Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Basic Elements of Daily Living with Children ~ Circle Time

"When we choose one story and carry it in a rich nourishing way through speech, movement, gesture, song and drama over three weeks, we are bringing rich imaginations to the child that the child can drink in deeply and digest over time."
 The topic of Circle  comes up regularly among homeschoolers and is one that is also being taken up by early childhood teachers and care givers who are working with younger and younger children each year. It is a really good and really important question.

I will try to address this topic from my experience as a homeschooling parent, kindergarten teacher, Parent Child group leader and Morning Garden Mistress:

The very young child, 3 and under, does not need circle but can benefit from rhythmic elements of the circle brought one on one in play through the day.

The four year old needs a bit more and is in a transition and so much depends on the environment: if other children are present, and the child, who is this child?
Do we need to do circle at home?  It sure does seem odd to stand up and lead a child, one child around the room in song and gesture. What does it bring to the child? Are there benefits? Is it part of the pedagogy?

First let's look at the difference between circle for the grade school child and circle for the kindergarten and nursery child:

Circle time in the grades is a part of Main Lesson,  an opportunity to come face to face with each other, check in, experience the self within the group and do all sorts of rhythmic movement and games and verse and song. This is the age (6 +,7, 8 and 9 year olds) and time (older kinders,1st , 2nd, 3rd grade) that is really suited to playing the archetypal rhythmic circle games of childhood and ideal for math movements and math learning in a group. We can bring elements of that circle one on one at home. Unfortunately, some of the finer elements we cannot bring without a group at home for the grades.

Circle time for early childhood, for the child under seven for the Nursery and the Kindergarten is a completely different animal altogether. Well, two different animals: one for the Nursery Child (2, 3, 4 year old) and one for the Kinder Child (4, 5, 6 year old)

Children in the stage of early childhood from birth to seven (also referred to as the first stage of child development given to us by Rudolf Steiner) benefit greatly from the activities that take place within a circle. The circle invites children into the social realm. Children under three are not quite ready to enter that realm for they are still very much at one with the world, enveloped in the "mother bubble."

Yes they can take place outside of the "circle" too. The "circle" brings form and focus to the artistic activities that are so nourishing for the young child and rhythm as well for the child of three and older.

If we consider circle in the context of the pillars of Waldorf education, something Carrie Dendtler and I have recently blogged about, over "Virtual Tea, "

We see many artistic elements of Waldorf education come into "play" with circle time:
  • Speech
  • Singing and music
  • Drama
  • Movement
These elements are can be connected to the Four Foundational Senses or four physical senses, the senses that involve being in a physical body: touch, life, self movement and balance through circle movement and play that Connie Helms has been writing on in her series over on The Wonder of Childhood. (They can be satisfied outside of circle as well) Remember that the young child is all about movement, doing and action, being engaged with the body, all physical.

The feeling of wholeness of the one: the circle, no beginning, no end, is mood we want to uphold for the child under seven and to a slighter degree until age nine and the fall. Circle brings that imagination, that picture.

Circle time offers benefits to the child in the areas of:
  •  singing 
  • drama 
  • movement 
  • speech
Let's consider the adult and the relationship to circle time. Circle offers the adult a moment to stand tall and clearly be the leader, the basis for being The Loving Authority. It also offers us, the parent, a chance to push ourselves a bit and begin learning verses and songs by heart, we can take up musical instruments for us the adults to use in circle, for this is what we will ask of our children in the grades and guess what? they need us as the model. It is so important for our children to see our striving. The young child is, as Rudolf Steiner wrote, all about learning through "Example and Imitation."

My humble opinion, is that it all depends on the adult's willingness and desire to take up circle for the child, as a flowing story with movement and song as an artistic endeavor.

In a training with Joan Almon many years ago, she taught us, the teachers and care givers, to make a circle that tells a story. She spoke of the smorgasbord too but emphasized the value of the story in the circle. She had particular advice for the smorgasbord too.

Story is one way to bring circle that can work at home. You might make it a movement journey, telling bits of the story in song and verse as you go and building as each day goes over three weeks.

Themes and particularly weekly themes break the world into bits for the young child, they fragment reality. A theme has no life, no breathe, no rhythm. The young child needs to be held and cared for with rhythm that flows through the year. No themes, no bits, the season, flowing one into the next through the years of early childhood. It is not until third grade that we begin to look at the parts to the whole.

The picture we need to carry for the child in the early years of childhood, up to age nine and the "fall"  is one of wholeness, of oneness. Weekly themes make for busy work rather than living into the rhythms of nature. This is really important to understand. We live in a busy world that is so fragmented with this and that and focus here and there, quick, quick, quick, easy come and easy go,  it is so important, so healthy, even therapeutic to stay with the flow, the rhythm that is inherent with nature through the year and reflect that back to the child over the course of the whole season.

The gesture we want to carry is one of the whole world, of oneness of the child at one with the world, connected to natures rhythms everyday through the season. This is why early childhood educators make a seasonal focus with story, song , circle and activities specific to the season.

The material can be brought over many weeks with a gradual building on the basic elements. Think of it as a flow, a rhythmic flow through the year reflecting Mother Nature's inherent rhythms. When it snows, we go out and play in the snow and then we make hot cocoa or tea to warm ourselves when we come in. The material reflects what is happening in the household and in nature, it reflects the child's world.

