Circle time activities are a great way to bring a group of children and adults together. Large group activities for toddlers need to be simpler than those you would use for preschoolers or school age children. These circle time ideas for toddlers will work well for toddler groups where children have a parent with them, as well as nursery settings.
There are essentially three types of circle time activities for toddlers that work well:
- Songs and Rhymes – These need to be active ones like those described below in order to keep toddlers engaged
- Circle Time Games – Those with very simple rules work best, some examples are given in the group games sections
- Books and Stories – These need to be made interactive to keep toddlers attention, again, suggestions are given on how to do this below
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The Classic Circle Time Activity for Toddlers – Songs and Rhymes
Songs and rhymes are a great way to engage a group of toddlers, particularly if there is an active element to them. When running circle time at toddlers group I would take requests for the children’s favourite songs which was good for older toddlers.
Nursery Rhymes with Hand Motions
Hand rhymes help to keep toddlers engaged by giving them something to do with they bodies. Some of the best hand rhymes for circle time include:
- Wind the Bobbin Up
- Round and Round the Garden
- Incy Wincy Spider
- The Wheels on the Bus
- Tommy Thumb
- Open, Shut Them
- 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 once I Caught a Fish Alive
- Five Little Ducks
When doing Rhyme time in libraries I found that even the younger toddlers were well engaged by Wind the Bobbin Up and Round and Round the Garden.
Toddler Circle Time Songs with Movement
Toddlers need to move and so songs that let them to that are the perfect large group activity. These songs all have simple to learn movements that toddlers can follow.
- The Grand Old Duke of York (if parents are present, they can lift the toddlers for the “up” part)
- The Hokey Cokey (again, if parents are present, they can swing the toddlers into the middle)
- Head, shoulders, knees and Toes
- Sleeping Bunnies
- If you’re Happy and you Know it
- The Dingle Dangle Scarecrow
- Shake your Sillies Out
- Row, Row Row your Boat (this can be done with parent and child or pairs of older toddlers)
Songs with Instruments
Instruments are a great circle time activity for toddlers if you can stand the noise! You can just let them go wild with them but if you introduce them alongside a song you can start the idea of rhythm. You don’t need anything fancy, simple shakers like these* will do or you can even make your own with rice and empty bottles. Some of my favourite songs for toddlers to use instruments with are:
- Old MacDonald had a Farm
- Twinkle Twinkle Little Star
- Baby Shark
- Baa, Baa Black Sheep
- Five Little Monkeys
- Then in the Bed
Large Group Games for Toddlers
When looking for large group actives for toddlers to do at circle time, there are a number of games you can consider.
A Picture Hunt
This one involves a little bit of preparation, which is best done when the toddlers aren’t present. You print off a number of pictures of simple objects or animals, you could theme it if you wanted to. You then stick these around the room when the toddlers aren’t there. When they come in you challenge them to find particular pictures. Younger ones might need an adults help, depending on how hard or easy you make the pictures to find. Remember, they are much shorter than you so you can make it easier just by putting them lower down.
The Copying Game
This circle time activity for toddlers is super simple and needs no preparation. You just stand in the middle of the circle and ask the toddlers to copy what you do. The more silly you are the more they enjoy it! Some popular ones are:
- Stick your tongue out
- Hop on one leg
- Jump up and down
- Turn around
- Pull a funny face
- Lay down and go to sleep
Stand Up If…
This one works best with some adult support as toddlers are often still earning their colours but this is a good game to help with that. You stand in the middle of the circle with the toddlers sitting down and ask them to stand up if they are wearing a certain colour. You can also extend it to wearing a certain item of clotting or having a particular hair colour etc.
This one can be chaos with a large group of toddlers but is great fun if you want an active toddler circle time. If you have coloured mats you can use those, alternatively you can print off and laminate coloured squares and masking tape them to the floor. You then call out a colour and everyone has to run to a square or mat of the colour. You can make it simpler by just having two colours.
Story Time and Books for Toddler Circle Time
Stories often aren’t engaging enough for toddlers at circle time but there are ways to get round this.
