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Making The Most Of Circle Time
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Gather in a circle...                                                         01 March 05

Making the Most of Circle Time and Music

Many preschool and daycare centers begin each day with circle time. Circle time usually includes a variety of activities, such as describing the weather, naming the day of the week, the months of the year, reviewing the day’s activities, and singing.

Music making is an important part of a child’s life. Babies are born music makers, vocalizing and imitating their parents’ vocal inflections at four or five months. Babies are also great listeners and have terrific memories; this is how they acquire language.

Young children express themselves in a variety of ways, singing being one of the most enjoyable expressions of self. The importance of singing with children can no longer be denied. Research has shown that exposure to music and music-making aids language acquisition, improves hand-eye coordination, and sharpens listening skills, among other benefits.

In organizing successful music sessions, there are several easy but important rules to follow:

Repeat, repeat, repeat! It is not necessary to have hundreds of fabulous finger plays and songs for the early childhood classroom. Ten great finger plays and twenty-five fabulous songs are all you need for an entire year.

Children learn by repetition, so make sure that once a new finger play is introduced you give the children several opportunities to listen and repeat with you during the same session. Repeat new finger plays every day or every week if you have a weekly music session. Keep the movements simple and make sure they are cued by the words. Be consistent with those movements each time you do the finger play to avoid confusion.

Finger plays are rhymes or short songs that have accompanying hand and finger movements. Some toddlers will master the movements before the words; others will master the words first. Still others will sit and watch intently without uttering a sound.

When choosing finger plays, choose age-appropriate themes and interests. Anything with animals or animal sounds is always good.

Songs with repeating choruses (The Wheels On the Bus, Old MacDonald) are common in children’s music, so songs in their entirety do not need to repeated in one music session.

Go Slow! Even after 12 years of making music with young children, I still remind myself to sing songs slowly, especially when introducing new songs. Teachers who are not comfortable with song leading tend to rush through songs making it difficult for children to follow along or learn new material. Use your heartbeat as a guide for a perfect tempo, or use the rhythm of regular walking to guide you. If you can conjure up these rhythms before you begin singing, you’ll find eager children engaged and learning new songs with ease.

Hand clapping and playing rhythm sticks along with singing will help keep the beat manageable for young children. You’ll know the rhythm is right if your kids can or clap along in time with the music.

Other things to keep in mind
>You are often the person in a child’s life who introduces them to the joy of singing, so enjoy!
>Young children don’t judge their teacher’s singing voice, so don’t judge yourself too harshly.
>Be generous with your co-workers, encouraging them to sing during music time.
>Try not to rely on recorded music for all of your musical activities. All of us have our favorite classroom CDs, as do our children, but they need to see us making music, too. The more they see us enjoying circle time, the more willing participants they will be.

The Hardest Part: How do I begin?

1. Make a circle with a song (song suggestions: Come and Make a Circle [S. Salidor], If You're Happy and You Know It, The More We Get Together)

2. Involve simple movements right away (suggested movements: swaying from side to side, clapping hands, tapping toes)

3. Repeat song as long as is necessary to get everyone, or almost everyone involved. Make eye contact with each child; compliment all children who participate; compliment all of the other children for something!

4. Be prepared and enjoy yourself. Your children will want to do what you are doing if you are having fun. Know in advance which fingerplays and songs you are going to do that day, and don’t be afraid to take suggestions from your kids.

Susan Salidor
© 2005

(Susan Salidor is one of our select artists with a cd in The Portal Store and songs in the Listening Room)