Group times can be a great way for providers to share some content on certain topics, complete daily tasks and even share a bit about their plans for the day. Too often, we find providers spend more time saying things like “sit down,” “crisscross applesauce,” or “listening ears,” than they spend conveying information or interacting in a positive way with the children. Usually this occurs in large group times-times when all the children, or a large group of the children enrolled are required to sit down for a “group time” or participate in a group activity, like an art project. The following tips may help providers determine when and if they want to utilize group times and ways to ensure success:
Is group time necessary? The ITERS-R evaluates group time in Item 31, Group play activities, and can be scored NA if no group play times occur. Group times are defined as being staff-initiated and have an expectation of child participation. If the children in the group are not ready for group times, it is perfectly acceptable to not conduct group. The FCCERS-R also allows for an “NA” if children are never required to do the same activity as a whole group during play or learning. Because of the multi-age setting of family child care homes, group time can be especially difficult.
What are children gaining from group time? Many teachers and providers seem to feel that group time may be their only chance to “educate” children, and they conduct long groups covering a variety of topics. 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 are losing out on valuable time they could be learning in a meaningful way. 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. Instead of introducing a “letter of the week” in large group, would time be better spent introducing it to a small group of children while encouraging them to come up with words that start with that letter?
Are children capable of learning in a group time? It is important to consider each child’s physical 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 size? Consider the ages and stages of the children. Some may be able to learn and participate in a large group setting, and some may not. 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.
What are the providers achieving? If providers are feeling like group time is a constant fight, it is time to re-evaluate. If group time is a daily struggle, it’s as hard on the teachers as it is the children. When a provider is constantly reminding children to sit down, listen, stop talking, etc., they likely don’t feel very successful. What are some ways providers can determine if their group times are helpful to the children? Are there any tips or techniques you feel work well when it comes to group time?