Group times can be great. When appropriate, they can foster a sense of community, enhance children’s patience and attention span, and offer a provider the opportunity to communicate with everyone at one time. When large group times aren’t appropriate, they can be a negative experience for all involved. Unfortunately, we sometimes find that providers spend more time saying things like “sit down,” “crisscross applesauce,” and “listening ears,” than they spend conveying information or interacting in a positive way with the children during large group times. Ask yourself the following questions about your large group times.
What am I trying to accomplish? Most of us remember school as a time when the teacher stood in front of the class and gave the students information or knowledge. We know that young children don’t learn this way. Instead of imparting wisdom to them, we help them learn through play and experiences. We ask questions, foster curiosity, and encourage exploration. What are you trying to accomplish with large group-would it be more effective through a small group, individually, or through a play experience? For example, I’ve seen providers who still conduct a calendar/weather time each day with children, but it is a voluntary time- only those children interested participate.
Is group time necessary? None of the ERS scales require large group time. Large group times are assessed and scored only if they are conducted. Your program, school district, or personal philosophy may require large groups, and that’s just fine. Large groups can be very beneficial, we just have to remember to adjust them to meet the needs of the children.
What are children gaining from group time? We know that children learn best through play and interaction. When they are required to sit for long periods of time, participating in an activity that they are not interested in, they may be losing out on valuable time they could be learning in a meaningful way. This is not to say that we should immediately “give in” and allow children to always do what they want, but we do need to work to make group times feasible and appropriate.
Are children capable of learning in a group time? Consider each child’s ability to participate in group. We know that young children need to be active and are often impulsive. Are they physically capable of sitting in group, or is their body telling them they need to move? Instead of reprimanding them for doing what their body is telling them, (“sit still”) would it be better to allow them to join in another activity? Is there another way that they can gain the same information that is more appropriate for them?
What’s the right group size? Consider the ages and stages of the children. The pressures and distractions of a large group can bother some children. Keeping group size small, especially for younger children, helps children focus and enjoy participation. The ITERS-R states that group sizes should range from 2-3 infants, 2-5 toddlers, and 4-6 two year olds. ECERS-R recommends group sizes of 3-5 children for 2-3 yr. olds and groups of 5-8 children for 4-5 yr. olds.
Do I feel good about group time? If group time is a daily struggle, it’s as hard on you as it is the children. When you’re constantly reminding children to sit down, listen, stop talking, etc., it’s hard to feel successful. It may be time to re-evaluate. What are some ways you can determine if group times are helpful to the children? Are there any tips or techniques you feel work well when it comes to group time?
What are your experiences with group time??