Engaging Circle Time Activities

In this blog post, you’ll discover Engaging Circle Time Activities for Preschoolers. These circle time ideas are structured to help preschoolers pay attention and focus to group learning in a circle time center. We love using ideas like our All About Me preschool activities in circle time to engage kids with meaningful and motivating learning opportunities.

Circle Time activities to engage preschoolers

Circle Time Activities

Keeping children entertained for 20 minutes or longer, isn’t for the faint of heart. As teachers, we learn to “read” children’s cues and adapt our plans to their needs. Every child, and every preschool class, isn’t the same. Sometimes our plans have to be adjusted to a child’s skill level or interest. T

he best way to keep a class of 24 preschool aged children engaged for circle time is to include sensory foundations within each of the activities. In this blog, you will learn how to do this, no matter what theme your classroom is studying. Circle time lessons can use all of the senses to engage young children.

Children don’t always show interest in learning a new skill, but when we encourage interaction and multi-sensory experiences while teaching new skills and concepts, preschoolers become more interested in the activity. This includes circle time and small group lessons. You can learn more about multi-sensory learning in this blog.

Attention during preschool circle time

Children’s attention spans grow as they age, but not by a lot. For every year old a child is, they are able to attend to a task for two to three minutes. That doesn’t seem like a long time, but let’s think of this from an adult’s perspective. 

When you are sitting in front of a powerpoint presentation, where does your brain go after 60 minutes? Do you catch yourself slipping off to daydream land or thinking of what you are going to make for dinner? Without a stretch break, 60 minutes is a long time to pay attention. 

There are four areas that are assessed when addressing attention span in preschoolers. This US National Library of Medicine article explains the four areas as:

  1. sustained attention
  2. selective attention (or focused attention)
  3. span of attention (encoding/maintaining)
  4. controlled attention (freedom from distractibility and set-shifting)

“Performance-based methods for measurement of attention in the preschool years have been developed to address most of the salient components of attention described by Mirsky, Dennis, and Posner, and include sustained attention, selective (focused) attention, span of attention, and top-down controlled attention, including freedom from distractibility and set-shifting.”

As children develop these four areas of attention span in their early years, early childhood educators are left with the job to teach children new concepts in a way that they remember. The attention facts are embedded within curriculum development from all angles.

Preschool circle times often involve a read-aloud story, group songs, and interactive actions as part of the preschool curriculum.

The average preschool story is between 30-40 pages (that’s 20 pages front at back!) The average children’s song is 4 stanzas (something that can be sung in under one minute.) The average children’s television show (without commercials) is 18 minutes long. 

Every single one of these activities includes a sensory break. Commercials allow children to stand up and move around. A song typically includes hand motions. Children’s stories include brightly colored and engaging illustrations. All of these are components that we can include in a typical preschool circle time. 

For a preschool aged child, 3-5 minutes is the maximum they can attend to a lesson where the adult is leading. A successful circle time could last up to 20-30 minutes, but each activity within that 20-30 minute time frame should be broken into 5 minute mini activities. 

Circle Time Activity Plan

Here is an example of a successful 30 minute circle time, based on what we discussed about preschool attention span.

  1. 5 minute Movement activity (like one of these YouTube brain break songs)
  2. 5 minute Story time
  3. 5 minute Songs (try one of these engaging, core strengthening songs)
  4. 5 minute Large Group Discussion
  5. 5 minute Stretch/Yoga – like these penguin yoga cards
  6. 5 minute Explanation of Centers and Dismissal

Making Circle Time Activities Engaging

The most successful way to encourage children to stay engaged in a story is to make the story interactive. Try these strategies when reading stories:

  • You can do this by changing your voice throughout the book, reading some parts of the story at different speeds.
  • Including the children in the creative storytelling process,  like in the books “Sammy Chases the Alphabet,” “Sammy’s Counting Adventure” and “Going on a Bear Hunt.” These three books can be created into a large group, movement game, keeping children’s attention while learning their alphabet or while counting from 1-20!
  • Incorporate movement: Ask children to do a specific action when they hear a keyword from the story.

