Previous Years’ Circle Time Plan Details – Simply Convivial

posted in: extra 5

Because this information isn’t on this site, and I am not sure how long my old blog will stick around, I thought I’d post the plans from the last two years.

How things flow and what is included in Circle Time changes every year, and usually there are tweaks or even major alterations midyear. Particularly in the stage of the game where new people are being added to the family, where babies change their habits every three months, where toddlers come and go and come again, and where more children can’t read than can, Circle Time sanity can be touch and go.

There’s no “right” way for it; remember that. Having time together to pray and sing and do some Scripture memory is really the important part, and everything else (and how it happens and how it flows) is incidental. For awhile, I recorded all our memory work and played the tracks for us all to recite to, because then my attention could be directed at babies, toddlers, and miscreants. Sometimes we only colored while listening. That was after a particularly rough bout where it was pulling teeth to get my oldest as a 5-year-old to repeat after me. It was a power struggle that made me a frazzled and not-nice mommy. So much for “best part of the day.” I changed the tactics on him and won. I decided exposure and enjoying the time was more important than having it happen the way other people said to do it. Give yourself that freedom to be unconventional and do what works. Most likely, you’ll need a brand new plan in 6 months or a year anyway. How you do it now doesn’t have to be how you do it forever.

In fact, I’m pretty sure right now that Circle Time being “The Best Part of the Day” as Kendra’s eBook is subtitled only happens when you have more non-wiggly readers than younger children. I have 2 halfway-sometimes-non-wiggly readers and it’s much easier and better than it used to be. But we aren’t having any great conversations, and we have to keep it to 30-45 minutes at the table, and I have to be very responsive in the moment to keep things going along.

So, here’s how it’s looked in the past (and I don’t think it ever happened all 100% as planned with full cooperation and everyone in peaceful harmony). Even so, it is worth it. Even right now, and not just looking forward to the future, it is worth it. The 2 year old can answer some catechism questions, sing several hymns (or approximations anyway), and everyone loves the opportunity to pray aloud. Phrases from Scripture or the catechism sometimes pop into totally unrelated conversations. It’s a very good thing, despite the energy required.

The following are cut and paste from the posts I wrote at the beginning of each school year, so they are written in present tense. I hope that’s not too confusing.

2010-2011 Circle Time Plans

Children: 7yo boy, 5yo boy, 3yo girl, 1yo boy


  • Pray (everyone may have a turn)
  • Sing (one hymn or psalm per turn, one review hymn or psalm, and the Doxology or Gloria Patri)
  • Recite a creed (usually the Apostle’s, later in the year we’ll learn the Nicene; this is our pledge of allegiance)
  • Manners
  • Repeat memory work (we don’t do all of this every day, some is only weekly or twice a week)
  • Catechism for Young Children or select Heidelberg Q&As
    1 Psalm over the course of two terms
    1 Scripture passage
    review several previously learned Psalms and passages
    Bible knowledge song (1 per term)
    Grammar chants
    Math facts songs
  • Bible

My estimate is that this takes 30-45 minutes. Singing is 5-8 minutes, memory work is 8-10, manners is 5, Bible is 10-15, and wrangling & managing is 5-10. That’s not on the list because it’s constant.


I found a song for the presidents on YouTube that we’ll use to memorize them. None were updated to include Obama, so we have to tag that on the end ourselves. The boys enjoy that because they think Obama is a funny name to say.

For the states, I’m using the Geography Songs selections and we’ll do one section (Eastern border, Northern border, etc.) each term.

The Bible songs will be a Book of the Bible song or a Jamie Soles list song (like Apostles or Kings or Prophets).

I decided not to do formal grammar this year, but instead we’ll learn the Shurley grammar chants (I bought the CD only) and we’ll check out Ruth Heller’s books from the library. With these helps, we’ll do a “as you walk along the way” approach to grammar, since I’m comfortable and familiar with the terminology and concepts.

The math facts songs are from Math-U-See.

I bought Manners Made Easy for the Family when it one day happened to be an Amazon bargain bin book, but after reading through it again and thinking about it, it wasn’t really focused enough on what I wanted to focus on and just reading the entries wouldn’t get it into the children’s heads, I thought. So, I started putting together my own lessons based off her book and a couple others I used as reference to make sure it’s all correct. I have the outline and wrote 1/3 of it out in a couple hours one Saturday morning, but I still need to finish it. Once it’s finished and we’ve tested it out for awhile I will make it available.

For Bible we’re continuing with Covenantal Catechism, but we’ll do both Book 2: Genesis through II Samuel and Book 3: I Kings to Malachi in one year so we can move on to New Testament next year.

2011-2012 Circle Time Plans

Children: 8yo boy, 6yo boy, 4yo girl, 2yo boy

  1. Proverb of the Day: We used to listen to the Proverb for the day (the chapter corresponding to the day of the month) during breakfast, but that no longer works well for us. If we all get settled into starting breakfast at the same time and taking about the same amount of time, I’ll move it back to breakfast, because it sets the tone, gets us going, and cuts down on raucous table “conversation.” To make sure they listen, I ask each of the boys to tell me one Proverb they remember, but I think that has backfired on me. They seem to think then that they can remember one of the first or one of the last ones and tune out the remainder. Maybe instead I’ll start asking them how many they can remember, or which was their favorite, or if there was one they had a question about.

