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When kids are in their early years, it can be an incredibly rewarding time to aid their development as they get ready for ‘big school’ through a rich array of preschool activity ideas.

As nursery school kids can have a tendency to have their imagination lead them away from the task at hand, it is certainly helpful to be prepared and armed with plenty of circle time activities.

Circle time activities

That’s where we at Kids Club HQ come in! We’ve written this article to give you a variety of ideas to keep young minds engaged in circle time activities. While the games and activities listed are all intended to be fun for nursery school kids, they’re also designed to aid in the development of social and learning skills. So let’s get into it.

What are circle time activities

Circle time helps to promote healthy relationships between children, giving them a safe and controlled space for socialising. With that in mind, a circle time activity is a tool that helps them engage with each other in a fun and creative way.

Why are circle time activities important

Circle time activities can help children grow strong relationships with their peers. They can also be great ice-breakers used in the beginning of a nursery year, to help get the group familiar with each other.

It’s important to keep in mind, that the benefits of circle time activities go far beyond just building relationships! They can aid in the development of crucial skills and behaviour for kids too. Let’s explore these skills in a little more detail.

Benefits of circle time

Circle time games can be a great way for you to help nursery school children to develop the following skills:

  • Speaking and listening skills
  • Bonds between the children
  • Self-esteem building
  • Interpersonal skills and understanding
  • Better problem-solving skills
  • A fuller understanding of responsibility

We’ve split the circle time games into the following categories:

  • General games
  • Music games
  • Imagination games
  • Wind-down games

All four of these different circle time activities help kids to develop positively in different ways.

Before we get started, a little about Kids Club HQ:

We are a platform that helps you to run your after-school club smoothly and professionally. We can provide you with everything from support with admin, payments and invoicing to helping to manage important information about the kids in your club. Learn more here.

General circle time lesson plan template:

Here is a weekly circle time lesson plan that you can use.

Monday - Introduction

Class and teacher agree on ground rules. Examples:

  • Sit in a circle
  • Look at the person who is speaking
  • Wait to speak
  • Listen closely

Choose a weekly theme: Choose any general participation circle time game idea or speaking game for this week. Here are some themes you can choose:

  • Fun science activities
  • All about plants
  • Fairy tales
  • Feelings and emotions
  • Food groups
  • Essential jobs
  • Sports
  • Nutrition
  • Wildlife
  • Dental health
  • Seasons
  • The ocean and its creatures
  • Everything about dinosaurs
  • Heroic figures across history

At the end of every circle time session, allow the kids to make their own critical decisions and choices; the kids get to explain which part of circle time they personally liked best. Use either ‘hands up’ for them to speak or the named-object strategy (using a named object to pass, with the bearer being the one to speak – this could be a teddy, a shell or any object that will appeal to the kids).

Potential schedule:

Tuesday - Activity 2 - Musical Round: Choose any music circle time game idea for this round.

Wednesday - Activity 3 - Communication Round: Choose a game, such as Alphabet Soup, that can help improve children’s language skills

Thursday - Activity 4 - Imagination Round: Choose any imagination circle time game idea for this round.

Friday - Final Activity – Wind-down Round: Choose any talking or wind down circle time game idea for this round.

Preschool circle time activities lesson plans:

There are a number of factors to consider when you’re planning circle time activities. We’ll dive into those details further below, but keep in mind that any circle time activity should be fun and engaging for all those involved.

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Choose activities that kids will enjoy

When choosing the right lessons for circle time activities, you should consider what games/songs would suit your class best. For instance, this could be around their interests and the age group of the class. The older the age group, the more complex the activities could be. There are easy and hard versions of the picnic memory game (more on that later).

Make sure everyone is engaged

You should also ensure that no one is left out. For instance, if you have a class of 14 kids and you have games in mind which are favourites among ten children, you should make sure to include games that the other four kids love too. Ideally, however, there’ll be some preschool circle time games that all the kids love.

