Welcome Back to School – An Outdoor Circle Time

17 August 2010 · 7 comments

in Health & Wellbeing, Reflective Activities

All over Scotland, children are gearing up for their first few days back at school. So are the teachers. I always used to be a bag of nerves on my first day back, even when working in small schools and having the same children.

Today I was reading a lovely book, Rediscovery, recommended to me by Marghanita Hughes, a children’s author. It’s a book of outdoor activities based on native traditions. This sparked off a few ideas about what to do outside with a new class at the start of the year.

Quick Circle

Develop the habit of gathering in a circle quickly. When the teacher calls “Quick Circle“, the class has to make a circle near where the teacher is standing. This can be made into a game by doing this lots of times, timing the class and seeing if they can do this within 10 seconds, then 5 seconds, etc. Discuss strategies to get the time down.

A circle on the ground is often a good gathering place

Here, There, Where?

If you have a young class that is excitable, this makes a good way of bringing them back to you. On a playing field, call out “Go here!” and point in a direction. After several seconds, call out “No, go over there!” and point in a different direction. Then call out “No, wriggle over here!” and get the children to wriggle in a different direction again. Keep the instructions snappy. After a minute or so, call out “Over here!” and point to the ground just in front of you. With any luck, the children will be at your feet ready for the next activity.

Sticky Elbows

This activity gets older children into a circle. The teacher calls out “Sticky Elbows.” Everyone puts their hands on their hips and tries to get their elbows to touch each others. This tends to be less of an issue than asking children to hold hands. Of course it’s also possible to call out “Sticky Knees”, “Sticky Shoulders” or “Sticky Feet.” Often children enjoy taking it in turn to call out a connection.

Circle Greetings (From Rediscovery, p51)

Standing in a circle the teacher welcomes everyone into the class and introduces him or herself by shaking hands with the person on the left. The first person he or she shakes hands with immediately follows the leader doing the same. Everyone continues shaking hands around the circle until each person has met every other. Eventually everyone returns to the spot where he or she began.

Cinnamon Roll (From Rediscovery, p51)

This follows on nicely from Circle Greetings. By now, the children are generally a little more receptive to holding hands. The teacher now says “Today is only our first day, so we only feel this close” and he or she gets everyone to hold hands and raise them high in the air. “But, by the end of the year, I’ll bet we feel this close.” The teacher releases his or her right hand and immediately starts turning anti-clockwise on the spot. A great big human cinnamon roll will begin to follow, along with a lot of laughter and chaos. If everyone manages to become part of the roll, the teacher can call out “Press the roll smaller!” The big squeeze may happen. Be warned!

Hopes and Fears

This activity sets the scene for the year ahead. Hand out a card to each child with two opposite words on them, e.g. big/small, soft/hard, rough/smooth, etc. Not every card needs to be different if you are feeling short of time. Ask everyone to find two natural objects that represent the opposites written on their card. On one sheet of paper, write the word “Hopes” and on the other sheet, write “Fears”. Ask the children to think about one hope they have for the year ahead. As they say this hope aloud in turn, the child can stick one of their objects on the sheet. Then go round the circle and the action is repeated for “Fears”. If a child can’t think of something, all they need to do is put the object on the paper.  Back inside, the children can take turns to write their hope and fear beside their objects. This can be a useful keepsake for reflecting upon at the end of the year. It can be interesting to see whether the hopes and fears were manifested or not.

I’m sure you will all have your own ideas for starting back at school. Feel free to share any suggestions for more outdoor activities. Good luck and all the best!

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Deborah (Teach Preschool) August 17, 2010 at 22:34

I love the “Quick Circle” game! I used to do something similar and it is very helpful to get children to begin listening and anticipating what they are expected to do!


Saya August 18, 2010 at 07:57

I like that Sticky Elbow idea! I think I’m going to try it with the children tomorrow! Thank you for the great ideas! 🙂 I’m glad I found your blog!


buffstep August 18, 2010 at 12:17

I’ve been using sticky elbos, feet and knees for years now. It serves so many purposes; It can also be used as a reviewing tool to highlight learning connections and change and how sometimes they can be a little uncomofortable at first etc.

PS: adults quite like it to as an icebreaker..as it makes all involved look a little bit silly! and it can give you a quick snapshot of just how flexible,engaged and fun a group are likley to be from the outset.


JDaniel4's Mom August 18, 2010 at 12:45

I want to be in your class. You have so much fun!


The Sunshine Crew August 19, 2010 at 13:52

Very cool ideas. We will be studying indigenous peoples this year and will have to try out some of these games then, as well as just for fun.
Thanks for sharing.


CountryFunMaine August 20, 2010 at 00:26

My group is too small for Sticky Elbows, but we will be playing Here, There, Where for sure. My preschoolers can do that as easily as my school-age children.


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