I want you to picture this scenario with me as you read along: You are in your preschool classroom. You ask your kids to come to the carpet for circle time. They all quietly walk to the carpet, find their spots, and sit down. They are looking at you eagerly and waiting for you to get started. They sing along with your good morning song. They listen intently to your read-aloud. They respond to your questions about the book and even ask some of their own. They are happy and engaged the whole time, and you are smiling from ear to ear when circle time is done.

Sounds great, right? Is that how your circle time goes? I mean… {insert sarcastic voice here}  if you’re beyond your first six weeks, your circle time is running like a fine-tuned machine, right? 

I think we all know that getting to a picture-perfect circle time is no easy feat. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible, and it definitely doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try! 

If your circle time is more chaotic than calm, if you spend more time on behavior than teaching, if you’re tired of constant disruptions and interruptions, I’VE GOT YOU!

Just take a deep breath and keep reading. I’ve got three simple things you can do TODAY that will make an immediate impact on your circle time!

Keep It Short & Sweet

If your kids are getting antsy during circle time, it could be nothing more than the fact that you’re expecting them to sit for too long. Here’s a fun fact for you: the average attention span of a typically developing child is only 2-3 minutes per year of their age. So, for example, a 3-year-old can attend to something for 6-9 minutes at the most, and a 4-year-old can attend for 8-12 minutes. (And I can tell you from experience that post-pandemic kids definitely fall on the shorted end of that spectrum.)

Think about that in reference to your circle time, and ask yourself these questions:

  • How long is my circle time?
  • How long is each segment of my circle time?
  • Is the way I’m conducting my circle time in line with the attention span of my kids?


If you can say “yes” to that last question, you can head on down to the next section. If not, it’s time to make some adjustments. 

Take a look at your circle time plans and see which areas are too long. How can you shorten them? How can you break up your circle time into smaller chunks? What can you add in or take out to get it more in line with the attention span of your kids? Just as a general rule of thumb, for class of 3- to 5-year olds, you want to keep your circle time to about 20 minutes tops. That’s much longer than their attention spans, so you’ll need a few different activities within that 20 minutes to ensure they can attend the entire time. I recommend 3-4 short activities (2-3 minutes) with one longer activity like a read aloud or a lesson that’s 8-10 minutes. This gives you an opportunity to start trying to extend their attention spans little by little without losing your sanity! 

If you want to see more detail about how I divide up the time during my circle time, you can click HERE to get my free circle time planning framework. It really walks you through the different chunks of time I use and how long each should last. It’s a great starting point if you’re just getting started with circle time or if you’re trouble shooting your existing routine.

Let Them Move

I’m sure right now you’re thinking, wait a minute, Stephanie. You’re supposed to be telling me how to keep them still during circle time. Why are you telling me to let them move? Well, that’s pretty simple: Their little bodies have a LOT of energy, and they are going to get that energy our one way or another. So the real question is this: Do you want them to move on their terms or on yours?

When we don’t incorporate movement into circle time, they are going to move on their own terms, and that’s when we get frustrated and feel like no one is listening. It can even start to feel like you’ve completely lost control if you’re not careful. (And you very well may have.) But if you intentionally plan movement opportunities within your circle time, you give them productive ways to get their wiggles out so that they can attend to the things you’re wanting them to do with you. There are a few easy ways to weave movement into your circle time:

  • Active transitions: Instead of just telling your kids to sit down or stand up, incorporate movement into the sitting and standing by using active transitions. (I’ve got some active transitions that are simple and easy to use in my Circle Time Toolbox™️.)
  • Responding to questions: Instead of having one child answer a question or only having your kids respond verbally, use group questions that only have two possible answers. Give them two different motions to use when they answer rather than speaking their answers. For example, If you think the tree is going to fall over, wave your hands in the air. If you think the tree will stay standing, wave your hands out to your side. It’s a simple way to let them move a little without disrupting the flow of what you’re doing.
  • Act it out: Let your kids act out parts of the story you are reading or important vocabulary words in the story or lesson. Adding movement to your lessons will increase their retention as well!
  • Attention getters: When you start losing them during a lesson or activity, use an attention getter that incorporated movement. “Open Them, Shut Them” is a great example. They’ll want to participate, so they will naturally become more engaged. Plus, you’re letting them move, so they will be more able to stay engaged once you get back to your lesson. (I’ve got some attention getters  in my Circle Time Toolbox™️, too!


Take a look at your circle time plans for the next few days and find some places you can add in movement. Give a try and see what a difference it makes!

Let Them Talk

Yep, you read that right! LET THEM TALK! It’s the same idea as letting them move. They are going to do it one way or another, so you might as well give them the opportunity to do it when and how you want them to. If you are intentional about letting them talk in productive ways during circle time, they’ll be more likely to stay quiet when you need them to listen. Sometimes just doing a song or fingerplay is enough to satisfy their need to talk, but sometimes it’s not. Sometimes they want to share the things they are thinking about or the things that are important to them in that moment, and song or fingerplay doesn’t allow them to do that. But there are a few things you can do that will.

  • What do you notice? This question is a great conversation starter, and you can use it with literally anything. You can show your kids a vocabulary picture, the cover of a book, a new math manipulative, or even a child’s name, and simply ask them to share what they notice.
  • What do you know about…? When you’re introducing a new topic, skill, lesson, etc., let your kids talk about what they already know. In addition to giving the chance to talk, it gives you some great insight about which direction to go with your teaching.
  • Comprehension questions: During your read-aloud, ask your kids open-ended questions that allow them to predict, make connections, retell, draw conclusions, make inferences, and explain their thinking about the book. If you really want to get them talking and thinking about the book, follow up their answers with “How do you know?” They’ll have to really think about the book and how they got their answer to be able to tell you that!

If you really want to get a jump start on increasing engagement during your circle time, I’ve got two resources that will help you a TON! I’ve already mentioned them above, but I’m going to tell you about them one more time because I think they are that important!

The first is my free 5-step circle time planning framework. It’s walks you through the process I use to plan my circle time so that it is age-appropriate and engaging. It’s based on years of trial and error, and I put it together for you so that you can skip all the mistakes and go straight to the success! 

The second is my Circle Time Toolbox™️ for Anytime. It is full of attention getters, active transitions, songs, and fingerplays that will completely change the way you manage your circle time. At least it did for me! The management tools in this set will help you ditch the stress and frustration and turn your circle time into one of your favorite times of day.

I’d love to hear how these tips work for you once you’ve given them a try! Leave a comment to let me know how your circle time changes when you make these changes. And if you still have questions, feel free to email me at stephanie@mrs-as-room.com to let me know how I can help!

Get the free guide!

This 5-step planning framework is the backbone of Circle Time Made Simple™ and will change the way you look at your circle time! Learn how I plan and manage my circle time so that I get my students engaged and KEEP them that way!

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