Circle Time Activities for 1 to 2 Year Olds

By Rosenya Faith
Two toddlers play in a nursery room
Two toddlers play in a nursery room

A group of young explorers with short attention spans and independent natures is a recipe for chaos if you can’t entertain the crowd when they sit down for circle time. Keep circle time games, stories and music with toddlers to 5-minute sessions that take place after a gross motor activity -- an opportunity to get the wiggles out. As the kids get used to the routine, you can expand the activities to approximately 10 minutes. Keep an eye on your young crowd as you lead circle time; if the majority of youngsters aren’t paying attention or participating then the activity is likely ill-suited for the group.

Child’s Play

A group of young children fingerpaint
A group of young children fingerpaint

Encourage interaction and working together at circle time with a variety of simple games. For example, have the group roll a large ball back and forth. Use this as an opportunity to help your group learn and remember each other’s names by telling the child with the ball who to roll it to next. Alternatively, spread a parachute across the circle and work together to wave it in the air. Keep the little ones busy by showing objects to the group and giving them a moment to tell you what it is before identifying each item, or show pictures of different faces to see who can guess or mimic the facial expression.

Musical Songbirds

A teacher guides toddlers in a circle
A teacher guides toddlers in a circle

You can incorporate a variety of songs into circle time, but begin a routine with the same opening or closing song to help the toddlers make the transition from one activity to the next. Use songs that get little ones involved or give each child a kid-size instrument, such as plastic maracas or xylophones, and let your young band create a symphony. Sing clap-along songs -- even if the toddlers can't keep the rhythm just yet. Sing songs about colors and point to items of the corresponding colors and do the same with shapes, animals and objects.

Once Upon a Time

A group of children reading together
A group of children reading together

Introduce stories during circle time with 1- to 2-year-olds, but ensure to follow a few simple guidelines. For example, choose stories that incorporate plenty of pictures and involve the toddlers in the activity by asking questions frequently, such as, "What color is the bear's clothing?" or "What might happen next on his adventure?" Use your voice and your facial expressions to convey the meaning of each page, and keep it short -- 2-minute stories are the limit. To increase the visual stimulation, incorporate puppets and felt boards into story time.

Wiggles and Giggles

A toddler plays with toy letters
A toddler plays with toy letters

While 2-year-olds can often sit still for a few moments, the same can’t be said for 1-year-olds. If there are more early toddlers in your group, this is your time to shine. Keep your young crowd’s attention by incorporating plenty of reasons to move around. You can show the kids how to hop on one foot, jump like a “Jack in the box,” move like an elephant or do the Hokey-Pokey. Use freeze dance to help encourage gross motor skills; don’t worry if your younger members keep going when the music stops.

About the Author

Rosenya Faith has been working with children since the age of 16 as a swimming instructor and dance instructor. For more than 14 years she has worked as a recreation and skill development leader, an early childhood educator and a teaching assistant, working in elementary schools and with special needs children between 4 and 11 years of age.