Alphabet Circle Time Activity

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Try these ideas to work on letter identification, concepts of learning letters, and the alphabet using an interactive and engaging book and game, Sammy Chases the Alphabet.

  1. Sammy, the golden retriever, loves playing fetch with the alphabet around his farm. As his human throws the letter balls, he chases them and finds them near animals or objects that start with that letter. Print out these ABC balls before you start reading the story.
  2. Place the letters around the classroom. Start reading the story. When you get to each letter, have one child in the group hop, skip or jump to  the letter ball print out you are reading about, then place it in the basket. 
  3. Continue reading the story until all the letters have been found. 

Counting Circle Time Activity

Use the movement game, Sammy’s Counting Adventure to teach number words, one-to-one correspondence, and counting skills with this interactive movement game.

  1. Sammy, the golden retriever, likes to count objects while he is on a walk. He learns to count from one to twenty in English, Spanish and French. While reading this story to children in your class, have them all stand up. 
  2. On each number page, have the children complete a movement while counting each object. For example: “There are 7 colors in the rainbow- the children can jump seven times.” 
  3. Change the movement for each number you read. Movements can include: jump, spin, hop on one foot, tap your head, touch your toes… and more! 

Going on a Bear Hunt Circle Time Activity

The classic children’s book, Going on a Bear Hunt is engaging and fun for kids. Work on skills like attention, sequencing, recall, movement changes, and sensory input with this fun circle time book activity. You can even add these Going on a Bear Hunt snacks to the circle time lesson plan. (Kid-friendly preschool recipe contains peanut butter, but you can use other ingredients as a substitute.)

Going on a Bear Hunt Movement game:

  1. While reading the story, have children act out what they see on each page (slumping through the mud, climbing the tree, walking through grass and tiptoeing through the cave.)
  2. Give each child a picture that describes or depicts an action or part of the story. As that part is read, the child can place the picture in the circle. All students can complete the action, creating an interactive, group story.

Self-Regulation During Circle Time Activities

Sometimes, even with all the planning and changing activities to meet our preschoolers needs, there are some children who don’t have the self-regulation skills developed in order to attend to large group activities. Besides the attention span issues, there can be other contributions leading to behaviors during circle time that also are a part of leading a successful circle time session:

  • There are other children in the group
  • Turn taking requirements
  • Spatial awareness considerations
  • Sensory challenges
  • Postural needs or core strength issues impacting sitting on the floor
  • Trying different sitting positions on the floor to meet needs related to core strength, attention, sensory needs, regulation, etc.

Kelly Choo reports in this article that “Attention and self-regulation are closely interlinked, with research suggesting that by improving self-regulation, it will help your children pay better attention. This is because, self-regulation gives children the skills to ignore the distractions and avoid going off on a tangent, allowing them to better focus on tasks in front of them.”

She goes on to describe the impact that self-regulation abilities have on the child’s ability to participate in tasks. These self-regulation skills allow the child to participate in social situations with specific skills displayed:

  • Focus and concentrate
  • Assess themselves
  • Initiate or persist in a task
  • Think before they act
  • Maintain social appropriateness”

If you have children that need support learning self-regulation techniques, Soothing Sammy was created to support preschoolers through visual and tactile cues, teaching them how to calm down so they can participate in daily activities.

A final note on Circle Time Activities

As you plan your large group activities, remember that children are always learning and their brain continues to develop rapidly for the first 5 years of their lives. If an activity doesn’t work well one week, then save it and try again in another month. Meeting our children where they are at, creating engaging and multi-sensory circle time sessions, will make learning fun for them, and enjoyable for us. 

Jeana Kinne is a veteran preschool teacher and director. She has over 20 years of experience in the Early Childhood Education field. Her Bachelors Degree is in Child Development and her Masters Degree is in Early Childhood Education. She has spent over 10 years as a coach, working with Parents and Preschool Teachers, and another 10 years working with infants and toddlers with special needs. She is also the author of the “Sammy the Golden Dog” series, teaching children important skills through play.

circle time activities