Within early childhood settings and as part of the daily routine, group time has become a teaching strategy in order to gather children together to have discussions, read stories, sing songs etc. This article will support educators in how to manage a group time, knowing what to do during group time and strategies to use during group time. Group time isn’t just about reading stories and singing songs. It provides an opportunity of shared learning experiences.
What Is Group Time?
Group time is a scheduled (or unscheduled) time when the room educator and the children come together as a community of learners. To share thoughts and ideas, listen and converse to each other, participate in new learning experiences, introduce new concepts, read together, sing together and collaborate with one another.
When to Have Group Time?
In a routine, group time can be used at the beginning of the day to provide information to children of what experiences and activities are on offer throughout the day and it also can be used at the end of the day to reflect back on the day’s events and to signify that the day has come to an end.
Group time can also be used when children are not engaged in the activities on offer and seem to be getting bored or restless. During this time, having a spontaneous group time of playing a game such as duck duck goose or parachute games, will enable the children to focus their attention and give them a sense of belonging within the group.
What to Do During Group Time?
Group time needs to be more than reading a story, singing a few songs and playing a few group games just to get the children settled before transitioning to another activity. These can be incorporated within the group time however it shouldn't just end with these. Group time should be planned and though out in advance.
The children should be enthusiastic about group time and want to participate in the experiences planned. It shouldn't be a time for children to “sit and listen” to the educator but rather the children being actively involved. Yes, group time is a great opportunity for educators to engage in intentional teaching and teaching moments however it’s how you deliver these teaching moments that make a difference during group time.
Here are some ideas on what to do during group time for the following age groups:
- Use puppets during songs/rhymes as visual stimulation
- Sing finger plays
- Blow bubbles for babies to reach and pop
- Play different types of music, fast, slow, upbeat
- Read simple stories
- Group painting
- Sensory group experiences such as goop, finger-painting etc.
- Use flashcards/figurines/props to identify common objects, animals etc.
- Play different animal/transport/everyday sounds for recognition
- Group games such as parachute games, ball games (kicking, rolling, and bowling), tunnel ball, bean bag toss, red light green light etc.
- Use felts when telling stories and songs for visual representation
- Explore concepts using hands on objects (opposites, colours, shapes, animals etc.)
- Group discussions on current interests using simple vocabulary
- Use an A3 sheet of paper/book to write down children’s points of views during discussions
- Name recognition using photo and name cards
- Read stories based on interests
- Music and movement (musical chairs, musical spots, musical freeze,
- Science experiments (making slime, volcano, melting and freezing etc.)
- Cooking Experiences
- Build upon language skills by playing language game such as rhyming, sounding out letters etc.
- All of the above including:
- Give opportunities for children to share what is on their minds, what they did on the weekend, what did they do during the morning etc. to start up conversations.
- Provide interesting items to share based on current interests. For example: if current interests is insects items can include magnify glasses, insects in glass, books of insects, fruit, leaves, sticks, etc. These items can be placed within the circle to encourage the children to discuss how these items can be used and how they relate to what they know about insects already.
- Have open discussions with the children. Encourage children to sustain a question, think about their thoughts and those of their peers.
- Show and Tell – promote discussion and sharing. Not everyone needs to share and children should be the primary talkers. Also for show and tell it doesn't have to be an item a child brings from home. It could also be an experience or even a child’s thoughts or ideas.
- For calendar time – use one that has pieces that can be manipulated and re-arranged as it provides more participation and engagement. Use calendar time to discuss shared experiences (that could have happened over the weekend, an excursion or incursion),such as before and after, first this happened and then this etc., birthdays of peers, special occasions of families and those within the centre etc.
- Inform children of the day’s activities and experiences or discuss what they enjoyed the most about the day (write these down as a group reflection which can be used as part of the documentation).
During group time children should have the opportunity to share their ideas, engage in conversation, listen to others, develop and practice their skills within a social group and gain information and knowledge from fellow peers and educators.
Managing Group Time
Here are some simple strategies to use to create a successful and manageable group time:
- When working in a room with a large number of children, break the group up into smaller groups. The room educators can review the focus points, discussions, teaching strategies beforehand to implement with each group of children.
- Choose an area that has less distractions (remove toys, activities and anything that can take the focus away from group time) and provide children with comfortable space.
- All children should be able to view items. Sit children in a circle so items can be displayed in the centre and seen by all children.
- It’s not necessary to wait until all children have joined before starting, begin after a few children have gathered and others will follow. Start off with a group time song to sing to signify it is group time.
- Keep group time for 15 minutes. For babies 5 minutes and toddlers 10 minutes. However, if group time is going well and children are responsive and interested then continue on for a further 5- 10 minutes. Some day’s group time may not be going well, children are not being attentive or things are not going according to plan when this happens stop group time and transition onto the next part of the routine. There is no need to try and continue as it will make everyone frustrated.
- Watch and attend to children’s behaviour. When leading a group discussion get other educators involved in sitting with the children and dealing with any misbehaviours that occur. Do not keep starting and stopping to attend to behaviours as this will distract the entire group. For those children not interested set them up on a mat with another educator to do quiet activities until group time is over.
- Avoid doing most of the talking. The goal if for the children to develop their oral and language skills.
- Group time should also include music and movement.
- Plan group time to offer interesting and valuable experiences to the children. Use this as part of intentional teaching.
- Be enthusiastic and excited as you set the tone for how group time begins and ends. If you are not interested then the children won’t be interested either. Put on a happy smiley face and have fun.
One of the big factors of managing group time is not to make it compulsory. Children should not be forced into participating in group time. When a child is ready to participate or is interested in what is happening then they will join. Most of the time all children will join in especially if it’s interesting.
Strategies for Group Time
- Gather tools, items and materials that children can touch and manipulate to extend their understanding of a concept or idea being introduced. For new equipment or activities that have been purchased show the group how to use this properly. Group time should be a hands on experience.
- Choose books with purpose and meaning. Select books based on the children’s age and understanding. Read through the book beforehand to gain a grasp of what the story is about and how you will get the children to participate during the story. Books can also be chosen based on the group’s interests, concepts or moral development. Also, when a book is chosen it’s a good idea to stick with the same book for the week. It supports children’s understanding, language development, memory and concentration when reading the same book throughout the week.
- Find an item that relates to the story which the children can touch and hold. This will enable children to connect the story and real life.
- Create visual representation during discussions, presenting ideas or new concepts. Use flannel boards, graphs, charts, magnetic boards, computers, poster paper, etc. These should be used to engage the children that they can use to interact with the visual rather than just sit and listen. Actively involve children by writing down their thoughts and ideas (through mind maps, brain storming etc.) to share with others on topics being discussed during group time
- Take a responsive approach during group time. Base it on the needs and the interests of the children rather than feeling compelled to complete what has being planned. As part of your intentional teaching if you have plans to start a topic but an interest begins during the morning go ahead with the interest first and foremost. The more group time is catered for the children, they will be eager to participate and get involved.
- Have a group time routine that the children can get used to. This gives them an understanding of what to expect and when and feel more confident participating within the group time. For example: sing a group time song at the beginning, read a story, group discussion/intentional teaching, group game/music and movement, group song and then transition song to the next task.
Overall group time should be simple, interesting and engaging which enables all children to participate and feel a sense of belonging within the group.