Provide various activities

Young children typically have very short attention spans, so it’s best to include various circle time activities across short intervals. Don’t stick on a game for too long, otherwise little ones can become distracted and bored. By keeping things moving, you can ensure that everyone is engaged and having fun!

Include props where you can

Props can be a great addition to many circle time activities. They can provide new and exciting ways for children to interact with circle time activities, and can be incredibly useful if you’re playing word or colour association games.

Young children love tactile things, and you’ll more than likely elicit a response if you have something you can talk to them about.

General circle time activities

General circle time game ideas:

1. Simon Says

Simon Says is a great way to introduce children to listening and concentrating on what others within the group have to say, as well as teaching them body awareness, motor skills and memory skills, making this one of many great circle time ideas.

For some more ideas on how to get the most out of Simon Says as part of group time activities for pre-schoolers, click this link.

2. Snap

Distribute a pack of cards among the members of your circle time and have them find the child within the group who has the matching card. What makes this circle time idea great is that it can really help the children to grow confident in working together as a group through communication and cooperation.

3. Through the Hoop

Through the hoop

Split your circle time students into groups of 10 (if your group is less than this, then no problem, keep it as it is). The children will need to hold hands and step through the hoop in order to pass it along the line without letting go of the hand of the person on either side of them.

With pre-schoolers, it’s best to do a non-competitive version of this game, but a competitive version can be played for children 7 and over.

4. Portrait

This one is incredibly fun and is suitable for smaller groups. Hand out a sheet of paper and something to write to every child in the circle. The kids will write their names at the top and then swap them with another child. Once that’s done you should:

  1. Ask the children to spend around a minute drawing a quick outline of the head of the child they swapped their paper with
  2. Tell them to swap papers with another child
  3. Then, swapping papers for each part of the face, have each child look at the person named on their sheet and continue with each subsequent part of the drawing:
    • hair
    • eyes
    • nose
    • mouth
    • ears

When finished, ask the children to give the papers back to the relevant named child and have a laugh! Portrait can help kids bring out their creative sides and can help them focus on smaller details.

5. I Packed My Bag

This is a fun game with a vacation theme in mind. Put simply, this game is usually used on road trips where the first person says, “I’m taking a trip, and I am going to pack [item name]” before the second player repeats what they’ve heard and adds another item.

The game continues from here. However, you can use it in the classroom too. If this sounds too complex, the kids can simply say the line “I’m taking a trip, and I am going to pack [item name]” without repeating the previous line.

6. Mystery Object

This game is pretty similar to Telephone, but, instead it revolves around an object. For this game, you need a bag, box, or envelope that can be used to contain the mystery object.

You start the game by whispering the name of the object to the first child in the circle while passing it on. Each child continues to pass the object around while whispering what it’s called.

Then when the object (again in a bag, box, or envelope) has reached the final child in the circle, they say what they think it is before taking it out from its container. Of course, once they have it in their hand, we’ll find out if they’ve got it right or wrong.

7. Picnic Memory Game

This is just one example of a popular memory game. In the case of the picnic version, you’ll require a bag of food (the food can be real or fake) and perhaps a box to put them in; although, ideally, you should use a picnic hamper as it can add to the game! There are easy and hard versions of the picnic memory game. This is one of the most engaging games for circle time.

The easy version involves:

  • Take one item of food out of the picnic hamper. Let’s imagine you’ve removed an apple.
  • The first player would say, “For our picnic, we took an apple.” The individual puts the apple back in the hamper and passes it on.
  • The next child takes out two items, the apple and something else. Let’s say they’ve taken out an orange. Then they would say, “For our picnic, we took an apple and an orange.” They put the orange next to the apple and pass it on.
  • The game continues from here, and, as you can see, it’s relatively straightforward since the children can see every item in the box and are arranging them next to each other as they go.

The hard version works as follows:

  • The more difficult version involves using a lid over a box or at least a picnic hamper that must be closed each time. This requires more memory use, and as a result, it may be best to just use several items rather than, say, a dozen.
  • You can make the game as easy as you’d like and up how challenging it is to the level that you think is suitable.

