Are All “Carpet Times” Created Equal?

It was actually a combination of many tweets that led to this blog post today. Since it was an Ice Day for us, I decided to use a little time this afternoon to peruse my Twitter stream. As I was doing so, I came across a link to this video recording on Self-Reg Misconceptions.

I was really taken by Stuart Shanker‘s comment in the video that “little kids find restraint a stress.” This made me think about “carpet time” and what this might mean for our young learners. I sent out the tweet below with some of my thinking.

A few minutes later, Elizabeth Ugolini replied with this tweet.

She prompted this reply from me.

Anne Shillolo was watching our discussion, and she chimed in with this comment and a link to a recent blog post of hers.

After reading Anne’s post, I knew that I needed to blog. Unbeknownst to Anne, it was much of the same thinking that resulted in a conversation that my teaching partner, Paula, and I had yesterday. Meeting times are a topic that we circle back to a lot. We don’t meet as a large group very often during the day. In fact, we actually have one big group gathering in the morning after our outdoor time, and then a really short reconnection and reflection at the end of the day. Our meeting time isn’t short, but it is responsive to kids.

Paula leads most of our full group time. This largely happens because we want to be able to minimize transitions, and we know the value of starting our day outside: allowing for connections between students and ourselves, providing lots of opportunities to self-regulate, and accommodating an entry time that can be slower to ensure that all kids have a positive transition from home to school. We’ve seen with our children that kids needย timeย to settle into play. Many students look for the big run when they first get outside, and then they begin to investigate the forest, engage in dramatic play, and pursue inquiry topics of interest, including those connected to living things and the environment. With our schedule, we can easily stay outside for 1 1/2 hours each morning before we slowly transition inside.ย 

When we do come in, we meet. Our schedule is very ish-like, so that again, we can be responsive to kids. That said, on most days, we get back to the classroom just before the First Nutrition Break. I then start our meeting time, as kids get undressed and organized in the coat room with Paula. This is when I do a phonological awareness activity and a short math talk. Both activities last about 10 minutes in total, and they do not involve the whole class. They happen during the transitional time to make the most out of these minutes that could easily go un-used. I know what Anne’s post said about activities such as math talks, but in this way, a full group time is actually being done with largely a small group. Paula and I also know the students that tend to get ready the fastest, so we tailor these activities to these kids. We also work in extensions and accommodations, so that every child can get the most out of an activity such as this one. This might mean having some children write the words that others share orally, or incorporating different phonological awareness skills (such as rhyming, syllables, initial sounds, and segmenting the sounds in words), so that we can ask different questions of different children and review skills that might otherwise be forgotten.

Our meeting time happens after this, and often happens during the First Nutrition Break. This is why Paula leads it. This is when I might leave the classroom for lunch or duty. We don’t observe the nutrition breaks in our class though. We have an open eating table, and students eat twice during the day. This gives us far more flexibility with our schedule, and with our meeting time. This full group time is really about meeting together. It’s where we revisit documentation with the class, discuss provocations to generate excitement over some different learning options, and help children plan for their play during the day. The kids talk to each other and to us. They really lead this time with Paula as the facilitator. As Paula and I recently discussed, this time feels differently than a regular “carpet time,” as it’s about conversing together and not just listening to teacher talk. The success of our play really does depend on the success of this meeting time, as it helps generate interest and spur thinking for the day ahead.

Since this meeting time is largely about the inquiry and play interests, we don’t lead specific reading, writing, or math lessons during this time (minus what might happen during our transitional activities). Direct instruction is targeted to kids, and happens in small groups and 1:1 in the midst of child-initiated play. We don’t pull children from play to read, write, or engage in math tasks with us. We know student goals, so instead, we find ways to target next steps as we play with kids. Guided reading doesn’t look like traditional guided reading, but this targeted instruction does happen.ย It’s different.ย Just like our meeting times are also different, and even longer ones might not feel the same as some longer “carpet times” have in the past.

