Wednesday, March 16, 2016

More About How We Do Circle Time

Yesterday's post on why we still do circle time was a surprise run-away best seller so I thought I'd follow it up with a few specifics, especially since some folks were asking about the kinds of things we actually do and discuss in our daily democratic meetings. I thought I'd use our 4-5's class to illustrate.

I've already written about the child-led, child-directed, child-demanded time we spend on show-and-tell each day. Last week, we were so deep into another discussion that nearly 40 minutes had passed. That's a long time to sit together. The kids were engaged, but I wanted to get them back to their play, so called for an end to things. The children, however, were having none of it: "Show-and-tell," "Show-and-tell, "What about show-and-tell?" I answered, "I just thought you guys would want to go play. We've been sitting here a long time." A hue and cry went up. I suggested we could do it later. Finally, I said, "Okay, if you want to stay for show-and-tell then we'll do it. The rest of you should go play." Three-quarters of them stayed right where they were and even the ones who went off to make art or squish play dough kept an ear on what was going on, often chiming in from across the room, even rejoining us if the show-and-tell item looked particularly appealing.

I've also already written about the compliment chain, which is extra popular with this year's class. While show-and-tell has become something that is demanded daily, the compliment chain is suggested by the children about once every couple weeks, although in a way it's now become incorporated into show-and-tell with the children interrupting each speaker with a cascade of, "I love it!" and "That's awesome!"

These are a couple of what I think of as "set pieces" of the 4-5's circle time, pivots around which we turn, but when we sit down together at the same time each day (not the beginning of the day) I generally have no agenda. I usually sing a silly, impromptu song of some sort as the kids settle in. Many of them join in with their own verses. Sometimes they all line up beside me and we sing to the empty rug. Most days, at least one of the kids will have something pressing to say and will raise her hand. When I see that I chant, "One, two, three, eyes on me," and the kids chant back, "One, two, eyes on you," which is the signal for the meeting to really begin. I'll say, "Sophia wants to say something," and we're off.

If no hands go up, I'll sometimes introduce a topic based upon what's happening in our school community or in the wider world. Last week, for instance, there was a major natural gas explosion in the Greenwood neighborhood where several of our families live, destorying beloved local businesses. I asked, "Did anyone hear about the big explosion?" and we were off.

The following day, someone farted and the odor was of the weaponized variety. I said, "Wow! That stinks!" One of the kids said he thought it smelled like dirty socks and we were again off, with each kid sharing about his own stinky (or not stinky) socks, a conversation that evolved into a few fathers being thrown under the bus.

Often there are community wide matters to address, such as behavior that some of us find objectionable. Last year, for instance, I wrote about an extraordinary discussion that emerged from a girl wanting to make a rule "no bad guys." It's for these sorts of discussions, the ones in which we are making agreements about how we will treat one another, that I find it is absolutely essential to have all the children involved. How can we agree to rules if everyone doesn't have the opportunity to listen, contribute, and agree? We have a lot of circle time discussions that begin with an accusation, "Clyde hit me," and then we're off into the world of community mediation. These are important topics to children and it's valuable to discuss them together.

And yes, there are days when the kids want to sing or hear "Little Boxes" or request that I tell them one of my "set piece" stories or something else that is more traditionally considered circle time material. I even have a felt board upon which we play out the comforting and unifying songs we've been singing since we were two-year-olds together.

My main job during all of this, I think, is to keep an eye on the kids. Are they getting squirrely? Are they bored? Is everyone getting a chance to participate? And indeed, there are some days that circle time only lasts a few minutes as it's clear there is nothing of pressing enough concern or interest to continue.

This is important community building work we are doing there together on the checkerboard rug, even if it isn't everyone's favorite time of the day. And children often directly request that we wrap things up, not waiting for me to notice it in their behavior, then we have a debate about that. It is exceedingly rare for anyone to get up and walk away because they know, I think, that what we are doing together is important and requires their participation.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

superb piece.

I can sense AS. Neill beaming as he looks down on us from his study window.