More About Magic Circle


Magic Circle
Language Devolopment and Social-Emotional
Learning for the Early Years


How the Circle Became Magic

A young child gave the Magic Circle its name.
At the close of a circle session, he proclaimed:

"This was just like magic! I said something and so did everybody else.
And we all listened! It’s a 'Magic Circle'."


Table of Contents

How To Use This Book

Early Childhood Development and the Magic Circle

The Social-Emotional Development of Children in Preschool and Kindergarten

Goals, Benefits and Structure of The Magic Circle

The Social-Emotional Themes of the Magic Circle

How to Lead a Magic Circle

The Magic Circle Promises

Steps in Leading the Magic Circle Session

Questions and Answers about Implementing the Magic Circle Program

Developmental Units:

Unit I – Self Awareness: Finding Out Who We Are and What We Can Do

Unit II – Self Management: Expressing and Enjoying Our Talents

Unit III – Social Development and Responsibility: Relating Responsibly with Others

Unit IV – Self Awareness: Using and Enjoying Our Senses

Unit V – Self Management: Showing What We’re Learning

Unit VI – Social Development and Responsibility: Cooperating with Others

Unit VII – Self Awareness: Experiencing and Expressing Our Feelings

Unit VIII – Self Management: Taking Pride in Our Accomplishments

Unit IX – Social Development and Responsibility: Understanding and Caring for Each Other



Goals, Benefits and Structure of The Magic Circle

In order to help educators make as much positive impact on children’s overall development as possible the Magic Circle curriculum has been designed to combine a number of concepts from developmental psychology along with sound educational principles and practices. Concepts from the psychoanalytic and behavioral schools of psychology have also been included. This curriculum features, but is not limited to, the Magic Circle, a structured, yet not overly complex process model. Through its process and content the Magic Circle addresses a number of human needs and growth issues simultaneously in an economy of time. Let us now go into more detail and discuss how these ends are accomplished by the program.

First, the Magic Circle is a small-group, structured social environment wherein all participants share equal status. Even the leader is a participant. Emotional safety, security and comfort are assured as life issues are discussed, social skills are practiced, and self awareness is developed. This occurs because no one is pressured to do anything in the circle except listen respectfully to others. In addition to listening, participants are invited to respond to the specific task, or topic, for the session on a voluntary basis. Each individual has the free choice to decide what to do, or say, for him- or herself. The Magic Circle Promises (ground rules) stipulate that there will be no interrupting, dominating, probing, criticizing, or gossiping.

Although a different task is undertaken or topic discussed in each session, the Magic Circle process remains the same. After a few sessions, children learn what to expect and what is expected of them. This provides a sense of security and control which allows them to think and interact with one another regarding the task or topic without wondering what’s going to happen next. In such a setting attitudes and concepts are best internalized while effective oral communication and listening skills are practiced.

The Magic Circle process promotes self-understanding and self-respect as well as understanding and respect for others. As the children express themselves and observe and listen to the leader and the other children and teacher in the circle, they gradually realize all human beings are alike, in that everyone senses, feels, thinks, and behaves. At the same time it becomes obvious that people are different from one another because each individual senses, feels, thinks, and behaves in his or her own unique fashion. This understanding, referred to as the Principle of Unity and Diversity, is central to mental health. Children who develop this awareness know and like themselves as themselves. Beyond that they can know and like others for themselves.


Oral Language: Key Mode of Expression


As we noted in our discussion regarding oral language development in Early Childhood in the former section, the small child’s rapid acquisition of vocabulary and use of correct grammar in speech is impressive. Indeed, oral expression is the first language form human beings use, laying the foundation for such later forms as reading and writing. Throughout most people’s lives, oral language is used far in excess of any other form of communication. Because of these factors, and because the development of oral language and intelligence go hand-in-hand, carefully guided activities utilizing oral language are of great value to small children.

As the key mode of expression in the Magic Circle, oral language is engaged in with enthusiasm because children are enabled to talk about their own experiences, as opposed to making forced or “canned” responses or repeating phrases generated by someone else. Thus the development of oral language is strengthened and refined through its utilization.

An Integrated Language Approach

Educators regularly capitalize on the connections and integrations between different subject areas and functions. In doing so, the curriculum is enriched and children realize how learning and experiencing in one realm can help them gain competence in other realms. An Integrated, or Balanced Language Approach to learning is one of the most vivid examples of integrating learning experiences as opposed to separating (fragmenting) them.

