How to Start Circle Time

posted in: pedagogical | 4

Circle Time

I’ve received a number of emails the last couple months about Circle Time and where and how to start. I was about to start writing about our Circle Time plans for next year when another email popped into my inbox.

This one was from Meg:

I am trying to follow your homeschool planning for a whole year posts. When I get to the step about Planning Circle Time, you have an image with a lot of information in it. I can barely make it through “circle time”… how long does your Circle Time take each day? Did you start out full force, or have you been adding to it year by year? Could you write an article about Circle Time? Could you include more of your planned circle times? I find myself just wanting to grab things from your plan, because it is SO much like what we do!

Our Circle Time has definitely grown over the years. The plans I am now putting together are our seventh or eighth (eighth if you count spending 5-10 minutes a day (sometimes even done in the car) learning the Children’s catechism, Holy Holy Holy, and Psalm 1 at 4 & 2 – and why would that not count?.

The majority of our Circle Time is spent on reviewing previous materials, so that is how our time together has naturally expanded.

Here is our progression over the years (grade is that of my oldest):

  • PreK (2007) – Psalm 1, questions 1-20 of Children’s Catechism, and Holy Holy Holy

  • K (2008) – Psalm 1, Ephesians 6:1-3, and The 10 Commandments (that didn’t go well), questions 1-50 of the Children’s Catechism, Holy Holy Holy, A Mighty Fortress, and For All the Saints.

  • 1st (2009) – I added one more passage (and actually replaced the 10 Commandments), all the Children’s Catechism, the Apostles’ Creed, and another hymn, so that we had one per day (we did CT four times a week).

  • 2nd (2010) – I think this was the year I incorporated our term structure, so I had new material every 6 weeks and had a review section in my binder where we daily reviewed one passage (maybe a hymn?) and just rotated through them with a sticky tab marking the spot. After a term, that term’s passage went into the review section.

  • 3rd (2011) – I think this was the year I added poetry memory and also first made the oldest two their own binder. I added new material each term and added the previous material into regular review. For both 2nd & 3rd grade I took most of my ideas for what to pick from Brandy’s and Cindy’s lists. Now I have a list like that, too. I added some Heidelberg Catechism selections to our memory work, too.

  • 4th (2012) – Starting this year, I also began keeping a note when I’d read a passage I thought would be good to memorize or when we sang a hymn at church that I wanted to add. Now I get my memorization ideas from that ongoing list. I improved our binders to the system I am still using and loving.

  • 5th (2013) – Hans & Jaeger got to choose half their own poems this year and we worked on learning the entire book of Ephesians (we read a chapter aloud daily and we’ll still continue with it the next year).

  • 6th (2014, not yet begun) – Hans & Jaeger each picked all 6 of their poems for the year. We’ll focus on reinforcing Ephesians and on learning the Ten Commandments and the Catechism questions that explain them.

Some people use Circle Time to do read alouds, to do art or composer study, or to do other group lessons. For us, however, Circle Time is exclusively memory work (with singing and prayer, as well). It’s our way to start our day off on the right foot: with prayer, song, Scripture, and beautiful language. That’s the beauty of Circle Time: It can be whatever fits your family and season of life right now. There is no Right Way to do it. Take the ideas that inspire you, keep it as simple as you can, and just do it daily.

Circle Time’s primary function is to bring the family together and create a family atmosphere and culture around truth, goodness, and beauty.

Start Small * Keep It Simple

Circle Time doesn’t have to be a huge production, and it doesn’t have to take an hour or more.

Circle Time is best when everyone is on board and cooperating at least 80% of the time. If it’s less than that, it’s better to chuck what’s causing contention than to hold on to it and have conflict every morning. It’s better to have a 15 minute happy time together than an hour of fighting. Believe me, we’ve had those days and I had to let go of what I read was the Best Way in order to find what made it a Happy Way for us.

Remember the point is relationship-building, culture-building, and affection-building. That’s why you shouldn’t do more than you (and your children) can do cheerfully.

But do stick in a small bit of something you (or your children) don’t naturally like, but that you know you should. Familiarity breeds affection, not contempt. If you want to grow to love poetry, or the catechism, or singing, or Scripture itself, then the best way is simply to do it a little bit every day, in amounts that don’t wear you down. Knowledge, familiarity, and skill build affection, and those all come through daily encounters.

Don’t despise the day of small beginnings. One hymn, one Psalm, and one poem might seem like an insignificant start, but an insignificant start is better than no start at all. In six years you will be shocked at how far you’ve come if you stick with small changes. Festina lente.

4 Responses

  1. Clare
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    What a great post. We started even smaller – just one Psalm, read aloud at breakfast. I slowly added in more memory work over meals – when they were sitting still! Although tricky with full mouths. Now our Morning Time lasts 30-45 minutes with prayers, poetry, memory work, Bible, and a subject each day (nature study, art, music, geography, Shakespeare). That’s with an 8, 6, 4 and 1 year old. It’s ever evolving but seems to be working. Oh, and we have snacks/fruit as well – v helpful at occupying the baby.

  2. Amy
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    Great post! Intrigued by your method of memorizing Ephesians- do you simply read a chapter every morning and they eventually learn it? Or do you also have them trying to recite portions back to you?

    • Mystie Winckler
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      Hi Amy, sorry it’s taken me so long to get back to the comments here. This last year we recited the same single chapter from Ephesians every day for 6 weeks, then moved on to the next chapter the next six weeks. I wouldn’t say we had it “memorized,” but we all had portions memorized and the entire thing was very intimately familiar. Now this year I’m moving one chapter to each day of the week for the whole year. So we’re still working on learning it. It will be a two-year affair. Even if we get to the end of the year and it’s only very familiar and not word-for-word memorized, I will count it good for us and useful, not a failure.

  3. April
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    Bless your heart ! This is a great post and I keep coming back to it to click on all your links and past posts. I am SO excited to add this to school this year. Love the link on the Bible Reading Checklist. Great advice for kids and adults. Thank you so much!