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 activities for toddlers will work well for toddler groups where children have a parent with them, as well as nursery settings.
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Top Tips for Circle Time Activities for Toddlers
- Keep it Short – If toddlers don’t have an adult with them then ten minutes of circle time is enough, if they have an adult to keep them engaged, you might manage fifteen to twenty minutes.
- Keep it active – Toddlers need to move, make sure none of the activities involve sittings 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.
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 entice element to them. When running circle time at toddlers group I would take requests for the children’s favourite songs.
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.
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 and 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 activity 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 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.
Stories for Toddler Circle Time
Stories often aren’t engaging enough for toddlers at circle time but there are ways to get round this.
Stories 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.
So those are my top circle time activities for toddlers which can be used at toddler groups, library rhyme times or in nurseries. You might also want to check out my other suggestions for toddler group activities.
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