Advocacy, Childhood, Community, Programming

Why we need to rethink group times…

One of the great things about what we do at Inspired EC is spending time in different services, giving us the opportunity to see a broad range of ideas, perspectives and practices. There is however one practice which is present in the majority of centres we visit and it predominantly looks the same, no matter where we are… group time. 

In many centres (not all!) if you walk in at group time you will see:
  • An educator sitting on a chair 
  • Said educator holding a book up for everyone to see
  • Children being asked to sit cross legged on the floor (The amazing Alistair Bryce-Clegg talks extensively about the inappropriateness of this, particularly for young boys whose muscles are not designed for this type of sitting at this age) 
  • Children who inevitably struggle to sit cross legged on the floor and instead roll around or chat to their friends or play with the puzzle on the shelf next to the group time space
  • Children excitedly calling out their favourite parts of the book or pointing out interesting images on the pages of the book or asking questions about the book…or something completely irrelevant! 
  • An educator who has to constantly remind one child to stop calling out or ask another to keep their hands to themselves

Sounds like fun right?! 

This is not fun for anyone, yet for some reason many educators continue to put themselves and the children through this daily ritual, often with the logic that “they will need to be able to sit in a group at big school” Well that maybe true, but does it meant that we need to push it now? In the vein of last weeks blog post – perhaps this is something that needs to be worried about – WHEN THEY ARE AT SCHOOL!

Recently I visited an amazing service and spent some time observing educator practice. During this time I watched a group time with 3.5-5 year olds. The bullet points above played out almost like a script and I sat there wondering – why do we do this? Why do we find it necessary for all children to listen to the same story at precisely the same time, despite saying that we are led by children’s interests? As I observed the other educators in the room preparing for lunch and sleep times, tidying the room and doing other tasks I felt as though I had my answer, or at least part of it. A large group time enables us to “contain” all children in the one area and “keep them busy” so that we can get things done. Sure, it is a challenge to keep the room running, keep them tidy and complete programs and paperwork, yet I wonder if this is the answer? This is not a criticism of those educators, as they are doing what the majority of educators (myself included) have done for years, this was just a moment in time that prompted me to reflect. Perhaps there are ways of engaging the children, making these things a shared responsibility, a collaborative effort? If we do need to have a large group time – are books really the best choice?

I am a HUGE lover of books. I love to read with my own children and always loved to read with children when I worked in a service, however I rarely enjoyed group time and I think that was a result of the constant attempts to have children sitting and listening and not touching other people! I think books are important for children and should be readily available and educators should make time to read stories with individual children and small groups of children as interests and opportunities organically arise. When we read a book with an individual or a very small group of children, we have the time to have meaningful conversation about the book. When we read a book to a large group, trying to engage up to 20 children in meaningful conversation becomes onerous, drawn out and often very unpleasant!  

Don’t get me wrong – there is merit in doing things in large groups, but I don’t believe that expecting all children to sit quietly and listen to a story is the way to go. If you are going to do group experiences, think about giving children the opportunity to move or be loud, or actually engage with one another – after all, isn’t that the purpose of being in a group? Working together, interacting with one another…building relationships? 
Perhaps we should save the books for small, meaningful engagements with children and instead do social, active things with a large group. Think storytelling with puppets, large group games, music, dance, drama. Things that actually encourage children to be involved, to be active and to interact! 

