Circle Time-Part 2

Part 1 of the Circle Time discussion outlined all aspects of a challenging situation submitted by a teacher of a pre-school class of children with special needs. Today’s podcast focuses on some possible solutions to the problems surrounding circle time in her classroom. The immediate goal is to decrease emotional melt-downs by a 5-year-old diagnosed with autism who is resisting participation in the circle time activities.

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Option 1: Build group skills before requiring participation. It might be in the best interest of this youngster to develop the pre-requisite skills necessary for successful participation in group activities. Rather than sparking a daily emotional melt-down every day by requiring him to participate in circle time, the teacher could adjust his schedule to guide him to a different activity at that time of the school day. For example, he could choose a learning center or make a trip to the restroom or the motor skills lab. This strategy bypasses the win-lose confrontation that currently arises every day when the resistant young student is faced with the requirement to participate in circle time.

Option 2: Get rid of circle time. If the formal circle time is eliminated, this youngster and other students can interact with their peers in more informal group activities throughout the day. In spite of popular opinion, there is no law in the “Early Childhood How-To Manual” that requires circle time. This teacher has over a dozen pre-school children with special needs in one classroom, so circle time might just be an exercise of tolerance anyway rather than a real solid learning experience. The circle time activities described by the teacher could be introduced at other times of the school day. For example, she could have children select their “daily jobs” when they arrive in the morning and put up their backpacks. The teacher could sing about calendar and weather while having a snack and walking to recess. The class could enjoy sing-along favorites when moving from one activity to the next throughout the day. As the pre-schoolers grow and mature during the year, the teacher could move to a more formal short circle time, then gradually build up to a circle time similar to that of their peers.

Option 3: Small Group Circle Time. All students – not just the agitated 5-year-old – could probably benefit from smaller circle time groups. In order to give all the youngsters in the class an opportunity to gain maximum benefit from the learning experiences introduced during circle time, the teacher could build three different circle time sessions into the daily schedule. When the teacher is leading circle time with one group, the other teacher and classroom assistants can help the other students with snack time, outside play, or another routine daily activity.

Part 3 of this Circle Time discussion will explore some ideas for successfully integrating the explosive youngster in a small circle time group.

NOTE TO READERS AND LISTENERS: I am Cathy Knoll, a board certified music therapist and long-time friend of many folks with autism. At we are committed to providing free, practical, everyday tips for making life better for people with autism. Feel free to send me an email with your thoughts or challenging situations or innovative solution. Send email to And don’t forget to check out our website for a wealth of ideas and a glimpse into the world of autism.

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