Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Toddler Circle Time Activities for the Montessori Classroom

NAMC montessori classroom infant toddler circle time activities looking in mirror
Circle time (also called “line time”) in the Montessori classroom is a time for toddlers to develop their listening skills, learn new vocabulary, practice language skills, practice following directions, build self-confidence, and learn about being a member of a community.

The morning begins with children working with the Montessori materials. The two Montessori teachers in the classroom are busy with demonstrations and lessons, keeping a watchful eye on the children as they are working. As circle time approaches, one teacher quietly moves to the audio player to turn on a song that signals it is time for the children to clean up. She then quietly moves to the group area to await the children. The other teacher helps the children put away their materials. When the children who are coming to circle are gathered, the teacher leading circle begins a welcome song to welcome the children to circle.

Activities for Toddler Circle Time in the Montessori Classroom

To the tune of "Frere Jacques"
Hello Friends. Hello friends.
How are you? How are you?
We're glad you came to school today.
We're going to learn and laugh and play.
Yes we are. Yes we are.
(Can be sung substituting each child’s name)
After the song, there are many things that can be done in circle. Montessori teachers often use this time to read stories, sing songs, play musical instruments, perform finger plays, and present counting, calendar, nature, and weather activities. It is important to remember that this is the sensitive period for language. Toddlers want to learn the names of everything in their environment so they can communicate with others. Circle time is the perfect opportunity to give toddlers the names of objects that are found in the home, the classroom, and the community.

It is also important to remember that during this sensitive period of toddlerhood, books should be based on real objects, not fantasy, because at this stage of development children want and need to learn about the real world. The time for fairy tales and fantasy comes at a later stage of development, after they have absorbed and experienced what they can about the real world.

Just as books should be kept “real”, so should the objects that are presented. If you read a book about autumn, be sure to have specimens of real leaves for the children to see, smell, and touch. If you read a book about oranges, have some real oranges available for the children to touch, smell, cut up and taste. In the Montessori classroom, the experience of real, tangible objects should always come before pictures or disassociated names.

NAMC montessori classroom infant toddler circle time activities boy with orange
While toddler circle time activities vary, the new toddler Montessori teacher may feel overwhelmed at the thought of gathering the young students for a group lesson. Here’s an example of one Montessori teacher’s circle time routine:
  • Welcome Song – Toddlers really enjoy singing songs with hand motions, clapping, etc.
  • Weather and Season - We learn/review what season we are in and what is happening with our weather lately, how it's changing and what season will come next.
  • Calendar – Time for more songs about Months of the Year and Days of the Week. Ask if someone can tell you what month it is. Then ask if someone can tell you what day of the week it is. Have a daily calendar helper to help you find the date and put it on the calendar. Then, count together up to that number.
  • Theme Activity – This might include a story from a book or using a puppet or flannel board. It could include finger plays, creative movement, and sharing of new objects.
  • Closing – We sing a closing song together, usually holding hands. This helps the children transition to our next activity.
Circle time is an enjoyable time for toddlers as they develop language skills, express their thoughts, and learn to participate in a group. Because attention spans are short, it is good to monitor and adjust your circle time according to the needs of your young children. Being flexible will help guarantee the success of your Montessori toddler program. More great activity and classroom ideas are available in the NAMC Infant/Toddler diploma program manuals .
As much as possible, NAMC’s web blog reflects the Montessori curriculum as provided in its teacher training programs. We realize and respect that Montessori schools are unique and may vary their schedules and offerings in accordance with the needs of their individual communities. We hope that our readers will find our articles useful and inspiring as a contribution to the global Montessori community.
© North American Montessori Center - originally posted in its entirety at Montessori Teacher Training on Wednesday, April 15, 2009.


  1. Nice article gives you a good idea of what a toddler can accomplish in a classroom.

  2. When you say toddler what age exactly are you referring to? 12 month olds are considered toddlers but i have a hard time understanding how a 12 month old can follow all of that. Im just curious because my 14 month barely sits through one so ng let alone a whole routine.

  3. Devki, toddlers are generally between the ages of 12-24 months of age. Each child develops at a different pace, and our activities, including circle time, must be appropriate for their development. Young children may not have a long enough attention span for a longer circle time. In that case, the length and amount of activities at one time should be accommodating to their needs. As attention span increases, the length and amount of activities can be increased as well.

  4. Can you give me some idea of what infant programs do? My baby is 9mos and attends what was advertised as a Montessori infant program for 3 days a week, but it seems like a glorified daycare where babies can crawl around all day and get plastic toys off the shelf. My daughter loves their giant Mardi Gras Beads. I'm wondering why I'm paying $1K a month for a crawl a thon. :-(

    1. LaTonia, thank you for your question regarding Montessori Infant Programs. It is unfortunate that you are experiencing some frustration with the routine provided by the program your daughter is attending. How wonderful for your daughter, though, that you are trying to provide her with a stimulating learning environment that answers her developmental needs. LaTonia, we can tell you that while Montessori programs will follow similar philosophies, the manner in which they deliver a program may differ from center to center. Usually, Infant/Toddler programs will provide young children with plenty of opportunities to develop gross motor skills (the large movements required for crawling, walking, etc.), fine motor skills (hand and wrist movements and control), and independence, among other things. One way to address these needs is to set up the environment so that the children have plenty of room for free movement and so they can access materials from the shelves by themselves. Montessori teachers usually take great care in the materials they include on the shelves, choosing items that will interest the children and that will build motor, cognitive, or social skills.

      If you are unsure whether this program is a good fit for your daughter, perhaps you could arrange a time to observe the routine of a full day. As well, it is helpful to speak with the Montessori provider and communicate your concerns. She/he can address your questions directly and may dispel some of your worries — and she/he may make some changes based on your conversation.

      We also invite you to read more about the Montessori Infant/Toddler environment in the following NAMC blogs:

      Choosing a Montessori School for Your Child: Tips for Finding the Right Fit
      The Montessori Infant/Toddler Environment: Preparing for Movement
      Modern Materials Used in the Infant/Toddler Environment

  5. I want to know if circle time participation should be mandatory or optional with some limitations such as quietness. My son recently moved up in classrooms and is having a hard time with the increased structure in the new classroom.


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