Routines of the Progressive Preschool Class: Circle Time

After Free Play, the teacher calls everyone in a progressive preschool class to sit together, usually in front of the blackboard for Circle Time or Meeting Time. An important part of the routine is the transition from Free Play to Circle Time. Because the students have been playing with the learning materials in Free Play, there’s a need to clean up before Circle Time. The teacher usually sings a clean up song to encourage the children to clean up. Transitions are essential to cue the children that the next routine is about to begin. One of my favorite transitions in my class was unrolling the meeting mat. I made a plastic mat with shapes on it and I would ceremoniously unroll it for meeting time. The children will hurrily clean up just to help me unroll the mat and sit on their choice of shape. For older kids, I would put their names on the shapes.

Circle Time is the routine wherein the teacher leads the children to sing different songs. It’s the time to say Good Morning or Good Afternoon to everyone, check the weather, know the day and date and find out what activity is lined up for the day. Don’t underestimate the power of Circle Time. Younger kids learn letters and numbers from this routine. A typical message on the board looks like this:

1. Today is  __onday.

2. February __, 2009

3. It is a  ___ day.

4. There are __ boys

and      __ girls

5. We will paint today.

Let’s see how the children learn from the message:

1. Today is __ onday.

The teacher will sing the Monday song (which is the same song everyday but the days change according to what day it is). Then she says “It’s Monday today. MMMMonday. What letter has the MMM sound?” Studies show that the MMM sound is one of the first sounds children learn because of familiar words like Mama or Mommy. The teacher just needs to teach them that the sound is the letter M. Next step is to encourage the children to write the letter M on the board. The teacher guides the children who are just starting to write and say encouraging statements like “It goes up, down, up, down”.  For this sentence alone, the children learned:

  • songs (music)
  • days of the week (language)
  • letter M (alphabet / language)
  • how to write the letter M (fine motor)

The children learned all these with much fun and little anxiety!

2. February ___, 2009

The teacher has an empty teacher-made calendar beside her. For younger kids, number are prepared and the children stick each number on the empty calendar depending on what date it is. The teacher counts with the children until they learn what the next number is. Then the teacher asks a child to write the number on the board. Creative songs can be sung for the children to remember numbers like “We write 1 and we write 0 (3x) that’s how we write number 10″. Progressive school teachers are very creative song writers!

Lessons learned?

  • songs
  • numbers (identification, counting)
  • months of the year
  • how to write the numbers (fine motor)

3. It is a __ day.

The teacher asks a student to peek through the window and see what the weather is. She then sings a weather song like Barney’s “Mr. Sun” if it is a sunny day. She asks a student to either draw the sun on the blank space on the board or write the word sunny. I spell out “sunny” by singing it in the tune of the Bingo song “There was a day when it was hot and sunny was the weather, S-U-N-N-Y (3x), and sunny was the weather” while the children clap out each letter.

What did the child learn?

  • songs
  • observation (looking out the window to see if the sun is out)
  • drawing or writing (fine motor)
  • spelling sunny, cloudy or rainy

4. There are ___ boys and ___ girls.

The teacher asks the boys to stand up and sings a counting song. After finding out the number of boys are present, she asks a student to write that number beside the word Boys. She does the same with the girls. She then asks the students to add the boys and girls by counting everyone in the class to find out how many children are present.

What do they learn from this sentence?

  • songs
  • numbers (one to one correspondence, identification)
  • words Boys and Girls
  • gender identification
  • adding numbers
  • observation (who isn’t here today?)

5. We are painting today.

Routines are laid out for the child to be able to predict what’s going to happen next. Why? Because it what makes them more secure with their surroundings.

Parents usually jump to the conclusion that simple activities like these have little educational value. But check out how many concepts the children learned. Circle Time is also Storytelling Time, Sharing Time and Showing Time. Imagine how much they learn by joining the circle!

Routines of the Progressive Preschool Class: Free Play

Our previous post, Temporal Environment or Temporal Setting, talks about the blocks of time that a progressive preschool class has in its schedule called routines. A progressive preschool class is not divided by subjects but by these routines. These routines are parallel to life situations that a young child goes through. When a child sees familiarity, he feels more secure in the learning environment and therefore can accommodate and assimilate the lessons more.

Free play is a time wherein the child can choose to stay in any of the learning areas and play with the materials in that area. This is the routine that starts the class. This time is essential for the progressive teacher to observe the various interests of each child. One of my students, Camilla, would usually go straight to the Reading Area to read the different books on the shelves. She turned out to be one of my earliest readers. Another one, EV, would go to the Manipulatives Area to play with the block because he was fond of building towers and houses. He can create stories of the people living in the different buildings.

When the progressive teacher has an opportunity to observe the interests of students, then the individuality of each student is evident. The progressive teacher then plans around these interests in order to gain the attention of each student.

Free play, ideally, is guided play. The progressive teacher should also be in the area of play to encourage, facilitate, interact and PLAY with the child. Yes, the teacher should be interactively playing with the children. It saddens me when teachers use this time to catch up with other work when the time is ripe for engaging with the students during a time when they are open to fun, play and activity.

Temporal Environment or Temporal Setting

The school’s learning environment is not only physical. It is also temporal. The progressive school’s learning environment also concerns the temporal setting or timing for transitions, the routines and the activities (Gordon & Williams-Browne, 2000). The schedule has a balance of quiet and active, group and individual plus outdoor and indoor activities.


The progressive preschool class is not scheduled by subjects (i.e. Math, Science, English). It is scheduled by routines. The progressive preschool definition of a routine is similar and yet very different from that of Merriam-Webster’s. The dictionary defines a routine as a habitual or mechanical performance of an established procedure. It is crucial that routines be done daily in the same order specially during the first few months of school to make the child feel more secure in class because he can predict what will happen next. I disagree, though, with the dictionary’s definition of a routine being mechanical in the progressive preschool schedule. Although it is habitual, the progressive routines are not at all mechanical but very dynamic. It is also a mix of noisy and quiet activities, in line with a child’s biorhythm. The next post will tackle each routine in detail.