Circle Time in the Woodland Park 3-5's class is our daily children’s community meeting. Yes, we do the traditional singing, dancing, and picture book reading, but learning to engage in a group discussion is what it’s really all about.
Participation is key. For some kids, the challenge is learning to stop “participating” long enough for the other children to get a word in edgewise. For others, the notion of raising a hand, waiting to be called on, then speaking in front of such a large group, can be intimidating.
My 3-year-old friend Josephine (as differentiated from my 12-year-old daughter Josephine) was one of the latter. She participated in the singing and dancing, and was clearly engaged with the reading, but she preferred listening over speaking.
It took a few months, but one day she raised her hand to indicate that she wanted to compliment a friend. I called, “Josephine has something to say.” We held eye contact for a moment and I understood that this was really only about hand raising -- one thing at a time.
I asked, “Do you want me to call on you later?” She nodded.
For several weeks thereafter we went through this ritual whenever we were giving compliments or making rules, each time ending with our agreement to do this again next time. And then, out of the blue, I called her and she answered as if it was nothing special, “Heart Monkey is in my cubby.” Josephine still never became one of the regular contributors, but she gamely tried out rule making, compliment giving, and freelance public speaking over the course of the rest of the year.
Similarly, when it came to storytelling Josephine’s process told a more interesting story than the tales themselves.
It took a few months before she approached me as I was collecting stories to read later at Circle Time. When I asked if she wanted a turn, she shook me off. She just wanted to listen to the other kids tell their stories.
For several weeks thereafter we went through the same ritual whenever we were telling stories. Then one day when I asked, “Do you want to tell a story to read at Circle Time?” she nodded. I wrote her name on the list. When her turn came we held eye contact for a moment and I understood that this was really only about getting her name on the list – one thing at a time.
Then a few weeks later, she told this story:
Humity, humity, humity.
When it was time to read it at Circle Time, Josephine came forward without hesitation, smiled into the audience as I introduced it, then laughed as I carefully recited her words, “Humity, humity, humity.”
There is was only one other story in the Josephine file from that year:
Coma, cama, coma,Coma Como Como coma.Hm hm hm hm hm hm,Hm hm hm hm hm hm hm.Gunk gunk gunk gunk gunk.
When I read that one, she was not making eye contact with me at all, because she was too busy looking at the audience. And I already knew that her storytelling was really only about standing at the front of the class while Teacher Tom reads.
As a 4-year-old Josephine was the very first child to step forward and tell a story that year. She was never the most chatty child on the blue rug, but she was always in the conversation, making rules, giving compliments, and daily contributing to our community conversation.
(Reposted from 7/25/09, with revisions)