Let’s rethink group time!
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  • Leonie Crudgington


    I am so happy to hear someone else think the way I do. I stopped my educators from doing large group times a long time ago as I cannot see any benefit in learning this way. As you say, the only people who benefit are the staff, definitely not the children.
    I believe group times should be learning times so our group times are when the children split into small groups (8-10 children in each group) and work with an educator – hands on, interactive learning. One group could be learning about a topic of interest; another group could be exploring language through nonsense poems; another group could be working on a project, and so on.
    At times, 2 or 3 groups might combine for music and movement or to play group games, but at all times the children and educators are participating physically and socially.
    I’m a great believer in children being read to, and having access to a variety of books, so this happens often throughout the day with small groups of children during outside or inside play.
    I might also mention that I believe an educator has to be a great storyteller (and be able to combine props) to keep a large group of children interested in a story. It’s sad to say that I haven’t seen very many inspiring storytellers in the last few years, which is another reason why large group story times often do not work.
    I also have to admit that there are occasions when, due to unforeseen circumstances, we have to conduct a large group, but our normal practice is to try to avoid these situations.

    October 26, 2015 at 3:40 pm
    • Nicole (inspired EC)


      Hi Leonie,
      Thanks for commenting and sharing. It sounds as though you have an amazing service and your children are very lucky.

      October 26, 2015 at 7:03 pm
  • Jane


    I am a huge book lover. I source books to buy, I borrow books from the library. I have such a strong belief of reading to a child and not having them listen to an audio of the story. Got to love the tactile experience of a book. Love introducing children to books and sharing with them how to care for them. Engaging with them about information contained and reading with them to ignite their imaginations. Totally relate to what you are talking about as I experienced a great deal of this today but do tell me, how do you transition children? How do you prepare a child for primary school whilst encouraging them to relax and enjoy the story?

    October 26, 2015 at 6:05 pm
  • Nicole (inspired EC)


    Hi Jane,
    Thanks for your comment! In regards to transitioning, I think it is obviously dependant on the child. The kindergarten teachers at my sons school (he starts next year!) actually told us at the parent info night that they know that the children will come to them with varied experiences (some may not have even been in care or preschool) and so they don’t expect that on day 1 they can all sit perfectly and listen to a story, but that in their experience the majority of children will become accustomed to the way of doing things very quickly. I guess it comes back to my feeling – if the schools want to “enforce” ways of doing and learning that are unreasonable or unsuitable for young children, why should we help them? I don’t mean that to sound nasty but I feel like we in early childhood are often being asked to change how we do things to suit the schools…a novel idea – the schools should change to suit the children! 😊

    October 26, 2015 at 7:01 pm
  • Bonnie


    HI Nicole,
    I am really enjoying your blog posts. Would love to hear more of your insights on transition to school with this time of year and kids attending orientation for kindergarten. My observations as parent, and a therapist in early intervention, is that the education system is sending very mixed messages. One DEC document I received explicitly states “You child does not need any specific skills to enter kindergarten”. Yet the very next week, the kindergarten teacher has sent home handwriting formation worksheets with prompts on how to form the letters correctly. They did also send home some more play-base games, ideas and recommendations. But it frustrates me that on one hand they are telling us they don’t need to know this stuff, then encouraging us to teach it to them, so kindergarten will be easier.

    October 28, 2015 at 11:11 am
    • Nicole (Inspired EC)


      Thanks Bonnie. I agree – the mixed messages from the department is very frustrating. I suggest responding to the school with their own information! I would use the fact sheets on the departments website and question the teacher about how what they are asking and what they are sending home at orientation actually aligns with this – fight them with their own facts!

      October 28, 2015 at 12:58 pm
  • Lisa Dixon


    Hi Nicole
    I totally agree with all your points, especially about the old furphy that group times are to ‘get children ready for school’! Small groups for stories enable much richer, more meaningful literacy experiences. I love your idea of making sure any large groups are social and interactive- makes so much sense- would love some more ideas re these types of experiences!

    December 16, 2015 at 7:27 pm
  • Ruth


    Thanks for all these comments – at the moment I am working on an inquiry about this very subject (mat-time how can we make it a productive learning experience). I really love books and my own children really love books but working in a centre with 75 children you can’t just expect children to sit for a long period of time without behaviour issues. The school transition issue has been raised in our staff meetings with lots of different ideas so I am really interested in ideas from other teachers.

    May 19, 2018 at 12:06 pm