Circle Time: Pretty, Happy, Funny, Real, Exhausting

posted in: pedagogical | 11

round button chicken

This is the fourth year we’ve done Circle Time. I’ve read before that school teachers take about three years to adapt and figure out the ropes, that, until they hit three years, they are still a “newbie.”

And now that I’m in the fourth year of homeschooling, even though it’s been a year with a lot of flux and laxity, I do think the same is true with homeschooling. It takes a few years (of intentional working and experimenting!) to develop your groove, your style, and your skill.

circle time set up

A couple years ago Kendra Fletcher of Preschoolers and Peace came out with an eBook called, “Circle Time: Plan the Best Part of Your Day.” She gave away a few copies and I won one. It’s a very helpful little book, with a lot of grace about flexibility and seasons of life. By the way, it’s also only $1.99 through January only (and it’s not even an affiliate link – I just recommend it and any of her MP3s, too). I think it was our second year of school and Circle Time and I remember “Best Part of Your Day” being a phrase that stuck in my mind.

Because it definitely wasn’t.

Quiet time was definitely the best part of the day, and I’m not talking about early morning devotions.

Circle Time was like the refining fire that brought out all our impurities. No one could sit still (though they did perfectly well sitting for dinner and for church), half the time at least half the “participating” (I use the word loosely) children (at that time half would be one) were uncooperative, and my oldest and I spent much of the time vying for control of the situation and routine. Repeating catechism or Bible verse lines after me was more often than not physically impossible and almost every aspect of the entire half hour (often dragged on for an hour or more) seemed to bring out the worst in us all. My oldest isn’t strong willed – except for during Circle Time.

It clearly was good for us.

Between Kendra and Cindy touting it as the best thing ever, I wasn’t going to give up easily, and I was determined to win any parent-child battle-of-the-wills (strategically, of course, not by brute force: outlast and stay in charge).

Finally, this year, the crop is starting to bear fruit.

I attribute it to these factors:

circle time scripture memory

  1. I finally won the “this is how it is and will be” contest. It only took 3 years. Talk about outlasting.
  2. I eliminated the main source of friction (repeating after me) and changed the atmosphere to one of we’re-each-a-part-of-this-together instead of I’m-in-charge-here by giving each of the children their own binder and us all reading aloud together (or alternating individually — I still shake things up to keep them flexible). This wasn’t possible until I had readers.
  3. I now have 2 fluent readers and more mature students to carry the thing and I have it set up in such a way (each with his own binder, reading/reciting) that the preschooler, the toddler, and the baby can’t derail it. Now my older two are experienced, adept, and habituated enough to keep going even if I have to walk out with a toddler, stop to correct a preschooler (they don’t stop), or comfort a famished infant. Now, even if half the students are misbehaving (and half is now 2), the other 2 can keep it running (and doing so helps them feel in charge and responsible, which is what they weren’t feeling when they had to only and constantly follow and obey commands).

circle time baby wild card

So, if you are in the midst of that Circle-Time-as-Chaos phase, be encouraged. It might take 3 years to overcome, but it’s worth it. Those early years without older kids is just flat difficult. Change things up, problem solve, get creative, and persevere. Those little ones will be your leaders in just a few short years and be your assets that will make maintaining much easier with the next round of chaos.

I still have a temperamental 5 year old. I have the most chaos-inducing toddler of them all. I have a newborn who is no respecter of schedules or school times. But I have two fluent readers who can still carry the show if they stay on board and if I captain cheerfully.

The 5 year old can participate or not as she deems. She doesn’t make or break us (when it was just a 7 year old and 5 year old, the 5 year old could make or break it). She is still hearing it all and it’s soaking in whether she likes it or not. She’s still catching it, even if she thinks she’s refusing it.

circle time toddler

The toddler can (and does) fuss and get in and out of his chair and interrupt and otherwise make hay. We soldier on, ignoring most of his antics. And, he can be banished, and we can still go on; he’s already learned he’d rather stick around be a part of this family culture thing than be solitary in his room while we’re singing and declaiming. And, for our part, we want him, too. So we’re willing to speak up and put up with his activity. He sits for dinner, when Dad reads the Bible aloud, and for church. He doesn’t have to sit still for Circle Time.

When one reader puts up protests, the other is quick to step up and take over, which provokes the would-be-mutineer to either buck up and continue pulling his load or risk banishment.

The only thing that can really derail us now is my own attitude and my own responses. So, we still have plenty of trouble.

But, in our fourth year, the thing is that we all really, truly enjoy Circle Time when we are all in fellowship.

circle time hans singing

Singing together is very bonding. It is also mood-lifting. I don’t think you can stay a mean and upset mom while also singing a hymn with your children. Often, bad attitudes all around melt during the opening hymn. Thus, singing is now sprinkled throughout Circle Time: beginning, middle, and end.

