hooplakidz.

 

2. She’ll Be Comin’ Round the Mountain

I remember singing this song on many cars rides.  It’s a great way to build memory because it is a cumulative song. A cumulative song is when a part of the prior verse is added to the next verse making the song longer and longer each time.  This is great for our brains because it builds working memory, a key cognitive function children need to succeed both in academics and life.  Click here to learn more about working memory and the brain.

For a literary connection, check out “She’ll Be Comin’ Round the Mountain” by Jonathan Emmett.  The illustrations and slight twist on the lyrics makes for a fun sing/readalong.

Watch the video below if you can’t remember the tune from Huggy Bobo

3. I’ve Been Workin’ on the Railroad

Not only is this just a fun song, it works great as a piggy back song. You know, when you change the words to a song but keep the tune? It’s a great way to get kids to listen to your words because it catches them off guard as they tend to tune out spoken words more easily.

Oh yes, back to the song. Play with tempo on this tune once the kids learn it. Start slowly and get faster throughout the song.  It adds a little sumtin’ to it and keeps the kids engaged. If you have a set of railroad spikes (I found them at an antique shop), try keeping the beat with them as you sing the song. Be sure to pass them around so everyone gets a chance to say they’ve held railroad spikes.

Check out the video for the tune courtesy of Muffin Songs.

 

4. If You’re Happy and You Know It

It’s hard to be sad singing this song. The verses to it are endless which makes it a great one for those moments when you don’t know how long you have to wait in line to be dismissed out to recess or lunch.

Tune reminder? Click the video below from VinciGenius

5. Wishy Washy Washerwoman

I discovered this little gem one summer when I was putting together a campfire sing-a-long. It’s hilarious, action packed and sorry, but it will mostly likely make its appearance around 2:00 a.m. It’s one of those songs.  Be sure to watch the video below to hear the tune and see the actions. I think it’s the best one out there.

Check out the hilarious video below from Brian and Pete

6. 5 Dinosaurs Driving in Cars

It’s said that we know the most about dinosaurs when you are four years old, you have a degree in paleontology or when you have a 4 year old. So true!

This gem of a song is from a Seattle songwriter named Nancy Stewart. For those who live in the Northwest, you just might know her.  She writes amazing songs that kids love! This song is a great example of her brilliance. Check out the song and her super awesome site by clicking here. Or watch the video below courtesy of King County Library Systems.

 

7. Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes

A classic song that’s easy to sing and super interactive. Sounds like the makings of a keeper I’d say! I love “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” because it forces even the teacher to be totally engaged. I know this because if I don’t focus on what I am singing, I won’t point to the right body part! That gets pretty funny for kids.

For a change up, after singing the song through once, take the word “head” out and think it instead of saying it. Then each time you sing the song again take at the next body part in addition to the last one and so on.  This is a great way for children to practice inner hearing – the skill of hearing words, melodies, and sounds inside our heads without those sounds being externally present. “Inner Hearing” is important for children to be exposed to as they will need to call upon this skill when they are reading to themselves.  Why not start teaching it now?!? Learn more about inner hearing by clicking here.

Ready for the tune? Watch the video below courtesy of Kids TV.

8. Baby Bumblebee

A camp favorite, this catchy tune is perfect for preschoolers who often spend time trying to impress their parents. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always end up being something parents are impressed by. Oh well, at least they are trying.

Check out the video below for the tune courtesy of the Kiboomers.

 

9. Sticky, Sticky, Bubblegum

If you are uncomfortable being silly with little kids, you might be in the wrong business. Kids love silly and this song needs you to bring a lot of it. I start by telling the kids that I have put a piece of bubblegum in all of their pockets. I won’t tell you any more. Just check out the video below. This one is courtesy of your’s truly.

10. See Ya Later Alligator

You made it to the end and your prize is a really fun goodbye song! I know because I have been singing this song for over a decade. Kids and teachers remember me for this song.  You can even sing it as an echo song if you wish. It is a great way for children to work on call and response as well as language.

I couldn’t find a video for this song that uses the same tune I do, so instead, click here for the audio version by me!