Participation involves more than being able to makes one’s own decisions

Circle time for the youngest children: Participation is not just about children being allowed to decide what they want to do. It is also about experiencing a sense of belonging, being part of a group, and having influence in their kindergarten group.



From being a high point in the kindergarten day, circle time seems to be perceived as having lost some of its importance. Many kindergartens stopped organising circle time when research showed that the children were often bored. However, this research applied to children aged three or older, according to the two researchers Brit Eide and Ellen Os.

‘Clearly, there are many today who think that kindergarten should not be so structured and controlled by adults. Traditionally, circle time has been associated with the adults speaking, while the children don’t say much. Many consider circle time not to be time well spent for the children,’ says Eide, as Os nods her agreement.

In kindergarten teachers’ training programmes,  questions are also being raised about whether circle time is worthwhile. The Framework Plan for Kindergartens does not so much as mention circle time.


The researchers at the Department of Early Childhood Education at Oslo Metropolitan University were therefore surprised when they visited kindergartens to investigate the situation for children under the age of three.

‘Circle time has been a strong tradition in Norwegian kindergartens. But we were under the impression that it was almost non-existent at this point. However, it turned out that all nine of the kindergartens we visited had circle time as a routine part of their days’, comments Os.

The two researchers made video observations in the nine kindergartens, then processed and analysed their observations in collaboration with Professor Ingrid Pramling Samuelsson.


The researchers were even more surprised to see the joy and enthusiasm that circle time evoked in the children. When circle time was announced, the children got excited. They were ready to share experiences.

During circle time, the adults take a clear leadership position, observed the researchers. The content was often related to having fun and playing rather than formal learning. Circle times were characterised by a great deal of singing and games involving movement, as well as fairy tales and nursery rhymes.

‘Circle times were usually well-varied, lively and coloured by humour. The children were eager to participate. We could clearly see that the children enjoyed circle time’, Eide smiles.


The spontaneous joy exhibited by the children during circle time made the researchers wonder: What is it that evokes so much excitement?

‘We believe it’s due to feeling a sense of belonging.

‘When the whole group is together and the adults are there, then the children are happy. In a successful circle session, everyone is seen and gets feedback, at the same time as they get the experience of being part of a group.

‘When the adults are present, everyone is seen. This is true even of those who are less visible during unstructured play.

‘That being said, the researchers found that some prerequisites have to be satisfied for circle time to be successful’ explains Os.


The researchers posit that what separates the good circle sessions from the fair ones, is mainly whether the adults are well prepared.

‘You need to have a plan and know what you want. Then there is latitude for allowing a few detours along the way. These are necessary in order for circle time to be more than routine.

‘The adults need to know the songs and the fairytales without having to look them up. If adults start to fumble or have to look for the right song, the spell can be broken’ Eide continues.

Eide and Os say that many of the most successful circle times include elements of suspense added by the adults.

One way to create suspense at the same time as making it possible for the toddlers to participate, is to let the children draw figures or cards that symbolise different songs, nursery rhymes, games or stories. This was a common method used in the kindergartens the researchers visited.


Learning to take turns is an important part of circle time, the researchers discovered. This means that all the children get an equal chance to participate. All the children are heard and do things together. The children know that when their turn comes, they will get attention. But they learn that when it is their neighbour’s turn, they have to wait.

The experience of being the centre of attention for the adults and the group in this setting appears to be important for the children.

‘Circle time sessions are an exercise in democracy, where the children learn something about being an individual in a group’, Eide points out.


The researchers see participation as two-pronged. First of all, it is about children’s opportunities to contribute to and participate in a group. Second, it is about being listened to and being encouraged to express their own wishes, ideas and feelings.

‘We saw a lot of the former at circle time. Children’s perspectives are taken into account when they tally with the adults’ plans. But there were few definite signs that the children exercised direct influence on decisions’ remarks Eide.


Against this backdrop, we might ask whether circle time is still relevant. The researchers think it is.

‘Our impression is that circle time offers a good situation for feeling a sense of belonging to a group and being part of a community’ concludes Os.