  • We do have kids that sit on chairs instead of on the carpet.
  • We do have kids that might choose to leave the group to draw, to read, to write, or to play with plasticine.ย This is what these kids need to self-regulate, they still contribute from other areas of the room, and we support this.ย 

Should we get rid of our meeting timeย altogether? Should it look different or last for a different amount of time?ย We are forever reflecting on this, but with theย success it brings to the rest of our day, we think that not having it would change the richness of the play that follows. That said, Paula reads the kids, and if they’re not responsive, distracted by other things, and/or engaging minimally in the conversations, she alters the time frame or delivery to meet their needs. I have to wonder if the student involvement minimizes the “constraints” to kids. Does this reduce the stress?ย Carpet times continue to be popular in kindergarten and beyond, and even when the carpet becomes a desk, but involves direct instruction to a full class of students, it often has the same feel.ย Does it come with the same stress? Are all “carpet times” created equal?ย I have to wonder, but I’d be curious to know what others think, and if anyone has eliminated them altogether. Even thinking about what Shanker shared,ย are we ready to make such a huge change to practice? Might there be something lost in doing so?ย Maybe the key rests in considering what we do with a full group and how this is benefitting kids. Once again, I’m reminded of the big question in the Kindergarten Program Document: “Why this learning, for this child, at this time?” A question that is definitely worth considering well beyond kindergarten …


4 thoughts on “Are All “Carpet Times” Created Equal?

  1. This post hits home in so many ways. It’s so nice that you have someone to talk this out with because I am constantly reflecting on the need of whole group in my grade 1 class. Many students are having difficulty with this idea of restraint. In our grade, I feel as though restraint not only comes in meeting times at our carpet, but also where they sit, and in timelines to get work completed. Some students aren’t ready to complete a piece of work in a given time period.

    The one thing I find myself reflecting on after reading this, is that while I have many “busy” students (those that can’t sit still, those who make noises when you least expect it, those who need you to help them make independent choices), I feel at a loss when I think about how I ask for help from others and are constantly told to give them a restraint (give them a timer, a visual schedule etc.). It works for some, but not all. Then when this is tried, because you are finally at a point where you don’t know what to do, and it doesn’t work because, the timer and the schedule become another form of distraction.

    I suppose I wonder what is the best choice for these students and how to reach them all because some do greatly benefit from group discussions, although I guess more small group may be better than large group.

    Thank you for getting me thinking and reflecting on my own practices.

    • Thanks for your comment, Ashley, and for sharing your Grade 1 perspective. I donโ€™t know if I have any answers, but I do have a few questions.

      1) Could Self-Reg be the answer here?
      2) What if you reframed the behaviour? For example, could the movement and little noises be a way for these children to self-regulate?
      3) If time constraints are a stressor, what if you eliminated them? Why are the time constraints necessary? GROWING SUCCESS (from Ontario) would even support eliminating these.
      4) For the children that canโ€™t make independent choices, whatโ€™s stopping them? What are they doing when provided with this independence? Could the independence be scaffolded with providing some choice, and gradually increasing the amount of it?
      5) Is the issue with kids here a case of Self-Reg or self-control?

      I donโ€™t know all of these answers, but I wonder if they might help frame the problem … or even frame it differently. Maybe, as you said, some small group discussions might be even more valuable that the large group ones. Keep me posted on how things go!


  2. It was a big paradigm shift for some educators to let go of carpet time or circle time as the big educational moment of the day and realize that really important learning was happening during play. They had to rethink what is their role and how can they engage as co-learners in the play. Also important was supporting our administrators in seeing active play time as learning time. Instead of coming in to observe and evaluate educators during carpet time, they began to see the value in conducting their observations during active play time.

    • Lisa, it’s so funny that you’re writing me this comment now, as I’m just working on a blog post that includes information about my TPA during play. I think there’s so much value in this. Stay tuned! ๐Ÿ™‚


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