Supporting Positive Playtimes and Mental Health
Why we Need Circle Time
After a challenging few years of Covid-19, we all know that wellbeing has suffered. In the current climate, we need proactive systems that can support our children.
Circle Time is a proven method for building social, emotional and mental wellbeing, pro-social behaviour skills and emotional literacy. It is an empowering, whole school system.
What is Circle Time?
The Circle Time Programme provides for the spiritual, moral, social and emotional development of students by developing a caring ethos, encouraging democratic values, positive relationships, positive behaviour, self-discipline, self-esteem and motivation.
In many schools, Circle Time is used as an ongoing programme for building social skills where children can problem solve and support one another. It’s a time where they also play games and have fun, as well as discuss more challenging issues.
I had a very challenging class early in my teaching career. Circle Time was the one system that really made the difference for my class. It gave my children a voice, helped them to problem solve and develop empathy.
I have just spent much of the last term in schools all over the country running Positive Playtime and Flourishing Schools
Programmes and have talked with over 1000 children in Circle Time about what’s going well with playtimes as well as their worries and concerns.
Their worries fell into the following categories:
• lack of friends
• being left out of games
• asking to play a game and being told ‘no’ they can’t join in
• friends being unkind and arguing
Lack of things to do –
• boredom stemming from not enough equipment orthings to do in the playground
Lockdowns Closing Playgrounds & Bubbles –
• children unable to meet up with their friends
• children don’t know how to play and
• children don’t know the traditional playground games we used to play
• football dominates several areas of the playground – not just one
Feeling unsafe –
• physical and verbal aggression
With Ofsted requirements around safeguarding, pupil behaviour, discipline, child welfare, quality teaching and learning, creating a safe, nurturing and harmonious school is vital to our children achieving their potential. As educators, we all want our children to be safe and to learn and we aren’t always aware of the emotional barriers to learning.
How can we support our children with their playtime problems?
I have developed a Circle Time structure which creates safety and continuity and gives a planning format for teachers.
C – Circle Time Ground Rules and Skills
I – Introductory Activity
R – Round…Time to Talk
C – Coaching for Communication and Problem Solving
L – Let’s Appreciate and Celebrate
E – Ending Activity
Timetable a C.I.R.C.L.E meeting once a week at a fixed time so that children feel safe and secure in the knowledge that, as a class, their voices will be heard, and that problems will be solved weekly. Each meeting will typically last between 20 and 45 minutes.
Step 1 – Circle Time Ground Rules and Skills
Create Ground Rules with the children. For example:
1. They cannot name anyone in a negative way.
2. They are respectful of each other’s ideas.
3. They listen.
4. They don’t interrupt.
Step 2 – Introductory Activity
Introduce activities and teach children new games that can be played in the classroom, playground and at wet playtimes.
Step 3 – Round: Time to Talk
A ‘speaking object’ is used, such as a teddy or wooden egg. This is a symbol of speaking and listening. Each person has the opportunity to talk when they are holding the ‘speaking object’ and the others listen to them. Children can say pass.
During the round, you have a good opportunity to find out the children’s worries, concerns, as well as the things that are going well at playtime. Good sentence stems for Rounds are:
• I don’t like it at playtime when…
• I was kind at playtime when…
• I was happy at playtime because…
• My best playtimes are when…
• When I am playing a game and win/lose I feel…
• When my friend is sad/happy at playtime I would…
• A good friend is someone who…
Step 4 – Coaching for Communication and Problem Solving
This is a great time to sort out playtime problems, which develops conflict resolution skills in children.
Step 5 – Let’s Appreciate and Celebrate
Ending the meeting in this positive way allows time for students to genuinely appreciate and value one another. It can be in the form of a self-esteem builder exercise or
through children individually appreciating each other. The teacher asks if there is anyone they are pleased with because they have been kind, or thoughtful. Perhaps they played well with others or have let others join in their games. The children then cross the circle and thank the chosen person. Model how to begin these gratitudes with:
“Thank you for…. “
“You are someone that is….”
“I’m pleased with you because …
Step 6 – Ending Activity
The ending activity brings a sense of closure to circle time. Consider using an active game or a calming, reflective visualisation. You might try the ‘Good News Game’ – A Circle Time Ritual. Explain to the children before they go out to play that you want to hear all their good news when they come back in. For example, who played with them, who they invited to play their games and who was kind, gentle or helpful. Their focus will then be on thinking about all the good news they can share with you after play!
When they come back into the classroom, sit them in a circle on the carpet and ask who would like to start the ‘good news’ round. That person is then given the ‘speaking object’ and tells the class their good playtime news. The round continues with the ‘speaking object’ being given to the next person, them telling their good tale and completes when everyone has had a turn.