How to Adjust When Circle Time Has Gone Awry

Whether you’ve been teaching for a few weeks or many years, you’ve probably faced some challenges with Circle Time. I know I have! Asking a large group of preschoolers to sit still, keep their hands to themselves, listen to me for an extended amount of time, and then answer questions about what they have learned has not always gone as planned. From singing songs, discussing the weather, reading and discussing stories, and other Circle Time activities, it’s difficult for each child to make circle time successful. Read on to learn how to adjust when Circle Time has gone awry!

What is Circle Time? 

Circle time should be an opportunity where each person’s thoughts, ideas and conversations matter and are respected. It is the perfect opportunity to help children be an active part of their own growth and development!

Read more about Supporting Discussions at Circle Time!

It’s important to keep in mind these keep principles when it comes to a great Circle Time:

Are the activities and expectations age appropriate for the group of children you are working with? Consider the length of time you are asking children to participate. Generally speaking, a reasonable attention span is two to three minutes per year of the child’s age, so 4-6 minutes for a two-year-old, 8- 12 minutes for a four-year-old, 12-18 mins for a six-year, etc (Brain Balance, n.d). Be intentional or purposeful about what you want to share with the children by planning at least a week ahead of time like you do with most other activities.  Circle activities should be part of your lesson planning, not thrown together each morning.


Sometimes, we try changing Circle Time routine and it still isn’t working. It’s ok! There are some common barriers that might prevent a traditional Circle Time in your program:

The Concept of Time

To participate meaningfully in calendar activities, young children need to understand that time is sequential. The sequences like yesterday, today, and tomorrow; morning, afternoon, and evening; Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, and so on, are all important in calendar use. Young children can talk about things that have happened or will happen, but they don’t yet understand these events in terms of units of time (days, weeks) or sequence.

Are They Ready and Our Expectations

Children will let you know if they are not ready for Circle Time. If it’s not meaningful or purposeful, too long or the expectations are too demanding, they will not pay attention to the activities and begin being disruptive. Think about your expectations and rules during Circle Time. Do you expect them to sit still, remain focused, sit “criss-cross applesauce with hands in their lap”, while you “teach”? After a while, even we as adults will hear the Charlie Brown teacher’s voice of “Wah.  Wah. Wah. Wah. Wah. Wah. Wah.”! Consider alternating activities with a short passive time and a longer active time to keep your children engaged. 


Knowing that Circle happens every day with predictable songs or routines is healthy, but it doesn’t have to be boring! Remember, this is a time of community, sharing, and learning.  Allow those longer descriptions of a child’s trip to the zoo.  Scrap your color introduction. Allow for activities that children can come and go throughout Circle Time. Giving them choices to participate builds on their independence as well as gives them a sense of control. Be flexible and add their ideas and choices to what you are doing. They are more actively engaged when you contribute their ideas.

Read more about Engaging Preschoolers

Curriculum Supports 

If you can’t have Circle Time in the traditional way or you’ve concluded that your children are not developmentally ready, what else can you do? 


By using a camera, you can take frequent photographs of classroom events, projects, or field trips, then invite the children to help choose the photos for a classroom journal. Attach the photos to a dated page (one photo per page or multiple photos on a page) or tuck them into a plastic sleeve. Post or display them in a designated place—on a wall or bulletin board or in a binder. This is a great way to start the conversations around sequencing! Using the Experience curriculum, teachers know, in advance, projects or activities, to capture. When we encourage children to tell other children or their families the story of their project, the child strengthens their understanding of the way an event unfolds, with the various activities taking place in a time sequence.

Read more about Jumping Into Journals


Games are another way for children to begin to get a feel for the length of various units of time and the vocabulary associated with them, asking questions around what happened at the beginning, in the middle and at the end. These experiences can lead to discussions about points in time during the school day and the relative distance in the future of these points in time. 

Project Work

Project work, where the children actively participate in investigations of events and the world around them, is another way to give children opportunities to consider time and cooperation within a small group. As children plan for a project and reflect on what they have learned and when they learned it, time and sequence become meaningful and intentional.  

Another option for a successful Circle Time is to include multiple Circles throughout the day. This breaks up its length and allows you to better understand your new group of children, when the best time of day might be, a successful length and how involved they are in the group. Remember, be flexible, adaptable and predictable as you navigate your new classroom! Planning is key! 

Working with children can be challenging, rewarding, and let’s face it…. Stressful! But with confidence, proven techniques and strategies you can start each day with the knowledge and understanding ready to succeed.

Join us each session as we tackle a new area of professional development. Perfect for all educators to build confidence and strategies to support their work every day.

Schedule and Topics

  • Monday, December 5, 2022, 1 pm EST- New staff, LOADS of nerves
  • Monday, December 12, 2022, 1 pm EST- Health, Safety and YOU!
  • Monday, December 19, 2022, 1 pm EST- The Importance of Play
  • Monday, January 9, 2023, 1 pm EST- Scheduling Routines
  • Monday, January 23, 2023, 1 pm EST- 100 Languages of Children
  • Monday, January 30, 2023, 1 pm EST- Oh Me, Oh My! Circle time has gone Awry!
  • Monday, February 6, 2023, 1 pm EST- Hot Buttons: How will YOU React?
  • Monday, February 13, 2023, 1 pm EST- Time Management and YOU
  • Monday, February 27, 2023, 1 pm EST- YOU Can Stop the Burn out: Work-Life Balance for Child Care Professionals

Save your Spot here. Missed the live training? Find the YOU series here.

Caitlin Hackett
Caitlin Hackett

Caitlin Hackett, an Education Support Specialist for Experience Early Learning, with over 17 years in the field of early childhood, holds her BA and teaching license in Elementary Education. She has served as a former toddler teacher, center director, in-home child care owner, foster parent, and with the CCR&R in coaching, professional development, children services and leadership. She is a certified PITC (Program for Infant and Toddler Care) instructor and PAX Community Educator. Her passion is in child advocacy, specifically around high-quality child care and promoting available resources in the foster care system.


Brain Balance. (n.d.). Normal attention span expectations by age. Brain Balance Achievement Centers. Retrieved October 13, 2022, from span-expectations-by-age

Children’s Hospital. ( ). Getting the most out of circle time. Boston Children’s Hospital.

C. Hatch. (2020). The 6 preschool circle time dos and don’ts. Preschool Plan-It.

Classroom Management. Experience Preschool (2022). What is circle time? Experience Early Learning.

E. DelRegno. (2017). Making circle time more than a routine. Let’s Talk Quality.

S.J. Beneke, M. M. Ostrosky, and L. G. Katz. (2008). Calendar time for young children: good intentions gone awry. NAEYC.

Wass, S. V., Scerif, G., & Johnson, M. H. (2012). Training attentional control and working memory–Is younger, better?. Developmental Review, 32(4), 360-387.

Z. Lin. (2022). How long is a child’s attention span? Curious Neuron.

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