A traditional element of Waldorf schools and homes is Circle Time. A good description of a traditional Waldorf Circle Time is this one, from Lavender’s Blue Homeschool – a Waldorf Kindergarten program:
“In a Waldorf kindergarten (and in the early grades as well), music and movement happen throughout the day but there is also a special gathering each morning called circle time. A circle time is just a time of the day when you sing songs together, recite verses, use movement, and do fingerplays. Those four elements are pulled together into a seasonal or story-based theme. Older children might do traditional singing games during circle, practice tossing and catching beanbags, and other developmental movement exercises. In the early grades, circle becomes not only a music and movement gathering, but a time to practice math in an active way, work on drama and speech exercises, and practice the recorder. A formal circle time is at the heart of a Waldorf school program, and I think it can also be a wonderful practice for homeschoolers.”
I came across the idea of Circle Time when we started our journey with Oak Meadow last year. Their curriculum recommends starting your school day with circle time. In reading more about it, many articles I read stated that Circle Time can be a calming time for children, helping to connect and ground them, providing comfort, and the predictability of a routine. Others touted the benefits of improving fine and gross-motor skills. The idea that lighting a candle, reciting an opening and closing verse, with a few finger plays and songs in between could actually be a “changing” experience, or a grounding experience for the children, seemed hard to believe. But, I figured if nothing else, it would be fun.
And so, we gave it a whirl – we decided to have our circle time over breakfast, and not only did the children love it, but we did see the benefits I had read about. Perhaps the best benefit to starting our day with circle time, was the feeling of serenity with which we started our day. Maybe it was the soft, flickering light of the candle, maybe it was the time of prayer. Maybe it was because for those 15-20 minutes, there was nothing else – only our small circle of three, sharing together without the distractions of electronics or to-do lists. Maybe it was the warm cup of tea I enjoyed while reading poems and stories, or maybe it was the calming effect of the bits of nature we brought to the table, or perhaps it’s just the comfort of consistency and routine. Whatever it was – it left all of us feeling calmer, connected and filled with peace, and it has become a cherished start to our day.
As time has gone on, I notice that the children typically have better days with their behaviors when we start our day with circle time. I admit that sometimes I get slack, or life gets busy and things get pushed to the wayside; sometimes this happens with circle time, and when it does, the children will ask for it. They may not be able to put it into words like I can, but they feel it’s absence.
Everyone does circle time a little differently within their home (or homeschool) – a different time, place and activities. We chose to do ours over breakfast for a few reasons. The first being that I wanted our circle time to set the tone for the entire day. And I admit the part of me that wondered how I was going to fit something else into our day, felt like it “killed two birds with one stone”. But also because of our daughter’s issues with eating, I felt like circle time might be encouragement for her to stay at the table and eat better.
We also chose a slightly longer format than many do, we generally spend a good 20 minutes on circle time. We start our circle time by lighting our candle (homemade beeswax), and then reciting our opening verse:
Morning has come, night is away; We rise with the sun, to welcome the day.
Then we read the day’s Gospel reading, reading out of this beautiful book. From there we have a quick time of prayer – I love praying together with the children – sometimes it’s funny – after all, you never know the things littles will say, or request in prayer! But often, through their prayer requests you will be given a glimpse of insight into something that may be bothering them. And sometimes their prayers are so selfless, so surprisingly deep, that it’s affirmation that you and your husband are indeed doing something right on this journey of parenting.
From there we move into finger plays and action songs. One of my favorite resources is Joyful Movement, from Christopherus. An excerpt from the book reads:
This book is not simply another collection of verses, songs and movement exercises. Compiled in the hope of preventing and even possibly correcting challenges a child might have with sensory integration, movement, coordination or other related faculties, this book is a treasure trove of ideas on how to sensitively nurture – not overstimulate – the child’s senses and to bring healthy activity to him or her every day.
For a household that has as many sensory issues as we do, being able to engage in sensory integration in as many ways as possible is very important. I love that through our fun yet peaceful circle time, we are able to take a few moments to work on fine motor skills, gross motor skills and sensory integration in a fun way. Any time that you can work towards keeping your children’s senses balanced, will only serve to make your days easier.
Granted, finger plays and action songs tend to get the children a bit revved up, so to bring them back down, we always finish our circle time with reading. I try to alternate what we read, choosing something different each day. Typically we choose between a Bible story, a Saint story, selections from William Bennett’s books The Moral Compass and Book of Virtues (these are two wonderful compilations filled with poems, fables, fairy tales and other literary works of solid moral value), poems from Favorite Poems Old & New, and storybooks from our ample selection. When choosing storybooks, I try to select quality stories that pertain to the season or holidays that are at hand. I also try to chose stories that encourage actions or singing (such as The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything).
Now, in true Waldorf schools, you would only read one story or poem for the entire week, allowing time to really internalize it. You might read it one day, add hand motions another day, have the children act it out another day. I confess, that I choose to rotate because we have so many great resources, it kind of drives me up the wall seeing them sitting on the shelf not getting used. Sometimes we read the same poem or story a few different times, per the children’s request. I am fine with that – obviously the story speaks to them on some level, and so I feel my job is to allow them to continue to explore or re-visit that story as often as they desire. And, down the road we may look at switching to a more Waldorf approach and perhaps just focus on a few seasonal/holiday storybooks for a week, or focusing on a couple poems etc…
Once we have all calmed down with a good reading, we close our circle time by reciting our closing verse:
Guide my hands left and right, as I work with all my might.
And so, that is how Circle Time happens in our home. There is no right or wrong way, our way is only one way. But, I hope that I may have given you some ideas, and if you haven’t tried circle time in your home, I hope I’ve encouraged you to try it. It has truly been one of the best routines we’ve added to our day. Anything that forces you to hit pause and focus solely on your children, engaging together, is going to be a truly wonderful addition to your family rhythm.