Books where there are actions the toddlers can do work really as this helps to keep them engaged. My suggestions are:
- We’re Going on a Bear Hunt (act out the journey)
- My Gumpy’s Outing (Have all the toddlers get in the pretend boat and rock)
- Where the Wild Things are (Have them be “wild Things”)
- Any book with lots of different animals in (and have them be the animals or make the sounds)
Most Stories can be made more exciting with props. Dolls or teddies to represent the characters and some of the objects that are in the story will make it feel more real. You can also let the toddlers hold the items but this does work best if you have enough for everyone as they often don’t want to give them up once they have them. We all know toddlers don’t love sharing! You can also use things to create atmosphere like bubbles and lights.
Tell the Story with Puppets
Puppets can be used to tall a story alongside a book or you can just retell the story without the book using puppets. If you’re really brave, you can just make a story up. Just bear in mind that some children are nervous of puppets so it’s worth checking with parents first.
How Long Should Circle Time Be For Toddlers
Toddlers have super short attentions spans and while using the above techniques will help them stay engaged for longer, circle time for 2 years olds and under really needs to be kept short. If you’re running in a childcare setting where toddlers don’t have a caregiver with them then 5-10 minutes is ideal. It’s best to have some built In flexibility and “read the room”. If you can see they are losing focus call things to a half early.
If you are running small group time activities for toddlers at a toddler group where children have their parents with them then you may be able to get away with a slightly longer session. Around 10-15 minutes can work in these circumstances. You’ll still need to keep the activities engaging and keep each activity short to make sure parents can keep them engaged.
Circle Time Activities for Toddlers at Home
If you have a few children at home who fall into the toddler age range or are a childminder so have a number of toddler in your house you might be interested in circle time activities for toddlers at home. While most of the activities in this post could be adapted to a home environment, some will work better as small group activities for toddlers than others.
For situations where there is one adult and a small group of toddlers I would suggest circle time songs like “Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes”, “Sleeping Bunnies”, “Hake the Sillies Out” and if you have equal numbers, “row, row, row your boat”. For hand rhymes, “Wind the Bobbin up” and “Incy Wincy Spider” well because they don’t need adult help.
Picture hunts can be difficult to set up at home because children will usually spot them before you’re ready but you can do a variation of it by asking children to find a specific toy or other item. You can hide them in plain site and you’ll be surprised how long it takes before they spot them. The “stand up if game can work if you have a few older toddlers (2-3 year olds) but younger ones (1-2 year olds) usually need adult help to recognise whether or not they should stand up. The copying game will work great and you can do the coloured squares if you have the space either inside or outside.
Using props for story telling works particularly well with a small group of toddlers as there are usually enough props for everyone to hold something so is a great circle time activity for toddlers at home. Using puppets works great too and you can even teddies to tell a story rather than buying puppets specifically. Acting out stories can also work better with a smaller number of children.
Top Tips for Circle Time Activities for Toddlers
- Keep it Short – If toddlers don’t have an adult with them then eight to ten minutes of circle time is enough, if they have an adult to keep them engaged, you might manage fifteen minutes.
- Have a Circle Time Routine – Sticking to a similar routine for each circle time means toddlers know what to expect and that can help the, engage better. This doesn’t mean it should be the same every time, just that it follows a similar pattern.
- Keep it active – Toddlers need to move, make sure none of the activities involve sitting still for more than a few minutes.
- Do it at the end – Large group activities for toddler don’t work well if they are still excited about arriving somewhere. Keep circle time for toddlers to the end of a session when they’ve had a chance to burn off some energy.
- Think about the parents – If it’s a toddler group with parents who have babies to look after too, try to make sure they’ll be able to manage both.
- Be Flexible – While you might start with a plan, be prepared to change it if it isn’t going well, you might need to change the activity or cut the circle time short if it isn’t going well, or on the other hand, you might extend an activity if everyone is having a great time.
- Have a large teddy sit on your lap – this avoids ending up with a toddler on your lap which can make it difficult to run the session and cause a fight for the spot on your lap. It’s teddy’s spot and no one else’s.
So those are my tips for circle time activities for 2-3 year olds which can be used at toddler groups, library rhyme times, at home, by childminders or in nurseries. You might also want to check out my other suggestions for toddler group activities and advice on setting up a toddler group.
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