Young children do not need crafts in Waldorf early childhood. Crafts are for the adult. The teacher makes the puppet figures and the silks and the blocks. The children play with self initiated free play and movement. The Handcraft work for the young child (seven and under) is the daily living, being involved in the housework, the cooking, the baking, the washing of dishes, sweeping the floor along with the artistic activities of coloring and painting (for the over 3's). When we are doing that, who has time for crafts?

The crafts come in with the Handwork in first grade. The older kindergarten child may begin with some handwork to make useful objects. Let the decorative objects come from nature as much as possible.

When we choose one story and carry it in a rich nourishing way through speech, movement, gesture, song and drama over three weeks, we are bringing rich imaginations to the child that the child can drink in deeply and digest over time. Remember the child is like one whole sensory organ, a sieve, talking it all in, in imitation. (See Anthroposophy in Light of the Child for more)

 Painting can reflect the mood of the season and yes do use just one color. No need for story with the child under seven. Stories with painting, stories that describe the mood of the color, that elicit feeling in the child are for the middle stage of childhood (7-14) See my last post on painting to links where you can see it in action and learn more.

Changing it up each week does not give the child time for digestion nor does it allow us to deeply penetrate the mood of the season or the story.

It can be so simple. One story for three weeks. (and yes read or tell other stories at bedtime or nap time) but give yourself and your child the gift of one story (maybe a fairy tale for the 5,6,7,8, year old)  to carry through three weeks. The circle and the story can build together over the weeks with gestures, song and movement then either start anew with a circle and story or let elements drop off and introduce new ones. This is a great gift for the child.

Rudolf Steiner spoke of working in six week blocks. Today it seems that grade school teachers work in three and four week blocks. Kindergarten teachers work with the rhythm inherent in the season with a circle for early season, mid season, late season.

For me the whole circle experience really asks a bit of the adult to present it as storytelling, singer, poet and it takes quite a bit of understanding and experience to really get. Foundation Studies help grasp a picture of the developing human being.

My suggestion is for those who have never experienced a really well put together circle in a Waldorf environment is to take it up quite seriously as a study in speech, song, music, drama and movement. Consider it part of the adult training and the inner work of being the parent/teacher.

Look into the development of the young child, what serves the child?

 Ask the questions:
  • What movement is healthy for young children? Why? How do they serve the child?
  • What speech do we bring? Why? 
  • What songs?
  • How do I bring this dramatically yet without rousing feelings and awakening the feeling realm of the middle years of childhood?
  • Did I play circle games as a child?
  • What experience do I have of circle?
  • Where can I start building a wee little circle time for my child?
How is it with you to do circle? Are you doing it at home? What works? At school? With wee littles? Feel free to link your posts on circle below in the comment section.


If you'd like to gain confidence with circle time and movement games, have a deeper understanding of circle time, explore the myriad of developmental benefits for children and the opportunity for artistic expression through circle work for the adult,  join Celebrate the Rhythm of Life through the Year in Caring for Children, my program that supports homemakers and homeschooler on this path, and take up an exploration of this topic with specific examples and interaction.

Click here for more information on Celebrate the Rhythm of Life through the Year in Caring for Children

Celebrate the Rhythm of Life 
Harmonious Rhythms ::  Parenting with Soul :: Waldorf Homeschooling

~living curriculum program to support parenting and homeschooling


  1. This is lovely, Lisa - thanks! Maybe you want to make a video for us to see a good Circle :P You could make it for-pay - there isn't anything like that available as far as I know, and Circle remains one of the most elusive pieces of Waldorf homeschooling, even though it's part of every day for many years!

  2. Lisa,
    Thank you so much for this very thorough discussion of circle time, really the most helpful discussion in one spot I've seen -- even in books about Circle Time. Some great ideas for me to think about.
    My daughter (just turned 4) *loves* circle, she loved it at 3, too, with just the two of us - she loves dancing and singing. I have the best luck with Movement Journeys and Circle Adventures by Nancy Blanning and Laurie Clark, as they present complete circles as a long story and give plenty of large and fine motor suggestions with the songs and verses, with things to climb on, etc. And they are just lovely. We often do them outside, which is so much fun. I will say they are a lot to learn, but that lends itself very well to building the circle over a 3- or 4-week cycle! An area of work for me is that I am no good with creating gestures and movements for verse, and so many books of circle times (like Let Us Form A Ring) leave them out!
    Thank you again for this wonderful post.
    Peace and Good Health,

  3. Thank you for this article Lisa.

    Two questions for you please...

    - what do you think of children using musical instruments (shakers, clap sticks, drums) during circle time; and

    - are there songs that you sing to quieten children to prepare them for the end of the circle?

    Narelle xox

  4. This is an interesting concept. I'm just starting the journey of teaching my little one, so I'll try to see if we can turn segments of our day into circle events.

  5. I am really trying to learn as much as I can about circle time, this was very helpful thank you so much! I also listened to a good interview about circle time, and it was explained that it is about polarities, soft and loud, moving and still and finding poem that follow certain rhythms. I think one of the most wonderful and scary things about Waldorf education, is how much everything adds to a greater rhythm, there is almost always a "hidden" why to how and when something is done, it's fine to learn to decode it.


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