Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Young Montessori Class Behavioral Challenges: Circle Time and Other Transitions

This post is a follow up to a blog regarding the questions of a NAMC student and her lead teacher, who are experiencing some behavioral challenges with some students. Working as an assistant in a very young 3–4 year old Montessori classroom, there are 14 children in the class who were split from a larger, previously existing 3–6 class this spring. Here are some more of my responses on Montessori circle time and other transitions during the school day.

NAMC young montessori class behavioral challenges circle time rowdy children

How do you settle down a rowdy circle?

Behavioral Challenges in a Young Montessori Class: Transitions and Circle Time

How long is your circle time? With a group this young, you have to be aware of attention span. If you notice children rolling on the floor, chances are your circle time is too long. I would suggest keeping circle to about 5 minutes (or less). Some Montessori teachers do not even use circle time!

If the children are not sitting well alone, go sit next to them. A gentle hand on the shoulder and a firm, but kind, look is usually all it takes to get their attention. I have used this technique myself, getting up in the middle of circle or group lessons and sitting next to someone who was having a hard time. Unobtrusive and silent gets the job done. Also, try using “appreciations.” For example: “I really appreciate those children who are sitting quietly.” “I appreciate those children who are singing with us.” “Thank you so much for listening.”

And if you cannot calm down a rowdy circle? Dismiss the children to find work! I have found that the best solution to inattention is work — and so did Dr. Montessori! If what we are asking children to do is not purposeful to them, we are inviting misbehavior.

NAMC young montessori class behavioral challenges circle time young boy and girl sitting

The children seem to have a very difficult time with transitions and lining up.

Transitions are hard. I used music as a way to cue children when a transition was coming. I liked to use classical music, especially with a class that had difficulty transitioning. Find some soft, soothing songs to play about 5 minutes before a transition to cue children that a change is coming. Time to start cleaning up? Play a song. Time to get ready to go home? Play a song.

I found that all my students, regardless of their age group, calmed down and focused their attention when I played Pachelbel’s Canon in D. In fact, one year, I found a 45-minute CD of Canon in D accompanied by sounds from the beach. My children loved it and often requested it playing while they worked! I have also used songs by Enya and other new age artists. The power of music to calm and focus attention should not be overlooked.

As difficult as transitions can be for young children, lining up is even harder — especially since they are not really developmentally appropriate. Adults do not walk in lines; we walk in groups. Lines, like desks, are a way of asserting power and control. Ever notice the fight to be the “line leader”? Without lines, there is no power struggle.

NAMC young montessori class behavioral challenges circle time children sitting in line

Is there a reason the children have to line up? If you have a door in the classroom that leads to your playground, you could consider allowing the children to just go outside. If you do have to have lines, find ways to keep the children’s attention: “Okay friends, today we are going to tiptoe down the hall.” All of a sudden, being in line is fun! And little ones have to really concentrate on tip toeing. Or how about: “Today, when we are walking out to recess, I want everyone to listen and see if we can hear any birds chirping.” Change it up and make it fun!

In addition to my above suggestions, I also recommended Dr. Jane Nelsen’s Positive Discipline for Preschoolers and Positive Discipline for Childcare Providers. Her methods go hand-in-hand with Montessori.
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 Tuesday, May 28, 2013.


  1. Classroom management, as it is traditionally referred to guiding children in a class, is a real art. I could tell from experience that the children do not like long circle times. Here are some practical hints. When we use a soft voice (even whisper) they respond in a similar way. When we are calm, they become calm. If we are ordered and organized they somehow pick up the order. Encourage the older ones to be role models for the little ones. This is very important in establishing the rules. Do the rules in the very beginning of the school year and be consistent. The rest will come from the heart.
    Milena Tzaneva
    Montessori teacher, Montreal

  2. Milena, I couldn't agree more. Whispering is a respectful and powerful technique for focusing student attention. I've always found that students of all ages respond much better to a teacher who is calm and whispering than to one who is upset and yelling. Children will model their behavior based on what they encounter in their environment.


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