For a related activity, you may want to consider some afternoon tea ideas.

Musical circle time game ideas:

8. Nursery Rhyme songs

Nursery rhyme songs allow developing minds to focus on vocabulary and work on their memory skills. Singing songs can also help the children to feel more connected with you and their classmates, and it is a circle time activity that they can easily take home with them to enjoy with their parents and/or guardians.

9. Freeze

In this circle time activity, you play a piece of music and allow the kids to dance and move around. The fun starts once you press stop. The kids have to freeze in place, only being allowed to move again once you press play.

A game like this helps to promote listening skills and can help develop younger children’s motor skills. Plus, it can be a great way for kids to release pent-up energy, which can help them stay focused for the day ahead.

10. Pass the tambourine

For this circle time activity for early years, you can do either a silent version or a fun, musical version of the game. For the fun musical version, create a simple music phrase for the children to copy – ie one shake and one tap. Pass the tambourine to the child on your left and have them try to mimic it.

Once the tambourine has been passed all the way around the circle, come up with a new musical phrase for them to copy. The silent tambourine version of this game is when the children have the children pass the tambourine around the circle without it making a noise.

11. Pig on Her Head

The kids might like the fun and goofy song Pig on Her Head. To start with, you should, of course, learn off this song that was written by Laurie Berkner. To play the game, you’ll need a small bag filled with toy animals.

Next, each child reaches in and places one toy animal on their head. You can alter the song lyrics as you like by choosing a different animal to focus on or another body part.

For instance;

“Jessica has a dog on her shoulder,

Jessica has a dog on her shoulder,

Jessica has a dog on her shoulder

And she’ll keep it there all day!”

This game is among the simplest of circle time activities, but it can still make for plenty of fun. However, if you’d prefer something that involves the children thinking and engaging more, the next subsection is perfect for you.

Imagination circle time game ideas:

12. Story Creation

A great circle time activity for pre-schoolers is the story creation game. You can either play this game with each child in the circle saying a different word to create a story together or alternatively, you can create your own story, where the children get to pick the characters and actions of the heroes by ‘filling in the blanks’ verbally.

13. Mystery Box

This game is pretty similar to mystery object, albeit there’s no whispering involved. Instead, while this game does involve an object inside a box, the children need to shake the box as a way of figuring out what’s inside. Each child gets a go of shaking the box and guessing what the item is.

The interesting part is that you don’t simply reveal what it is at the end. Instead, first, you ask “Who guessed it was a [item name]?” in relation to one of the guesses made by the children. You repeat this and cover all of the items the children listed (you may want to take a note of their guesses during the game, particularly as they may have a lot of varied guesses). Lastly, you open up the box, and the children find out what it is.

14. “I’m thinking of an animal…”

In this Kindergarten circle time idea, you must think of an animal and slowly give clues about the animal to help the children guess which animal you’re thinking of.

You can make this game very casual off the top of your head, or you can use facts about different types of animals to help the children guess the animal in question.

Wind-down circle time game ideas:

15. “Happy, Sad, Glad”

This circle time activity for nursery school kids is very helpful for getting the children to become emotionally aware of themselves, as well as to share with others and experience the positive benefits of doing so.

When you ask them to give an example of how they’re happy, sad and glad, it allows them to connect with positive emotions, negative emotions and gratitude.

16. Guess what happens next (story time)

In order to make story time more interactive, try to pause when you are reading the story to ask the children what they think happens next, which helps them to engage well with the topic.

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17. Rule Guessing

Ask one child to leave the room. The remaining children get together to come up with a rule. This should be simple and relatively easy to identify, for example, taking a shoe off or twiddling their hair when asked a question. Bring the child back in once the rule has been decided. The child asks questions of the group (a different child is asked each time) to discover the new rule.

This can help little ones develop problem-solving and listening skills, as they’ll have to pay extra attention if they want to discover the rule.