  2. Prayer: I start by praying for our day and then everyone gets a chance to pray, also. If they say they don’t know what to pray, I tell them to think of 2 or 3 things they are thankful for and thank God for them. Each child praying used to be up to them, but then I was pretty sure my boys were opting out due to laziness, so when I said, “Would you like to pray?” and they said, “No.” I said, “That’s sad that you don’t want to pray to God who made you and takes care of you. It’s not the right answer. Let’s try again. Would you like to pray?” That only happened one or two times after that. I still say to each one in turn, “Would you like to pray?” and if they say anything other than “Yes!” I cheerfully respond, “Wrong answer! Try again!” I still give Ilse the words to say after me, but I remind her that she is God’s child and God listens to her when she prays.

  3. Calendar: I have a 8×10 little whiteboard and stand that I write the day of the week and date on. We sing the days of the week, sometimes the months of the year, then I write the full date out, then write the number-shorthand saying, “April is the 4th month, this is the 20th day of the month, and it is the year of our Lord 2011” or “2011 years since Christ was born.” That the year is not spot on doesn’t matter to me. Technically, it seems it would be better to count years since the resurrection, but I will submit to my place in the stream of the history of the church and be content with the accounting we have received. Christ’s birth is the hinge point of history, and that is what the years are counting just like the days’ number counts the day of the month. Anyway, then the board stays on display so the boys can date their work without asking me to spell things out for them.

  4. Mottos: I was hit or miss with this concept this year, but that allowed me to notice the substantial difference in our atmosphere when I was diligent with it. A gentle, fun reminder of how we do things when it’s not a confrontation or “hot” moment does worlds of good. I have one motto per term and we’ll review one motto a day or a week, too. This year I’m going to print them one per sheet and hang them up or otherwise display them to make it smoother and easier. Some of the mottos/protocols we’ve done already are “When I call [Hans/Jaeger/Ilse!], you say, ‘Coming!’ and run to me.” And we practice and they think it’s funny. Or “If I say [some command or request], you say ‘Yes, Ma’am’ and start obeying, then if you need to, you can politely ask, ‘May I ask a question?’ but you have to be ready to obey no matter what answer you get.” And then we practice and I try to make it silly. “Leave a room better than you found it” and “Lights off when you leave a room” are some of the mottos I have listed for this year.

  5. Manners/Protocol: Our manners lessons fell on hard times about halfway through the year, but I saw a lot of fruit from them still. I realized that what the kids really need more than anything is simply to know what they are supposed to do. My two oldest tend toward the shy side and my daughter can be stubbornly silent when talking wasn’t her idea, but a lot of that was resolved when we talked in a non-heat-of-the-moment about what is expected and what is polite and what is rude. I realized part of the boys’ shyness was really uncertainty about what was expected or called for. They didn’t know what to do or how to respond and so they didn’t respond at all. So we’ll be continuing with “manners” lessons, this year focusing on conflict resolution based on Doorpost’s Brother Offended chart and book and the lessons in the Young Peacemaker’s Teacher Manual.

  6. Hymns: I can’t sing on key or keep a tune myself, and my husband sometimes gets nervous I’ll pass on my poor ear to the children, so I always try to find accompaniment tracks to use for our Circle Time singing. I have a cheap little external speaker for my iPod to use when we do Circle Time away from the main computer, but for now I’ve moved Circle Time back to the breakfast room where the computer is handy. I think changing up locations helps keep us fresh. This year I went ahead and got volumes 1 & 2 of Susan Beisner’s Listen While We Sing. It is piano accompaniment for the Trinity Hymnal, but the jacket cross-references the numbers for our church’s hymnal, too, and it has most of the tunes for the Psalms our church sings, as well as the hymns. I was having a very difficult time finding music for the Psalms I wanted to add to our repertoire, since part of my goal is helping the children be able to participate well in worship at church. She’s a little on the slow side, but not quite plodding, so I’ll take it and be grateful. The kids also enjoy listening to hymns in the afternoon or during their quiet time (the boys each have an ancient iPod shuffle, which was cheaper than getting a CD player and keeps quiet time quiet). I have lots of hymns in my memory, and it’s due to my family singing them regularly and my Mom having hymn CDs to play (Glad acapella hymns were my favorite), so I am hoping to perpetuate that in my own children. But, after shopping for some cheap hymn compilations, I must say I am very annoyed by all the people putting hymns to new music, leaving me with only options along the lines of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Anyway, CBD clearanced out a tenor singing hymns produced by Ligonier Ministries, so I bought that after wasting much too much time on Amazon and iTunes. Anyway, during Circle Time we’ll sing one new hymn a term (we just go all out and sing all the verses every day from the start rather than go one verse at a time) and one review hymn a day. This time I’m making a binder for everyone, so we’ll just cycle through our previous hymns, one per day.

  7. Creed: Our “pledge” is to the foundational Christian beliefs. Christian, what do you believe? I also want to learn the Nicene Creed next year. It didn’t happen this year.

