Circle time is something that is fairly well discussed in Waldorf resources; circle time is indeed viewed as the main focal point of the Early Years. It is a way to help form the fabric of the social cohesiveness of the classroom, mark the seasonal changes and festivals, work together, and develop all twelve senses. Even in the early grades, the circle time works on the very foundation of learning and is a way to wake up the body, the voice, and the fingers for a day of developing capacities in learning. Over the years, circle time often morphs into a physical warm-up time for the upper grades, even in the classroom setting. Many times this includes going for a walk or physical games for these middle school grades.
In the homeschooling realm, I have often thought about circle time. Does it always work with just one parent, one child, and the family dog? Does it work with children who have large age gaps in the family? What is the purpose and goal of the circle and how can we meet those goals best in the home environment, which is a different thing than developing a social organism of a classroom.
For the early years, I have maintained for years the importance of circle time I think due to the foundational senses developed in movement and word during this time, but that the heart of the home Waldorf kindergarten may actually be practical work. There are quite a few back posts on this subject. I have created my own circles for years for the Early Years and early grades and feel circle time can often work for all children under the age of ten.
Lately, though, I have been pondering something else. If circle time is about developing a social cohesiveness, what are we doing to develop the social cohesiveness of the FAMILY. We are homeschooling and it is still tempting to not combine children in main lesson work as most of the resources on the market, even homeschooling resources, are developed by individual grade (not as combined grades or ages, perhaps with the exception of the work of Master Waldorf Teacher Marsha Johnson). Also, what happens when circle time or a gathering time morphs into something else as the children grow up. It is easy to start throwing the morning walk out the window because we have more academic work that needs to get done with more children.
In mainstream homeschooling, there is often an idea of a “Morning Basket” or “Morning Time” in which all family members gather for any of the following: family announcements, spiritual direction, read alouds, poetry, art or music history with composers, etc. It serves as a market to begin the day, and a time in which the smallest to oldest can participate.
So how would this look in a Waldorf Environment?
This past fall, I tried something new. I wasn’t quite a Morning Time altogether in a sense because I did Circle Time separate for our second grader. We did have some verses to do together, but the main thing I did was pick an area in geography (Africa) and we all worked together, ages 8 to adult, on all kinds of fun things together, including music and singing, poetry recitation, making maps, reading aloud, drawing, and painting. It was fun, and I think it could be a great way to work in some blocks that are either harder to work into the year or the areas where you want information to be constantly reviewed and refreshed, and a way to tie everyone together instead of sending the notion that learning is only for separate times and we are all on such different levels we can’t possibly all learn together.
So, some ideas for transitioning from a traditional Waldorf circle time to a wonderful family gathering time could include prayers from your spiritual tradition, family singing and accompanying instruments, poetry recitation, read alouds, geography, math fun, and more.
I encourage you to think about how a wonderful gathering time, which could include a combination of circle time for younger and older children and a gathering time for older children with little ones participating as able.
I would love to hear what you do in your family!