Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Managing Circle Time


Circle time can be extra challenging for children who have a hard time in school.  Sitting on the floor with backs unsupported is very difficult for low tone kids.

There should be a variety of sitting options for circle time. Since no one wants to be singled out, I suggest that there be a few chairs around the perimeter of the circle at the beginning of the school year.  The teacher can invite the children to try both sitting in them and sitting on the floor, and then deciding which they prefer.   Eventually, the children who need them will go on using the chairs, and the rest of the children will choose the floor, and no one will notice or care who sits where because they have all tried all of the options and made their choices.  If this is truly not possible, then having the child sit with his back against a solid surface, like the wall, is the best choice.  Or perhaps a few floor chairs could be kept in a cubby and made available.

A child who has difficulty self regulating, or who tends lash out when others are in his personal space, will do best sitting on a piece of furniture, which defines personal space, next to an adult.  These children will be happiest with their backs covered.  A chair is good.  Placing the chair up against a solid wall would be better.  Sitting on a chair in a niched corner would be best.  Something to occupy the child discreetly and  quietly would be very helpful here.

Do you tend to sit in meetings and utilize fidget toys to keep yourself present?  Do you perhaps bend paper clips, doodle, roll up the paper from the straw in your drink, fold dollar bills into origami, spill sugar on the table and draw in it with a finger, or play with a rubber band?  Or do you take a craft project, like knitting or needlepoint, with you when you have to sit for a long time?  It helps, doesn't it?  Children need to be able to do this as well.

I always send a little bag of fidget toys, generally a collection of little stretchy animals, in to the classrooms of the children I treat for the teacher to hand out as appropriate.  One teacher told me that when she notices my friend starting to zone out during circle time, a little stretchy frog discreetly pressed into her hand is enough to keep her focused and present.  A child who chews a lot could benefit from a plastic drinking straw or some fishtank tubing to chomp on to keep steady.  {Chewing is a sign that the child either needs to move his body or that the room is too loud.}  What would be really wonderful is if the children had little sewing or needlework projects they could work on while they were sitting.  Do you listen better with busy hands?  I know I do.  I always bring my crocheting to board meetings.

 Teachers, if you are consistently having a hard time keeping the children in your classroom engaged during circle time, it's because you are expecting them to stay still when they need to move.

 To prevent having to expend all of your energy on disciplining the children instead of teaching them, you can try making sure that long stretches of sitting down time are preceded by some movement activity and perhaps a drink of water, so that the kids can maintain their alertness.   Remember, movement is what activates the brain and drives development forward!

 When children are restive and you are unable to engage them, if they are not hungry, thirsty, or needing to use the bathroom, they need a brief movement break. If you tell the children that you see that they are having a hard time sitting still and say it is time for a quick movement break so that they can activate their brains,  you will be helping all of the children recognize when their alertness levels are starting to flag, and teaching them some strategies to maintain a good arousal state for learning.
Something else that I would like to see change in the classroom is forcing the children to sit "Criss Cross Applesauce" during circle time.   I have been to several classroom observations where the teacher flatly refused to continue until all of the children, including my little friends, who can't maintain an upright posture while in that position, were sitting like this.

Can you sit that way?  I can't. People in Western society, who spend almost all of their time in chairs and in cars, have lost the ability to squat or to sit comfortably on the floor.  If you observe most preschoolers sitting on the floor with their legs crossed, their spines are quite rounded.  This is an unhealthy way to use the spine, and leads to back problems as we get older.   I have vivid memories myself of sitting on the floor in kindergarten and feeling how hunched and rounded my back was and how miserable I felt.  We should not be teaching our children to use themselves badly!  As we get older and become more accustomed to slouching, something we learn in school when we are forced to do things we are not ready or able to manage, we cause ourselves real damage.  Schools should not be perpetrating this on the children in their trust.

A few better options:  teaching the children to sit on their heels, allowing them to lie on their bellies with their elbows propping them up, or providing them with a firm cushion, like a meditation cushion, or zafu.

It's an unfortunate truth in American society that we have lost our attention spans, and it's true in the classroom as well.  I have been to many classroom observations where an activity, especially in a lower grade, went on for too long.  Is circle time just going on for too long?  Is it too close to lunch?  Are the children having a hard time comporting themselves because they are tired of sitting still, hungry, thirsty, or have to go to the bathroom?

Some keys to success: keep circle time short, keep the lesson engaging and the children's participation active, provide postural support and discreet fidget toys to those who need them, and don't force children who really can't manage the physical proximity to sit close to their classmates.

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