Challenge: Circle Behavior – Part II

The instructions of the teacher consist then merely in a hint, a touch-enough to give a start to the child. The rest develops of itself. ~ Maria Montessori, Dr. Montessori's Own Handbook

     In the last article on addressing circle behavior, I discussed ways to address and reduce misbehavior in group settings.  One of the first suggestions was to ensure that group gatherings were engaging for children.  After reading the article, Jane (Nelsen), asked me how Montessori teachers keep circles engaging.  In turn, I was inspired to ask other Montessori educators what they did to create engagement.  Thank you to everyone who contributed!  Here are some of the responses I received:

Paula Lillard Preschlack, Author, The Montessori Potential, Speaker: Montessori reminds us to ask the question, who is the group time for, the adult, or the children? 

Susan Shea, 3-6 Guide, Podcaster, Cofounder of Phonetic Planet: One small, but effective, thing I have done over the years is to refrain from interrupting the flow during circle time if possible. This means that I continue singing, reading, etc. while slowly walking towards a child who is unsettled and extending my hand to them, thereafter, walking them slowly to another spot in the group while the song/story pushes on. Even the very youngest of children are quick to absorb the function of a gesture like this; it is firm but not confrontational and preserves the atmosphere as much as possible. It’s conducted out of respect for the community as a whole and minimizes the level of redundant energy directed toward a child who is interrupting others. There is rarely a need to address this child by name; I have always felt that children much prefer hearing their name used aloud for positive reasons. In my opinion, it’s important to remember that the adult can often be the person who ultimately affects the engagement of the group. How we respond to situations that arise is worth devoting attention to.

Marie Conti, Senior Director of Community and Events, American Montessori Society: 

  • For the early childhood level, allow group meeting time to be optional.
  • If children agree to join, then they agree to the group’s ground rules to be respectful listeners and to take turns sharing.
  • Offer appropriate comfortable seating options, including how to sit (is “crisscross applesauce” really comfortable for all?).
  • Ensure adequate space to prevent unnecessary distractions and be sure all children can see and hear equally from their vantage point.
  • Avoid using “I like the way…” to highlight positive behaviors as studies show that this technique actually has a negative impact on the group unless ALL children are acknowledged.
  • Keep the length of the meeting appropriate to the attention span of the group.
  • Avoid having children sit idly waiting. Keep them engaged with conversation, singing, finger plays, and poems, if waiting for others to join is necessary.
  • Be aware that even if children do not physically join a group meeting, they often hear and take in what is being said and shared. Some years I had a few children who chose to rock in a rocking chair in the library corner or pedal a stationary bike in another part of the room while a group meeting was held, but they still heard everything that transpired in those meetings.

Melanie Jacobs, Head of School, Montessori Center School:  Here are some strategies I used when I was teaching lower elementary:

  • Allow for different seating. For certain students, sitting in a chair instead of on the floor made a world of difference.
  • Throughout the circle, gauge the level of engagement, and don’t be afraid to adjust accordingly in the moment, even if this means adjusting your original plan.
  • Observe the students during various lessons so that you can learn the ideal length of time that works for that particular group.
  • Be sure to include some participation of the students so they feel part of the circle. Allow them to lead parts of it so that they feel empowered and engaged.
  • Get input and feedback from the students about the circle so they can give suggestions as to how to make it more engaging.
  • Designate a way to redirect the circle when the behavior is starting to become a problem, such as a chime or a hand signal.

Lee Havis, Executive Director, International Montessori Society: Keep group gatherings short and infrequent. Except, of course, a final (short) group meeting at the end of a session is useful. No beginning group gathering, or during the middle of a work session. Individual work and spontaneous groups of children is the only exception.

Gule Andrabi, Director, Casa Dei Bambini Montessori School, Consultant:

  • Movement activities are extremely fun, and exciting, and keep everyone engaged during circle time.
  • Another very effective way to keep everyone’s attention during circle time is storytelling. I remember sharing so many stories with my class, especially after holidays or overseas trips. It’s a unique way to learn about each other.

Melissa Pallin, Montessori Elementary Level Training Coordinator, Global Montessori Educators Institute:  I incorporate short gatherings into the day (about 10 minutes): a morning meeting, a sharing circle, and a closing circle.  Because each of these has a certain meaning in my classroom, the children anticipate the routine and how to participate.  For example, in the closing circle, we pass around an object and each child can choose to talk about something they worked on, something they are proud of, or something from their personal life.

Leanne Alexandrini, Educator, Early Childhood Center: My experience as a teacher, administrator, and parent/teacher coach has helped me follow the interests and curiosities of our youngest learners when it comes to creating engaging group meetings. Ask questions as you plan for upcoming meetings:

  • What do I know about the children in my class regarding age, learning styles, culture, home language?
  • What unit of study, lesson presentation, or special event am I sharing?
  • What routines are important to my goals for my class as a group and for each child?
  • Meeting routines should involve participation, movement, and singing.
  • The duration is based on age and time of year.
  • Smile, acknowledge children, and empower them to lead segments of the group meeting as appropriate.

When a group meeting is relevant to the children’s age, development, and interest, and considers their first language, culture, and needs, you should be able to maintain engagement throughout.
That is if a bug doesn’t join your meeting. You must be willing to change plans, end the meeting, or make the bug your guest speaker!

Nida Hooda, Children’s House Guide, Redeemer Montessori School:

  • Songs and games.
  • I spy games.
  • Rhyming words games.
  • Skip counting games.
  • Dance and movement.

A Few More Thoughts (from Chip): 

In the first comment in this article, Paula suggested asking who the circle is for, the teacher or the children.  Melanie suggested involving the children in finding ways to keep circles engaging.  This is a powerful way to ensure that group gatherings are child-centered and engaging.  In a Montessori Classroom that uses Positive Discipline, teachers use the Class Meetings to accomplish this.

Formal Class Meetings give children the opportunity to help the community and each other solve problems.  This process helps avoid teacher-driven agendas, because children put problems to be solved on the agenda. During the meeting, they work together to solve those problems.  When children are involved in helping each other solve problems, they develop a sense of belonging and significance in their community, and they learn critical life skills, like asking for help, empathy, critical thinking, social interest, and leadership.  They quickly learn how capable they are, as they see the effect of their contributions on the community!

When I was an upper elementary teacher, one of my students put a problem on the Class Meeting agenda.  The problem read, “Mr. D’s  lessons are too long.”  (Mr. D was me.)  I had been holding Class Meetings for a while at this point in my career, so I just smiled when the student shared the problem.  I loved that they felt comfortable bringing up problems they were having with adults, and were learning how to do so respectfully.  I also knew that I had a tendency to talk too much :).  In discussing the problem, some of the students shared that they enjoyed the lessons, but also wanted to maximize their independent work time.  As a group, we decided to limit lessons to 20 minutes.  This gave the students a predictable ending time, maximized their work time, and served as a good reminder to me to make sure the aim of my lessons was to inspire interest in the work itself and avoid the trap of becoming a “sage on stage”.  

Until next time…     

If this was helpful, share using the buttons below.

About the Author

Picture of Chip DeLorenzo

Chip DeLorenzo

An experienced Montessori Educator who has served in a variety of roles for over 25 years, Chip DeLorenzo is a trainer, consultant and co-author of Positive Discipline in the Montessori Classroom. He works with teachers, parents and schools across the globe to help them to create Montessori environments that promote mutual respect, cooperation and responsibility.


Join Our Newsletter

Monthly Newsletter and Information on Upcoming Events
Scroll to Top