  8. Scripture & Catechism Memory: I prefer that we memorize paragraphs and complete thoughts rather than fragmented random verses, so it takes us a long time to memorize my selections. And this year the memory results have not been stellar, so I’m switching up our method from exclusively listening to reading and reciting all together in SCM’s system, tweaked (of course). I have a separate post about our memory work binders. But we will have a passage a term and a Psalm for every two terms that we recite daily. Then we’ll review a few previous passages and Psalms daily, and we’ll do one page of catechism questions daily. I have 5 Q&As from The Catechism for Young Children per page, and 2 Heidelberg Q&As per page, but we’re only working on 12 Heidelbergs. Our church’s consistory (pastor & elders & deacons) selected 12 Q&As that they commended for memorization a couple years ago, and so I promptly added them to our repertoire. I love the language in the Heidelberg (at least the translation in our hymnal, that is), it is so elegant and beautiful while also being strikingly clear and straightforward.

  9. Memory Songs: Using the playlist memory work this last year, I ended each day’s play list with a song, and that was a big hit with the kids. Now that were switching to reciting our memory work ourselves, I am still going to keep a playlist with memory songs for each day. We’ll be learning songs from a CD made for Classical Conversations with 8 of the Veritas history cards set to a song and one song with all 160 events in one song. We aren’t going to do CC, but looking at the program did leave me quite energized to memorize the Veritas timeline flow, and even more so when a friend showed me a CD she had from another CC mom with these songs. She doesn’t sell it online; you have to call her. If you want information about it, email me. I love the CD; it is home-done yet better produced than many other CDs I’ve heard with more money behind them. We’ll also continue with Geography Songs. We’ll memorize a few Bible-related songs like the Books of the Bible and the Twelve Apostles; most of the Bible memory songs I’ve selected are Jamie Soles, kids’ Bible-story songs with a backbone. Last year I bought just the Shirley Grammar chant CD and I’ll keep a few of those in the rotation, too, just so the definitions can be familiar and on our tongues when we need them. The Greek Alphabet song and Latin chants will also be in the rotation.

Other Potential Components

I am thinking about adding in gratitude journals or lists to our Circle Time, but I might do it only at certain times in the year. I haven’t quite decided on implementation. I am thinking this is an important element not only because I’ve been reading Ann Voskamp more lately, though she had an excellent post on doing gratitude journals with children, but also because Rachel Jankovic had a chapter in her book called “Thanksters or Cranksters” where she posited that whining and complaining is selfishness and is best combated by giving thanks. She started with examples from her children, but then swung it around as a reminder to us mothers that when we are tempted to feel sorry for ourselves, the faithful response is to give thanks instead (addressing yourself always and first is her book’s main theme). And her book came out before One Thousand Gifts. Plus, I’ve started Piper’s Future Grace where he denies that gratitude should be a motivator, and so my ornery side is prodding me to increase my own emphasis on gratitude.

Summing up the Energy

I noted this year that Circle Time didn’t happen when I was feeling hazy. Circle Time is the part of the day that calls for my presence of mind most, and I find that I often have to sum up mental stamina to start. It is the starting that can be a hurdle. So I am also working on finding a good cue to help me over that initial hurdle of starting. So far, all I know is checking my rss feed or email is not helpful.

Do you have a routine or cue that helps give you starting momentum?

5 Responses

  1. Crystal Hunter
    | Reply

    I found your blog through Preschoolers and Peace. I love what you have here! I have a 7yo boy, 5 yo boy, 3yo girl and almost 1 yo boy. We will be using Veritas recommendations for 2nd grade with my oldest starting in July. I feel like I failed miserably this year at my circle time plans. Feeling motivated to plan better for it! What resources have you found helpful for teaching manners and character traits? Blessings to you!

    • Mystie Winckler
      | Reply

      I think most of the ideas I used for manners came from Manners Made Easy. I checked out a bunch of books from the library, as well, and never really found something that worked out of the box. So I took ideas for manners (how to behave in social situations) from the books and made my own Circle Time plans to fit what they needed to know and work on based on our casual far-west culture and also the situations they find themselves in.

  2. Amie B.
    | Reply

    Another great series, Mystie. I plan to revisit these so I can explore your recs. thoroughly. I experimented with some simple gratitude journals with my boys way back. Even the tiny toddler got into it, though I thought he would be too young to understand. I loved what they came up with, and it caused me to see the “little” things of our day through their eyes. I think it did as much good for as it did for them…maybe more. I saved those first tiny booklets as a reminder of those moments we shared…cherished moments in what was actually a kind of difficult time in our lives. Your post has reminded me that we should start those again. And our morning time sounds like a great place to put them. (Sorry for being so long and rambly!)

    • Amie B.
      | Reply

      oops! …did as much good for me as it did for them…

    • Mystie Winckler
      | Reply

      My kids loved making their own little lists everyday. I was surprised how well it worked out. One idea I have for next year is using one sheet a day for all of us and passing it around the table. The only problem with the set up I did before was there ended up being a gratitude notebook, a Bible-reading notebook, and a Circle Time binder…x4. It was a lot of things on the table. :)

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