The Importance of Circle Time for Children with Special Needs

by Amanda Bartel, MS OTR/L



As we are all finishing one school year and preparing for the next, here are some thoughts on Circle Time.  Working in an elementary school where my special education students are integrated into the general education classroom for Circle or “Morning Meeting”, I felt like a valuable opportunity was being missed for my students.  Circle Time provides structure, orientation, community, and social skills for a classroom.  But for my non-verbal kindergarten, 1st, and 2nd graders, much of the Circle Time experience was going right over their heads.  Then their time in their special education classroom was never offering an opportunity to come together as one cohesive group.  My students had little awareness of their peers, had a difficult time participating in adult-directed tasks when they weren’t given individual attention, had no concept of the date, and really struggled to sit in a chair for more than 30 seconds unless there was a screen right in front of their faces (another issue worth exploring in a future post).


I spoke to the special education teacher and she invited me to create a Circle Time that would be more appropriate for her students.  I used my experience from previous schools where all the classrooms were for students with special needs.  Here is my take on what Circle Time can offer to children with special needs.  The goals for my Circle Time group are as follows:

  • To provide a predictable, structured, daily experience for students.
  • To create accessible materials that reinforce the Circle Time themes so non-verbal students can fully participate.
  • To provide opportunities for joint attention using visual aides.
  • To incorporate music and movement that will increase attention, learning, language, and structure around the Circle Time routine.
  • To provide consistent language that will help build vocabulary and promote functional language use for children with Autism.
  • To allow incorporate gradable activities that support academic goals for the early readers in the class but are also accessible for lower performing students.
  • To increase social awareness so that students are able to identify their classmates.
  • To help students orient to the day of the week, date, and weather each day.
  • To increase students’ ability to accurately identify their feelings.
  • To increase students’ tolerance to sit in a group for an extended period.
  • To provide adapted seating options as needed so that students have a clearly defined space where they should stay for the duration of the group.


There are many ways to go about meeting these goals and I invite you to be creative in ways that you can design a program that works for your classroom.  In a future post, I plan to share the breakdown of exactly how I planned my group and the materials I used to help my students participate, understand, and connect each and every day.