My readers are not getting the skill of careful listening and duplicating nor of precise rote memorization. But they are gaining skills in inflected, well-articulated reading and in fluent hearing, reading, and understanding long paragraphs of good, strong English (without it being broken up by phrase or sentence). Every day or once a week, we hear the same Psalms over and over, and the phrases flow over us, softening and shaping. Every day or once a week, we say aloud the same New Testament paragraphs, not separating the application verses from the doctrine or doxology verses, but letting the whole connected thought pound its way in day after day.

circle time jeager holds knox

Now, at last, our Circle Time really does resemble a circle with us all around a table. And we all sing together, we all read aloud familiar Bible passages together, we echo catechisms and mottos and creeds. And, even in the daily messiness and craziness, it is the true blessing of a family unity and a family culture being birthed.

Yes, in fact, it is like birth. In that moment, it’s all pain and overwhelming work. No one (in their right mind) wants to go through labor and birth. But we all want that little person that comes after all the trouble.

In its own little way, Circle Time is a labor and a trouble. It still often is. But it’s worth it in the end. And, in those precious moments in the midst of it where the glimpses of perspective are granted, it’s beautiful even in the midst of it.

11 Responses

  1. Meredith_in_Aus
    |

    Bravo! So glad you are persevering and are blessed by it.

    Our new school year has started early. We usually don’t start until the beginning of Feb, but due to our moving at the end of Feb, we started early with ‘lite’ school (while I sort, purge, and pack the rest of the time).

    I have let Circle Time go for now but am encouraged to pick it up again (probably around June – sad, but just trying to be realistic). I love it how you, Brandy, and Cindy publish your detailed plans. They always inspire and help me over the ‘sooo many good things to do that I just can’t decide’ hump.

    Thanks.

    In Him

    Meredith

    • Mystie Winckler
      |

      You’re welcome, Meredith! I know when I was getting started Cindy & Kendra’s published plans helped me tremendously, too. :) Moving is a big upheaval; it’s good to be realistic and not beat yourself up over an ideal.

  2. Anna
    |

    Thanks so much for sharing your Circle Time struggles and solutions, Mystie. I think we’ve been doing Circle Time about 3 years here, and it’s still pretty rough a lot of the time. Sometimes I end up in a puddle of tears. :( I like how you’ve trained you’re older ones to keep going without you and take some responsibility. I’m going to ponder ways to do this with my older two…

    • Mystie Winckler
      |

      I would still be counting it as often pretty rough here if my goal was to have the toddler on board the whole time. Things started improving when I looked at what was going on and found ways to change up the points which created conflict, particularly with the older ones.

  3. Clare
    |

    Thank you so much for this encouragement! My kids are 7, 3, 2 and newborn, so life is def crazy. I have Kendra’s book too and really like it. At the moment we have circle time over breakfast which is working quite well, much easier than trying to get them to sit at another time (they do ok at dinner, haven’t cracked church yet!). Really like your binder idea for when they’re older.

  4. Heather
    |

    This is our 2nd year doing Circle Time. It’s still filled with chaos quite frequently. (My kids are 8, 6, 3, 1, and baby-on-the-way.) I tell my husband that school would be so much easier if I had only big kids, or only little kids. It’s having to meet the needs of both age groups that makes it hard for me… But I do really like the idea of giving a binder to the older ones.

    • Mystie Winckler
      |

      Boy, I know what you mean! Juggling the two stages is tricky. I think chaos is inevitable when the preschoolers/toddlers/babies outnumber the elementary kids. We just have to learn how to roll with it. But, hang in there, even if it’s chaos, it’s still a good thing!

  5. Sharlene
    |

    Your Circle time sounds like a real blessing. I have wanted to do something like this, but I kept getting derailed. I have mature readers and no toddlers, so it may be just my attitude that needs to stay on track. I really should be able to take care of that. :) I appreciate your testimony of stick-to-it-ness.

  6. Melissa
    |

    Is this something that could be started with older children? I don’t see that I could do it this school year due to some extenuating circumstances, but next school year my children would be ages 10, 13, and 15. Do you do circle time all year round or just on school days?

    • Mystie Winckler
      |

      It’s definitely something you can start with older kids! In fact, it will be easier for you to start, I’d imagine, without the unpredictable toddler factor. :)

      I have an idealistic picture of us doing this every morning year-round just as a great way to start off the day together, but the reality is that we only do it on school days. We school year round on a 6-week-on 1-week-off plan.

  7. Stacy
    |

    {over from Kendra’s}

    Mystie,

    I’m so thankful to have read this because the whole concept of Circle Time/memory work *BINDERS* is new to me. I love that idea, and I’m excited to work it in to our school year next year. Thanks!