Turning group time from grumpy to giggles

Laughing boy laying on green grass

Tips and tricks for successful group times

When it comes to bringing the whole group of children together at various points in the day – to listen to a story, to put on sunscreen, or to transition from one activity to another – educator views are divided.  

Some educators insist that group time is a must – after all, if the children don’t practice how to sit still and pay attention, what will happen when they go to school?  

Other educators believe that children shouldn’t be forced to participate in any activity which doesn’t capture their interest, and that, if the group time is interesting enough, the children will be drawn to joining in.  

Rightly or wrongly, and for a variety of reasons, there will be times in the early childhood day when it is necessary to bring the whole group together, for a variety of reasons… so how can “group time” be done in a way that supports children’s rights?

Know your audience 
Each early childhood setting, and each group of children within that setting, has different needs. These needs grow and change with time, and can shift more than once within a day. The presence or absence of a lunch time sleep, socks that don’t fit quite right, or bigger problems, such as worrying about whether or not a parent will return can all weigh on the mind of a child.  

Most children, particularly those with additional needs, will respond well to routine, consistency and predictability. Using visual aids, such as a storyboard, liquid timer or other sequencing tools can help children know that group time has a defined beginning, middle and end.  

Comfortable group times might need cushions instead of scratchy mats on little legs. Music might need to be softer, lights less bright. Consider the positioning of the children during group time – are they staring into bright sunlight? Getting too hot under a heater? Environmental conditions can make it difficult to focus.  

Be like a Boy Scout, and come prepared! 
Rather than gathering all the children into the group time space, and then frantically trying to remember how the tune for Mr Clicketty Cane goes, do some pre-planning.  

How will you gather the children to the group time space? A sound? A song? A signal? Transitions are important – think about how group time will start and finish.  

Once the children have gathered, have you got a way to keep them engaged? Will you sing? What song? Will you read a story? Which book? Are you going to give them each something to hold while you sing – a scarf, tambourine or maracas? If so, do you have enough for everyone? How will you handle the disappointment if someone doesn’t get their preferred choice?  

Most importantly, what’s your plan B, in the event children lose interest? If something isn’t working, taking too long, or otherwise holding group time up, what will you do instead? 

Go for gold, but know your goal 
Perhaps the most important consideration in any group time experience is “who is advantaged and who is disadvantaged when I work this way, and why?” – you may recognise this reflective question from the approved learning frameworks.  

Questions such as these encourage educators to think more deeply about their practices. Group times might be great for the educators – they allow one educator to keep the whole group in one space, while others re-set the room, put out beds, or tidy up after lunch – but do they serve the needs of the children?  

Is it necessary to have a group time every day? Could routine tasks such as applying sunscreen be achieved in any other way?  

When evaluating the use of group time in a service, using the lens of the child may help.  

Further resources:
Early Childhood Australia – Small Group Time Vignette  
Phoenix Support for Educators – How do I ‘manage’ children’s behaviour during group time? 
Early Childhood Australia – Perspectives on Group Time 

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