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Amy Howell Ph.D.

Our Nation Needs a Circle Time

How early childhood classrooms can help in this moment.

Gautam Arora/Unsplash
We need a circle time right about now.
Source: Gautam Arora/Unsplash

Today, as Van Jones said, “Is a good day.” And it is, for over 74 million Americans who cast their vote in this year’s election. It is also a day where another 70 million feel the emotional pain of defeat.

To begin to repair and to move toward unity over division, for a more united state of this country, we will need the help, patience, and expertise of many. As Fred Rogers recommended, in times of despair, look for those who are doing good, look for the helpers who are showing up. In our world, this certainly means our brave first responders, and it also includes parents, grandparents, caregivers, neighbors, strangers who offer empathy, compassion, and forgiveness to one another. In my world, I look to experts in early learning, for this work is central every day to the early childhood classroom. What comes to mind and heart for me, in this particular, historic moment of our country, is the role of circle time.

Circle time, or morning meetings as they are often called, is a time set aside in most early learning programs in which educators and children come together as a community to connect and prepare for the day ahead. In most circle times, we share songs (Raffi’s The More We Get Together is still my personal favorite), we talk about what we notice about the weather, the season, the day of the week, the patterns we see in our calendars. We do our best to sit in our space, to keep our hands safe and to ourselves, and we learn from one another about what it means to take turns listening without interruption as we express our thoughts. In circle time, we create space to share information and experiences that are important to us. “My brother lost a tooth!” “My dog had puppies!” “My grandma is sick.” “My fish died.”

We listen. Our teachers guide us in expressing our emotions and our empathy for one another. Over time, we grow. We learn one another’s name. We recognize and remember what is important to each other. We become a community that is safe and supportive. And then we play. We play knowing that we will continue to disagree at times, that we will feel hurt, neglected, defeated. We know that we will have our teachers and our friends to help us again, to feel heard, and to begin to heal. We know that we will come back together as a community.

Our nation needs a circle time right now, more than ever before. To begin, let us remember how to sit in our own space, to do our best to keep our hands safe and to ourselves, to listen, to notice, to learn each other’s name. Let’s remember our commitment to creating a safe and inclusive community for one another.

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Amy Howell, Ph.D., is the Program Director and Associate Professor of Early Childhood Education at Central Oregon Community College. She is also an education consultant with Hueya Inc.

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