We believe oral language is a key which unlocks the door to Literacy. As many educators have discovered, one of the most exciting aspects of oral language is its power to stimulate other forms of expression. Children readily engage in reading, drawing, acting, playing games and singing songs when they can read, draw, dramatize, play, and sing about things they chose to talk about first and vice versa. The Magic Circle may be used as a catalyst to an Integrated Language Approach to learning.

At the end of each Magic Circle in this guidebook related activities are suggested including reading, drama, art, games, and songs. Each activity offered has a theme which is closely related to the Magic Circle it follows. For example, after the task, “I Can Move My Body to Music,” the “Hokey Pokey,” a song and dance which also allows the children to identify the parts of their bodies is suggested.

Many of these related activities involve reading (in unison or being read-to by an adult). This is the most natural way for children to learn to read. The process builds on itself as the leader invites children to comment (verbalize further) on what they have read, and others have said, drawn, acted, or sung. Thus, an integrated approach to language literacy is fostered using the Magic Circle as the central, unifying activity.

Effective Communication Skills

Many individuals have mastered oral language, but are actually poor communicators. They may be able to speak well, perhaps even eloquently, but the fact is: effective communication is not assured by effective oral language. In its most basic form we define effective communication as having two aspects. These are: the ability to speak in such a manner that all of one’s thoughts are accurately and concisely conveyed verbally and non-verbally to others; and the ability to listen to the content of another’s verbal statements and observe his or her non-verbal messages without becoming confused by interferences from within.

By participating in the Magic Circle, children are not only encouraged to use and strengthen their oral language abilities, but to become effective communicators as well. Children who have had the opportunity to participate in regularly conducted Magic Circles over the course of several months have often demonstrated outstanding communication skills because they have practiced these skills over and over again in the circle.

When speaking in the Magic Circle, children are enabled to verbally respond to the topic in a manner of their own choosing without distractions. At times they are assisted to clarify points and/or elaborate by the leader’s use of open-ended questions. Additionally, they are frequently enabled to receive feedback giving them an idea of how well they conveyed their message verbally. This occurs when a review, an optional feature of the Magic Circle, is conducted by the leader. The review is never a judgment on the quality of the child’s statements. Rather, it is simply a neutral repetition, or summary, of each speaker’s remarks. To be reviewed-to in this manner is very reinforcing to the child who spoke. It says to her, “You were worth listening to and I understood what you had to say.”

When listening, children are directed to give attention to the speaker and accept his or her verbal contributions without interruption or comment. If the leader conducts the optional review, each child has at least one opportunity to repeat to another what he or she heard the other say. Thus, listening skills are sharpened, practiced and reinforced.

The Social-Emotional Themes of the Magic Circle

Let’s return to our focus on early childhood developmental theory and research discussed in the prior section. In doing so we find many important developmental areas and many of these are addressed through the Magic Circle. The first of these themes conveys how fundamentally important it is for children to know who they are as unique and special individuals. This theme can be identified as self awareness. Another theme relates to the vital need for children to see themselves as becoming increasingly competent and able to manage impulses, demonstrate self-discipline and self-motivation. Yet another area is a recognition of their social nature as human beings and calls for the development of effective social skills and empathy for others. In order to address these key concerns of Early Childhood Development the Magic Circle curriculum has been organized around these basic themes of self awareness, self management, and social development and responsibility.

Self Awareness

As the label suggests this area refers to what individuals know and understand about themselves. It is a natural outgrowth of how well they have succeeded in past developmental stages of their lives and how well they are succeeding in their current stage. People with a healthy and accurate self awareness know themselves well as they really are.

Small children start out not knowing very much about themselves. They learn who they are and what they can do by constantly trying new experiences and satisfying their curiosity. From this ongoing process children form their self-concepts based on the information they obtain by themselves and from others. When children are generally appreciated they learn more about, and appreciate, themselves. When they are generally criticized and interpret that criticism to mean they are not acceptable they are prone to distort reality about themselves. The Magic Circle is a time and place where children get to explore their inner thoughts and outward actions in a safe, supportive, and affirming environment which promotes their growing self awareness in a positive way.

Children who have developed a realistic level of self- awareness are at a distinct advantage because they know and accept themselves. From the understanding, patience and feedback they have received primarily from adults they learn easily what’s going on in the exterior world and they know what’s going on within themselves. They realize that they, as human beings, feel, think, and behave. As they grow and develop they become increasingly aware of how these separate functions within themselves influence each other. The more self-aware and positive about oneself children are, the more they are likely to have the ability to control their impulses. In other words this lifelong challenge can begin in early childhood when children are developing self awareness.

Instructional units, tasks and topics in this guidebook are presented in order to develop self awareness and foster a realistic, yet positive, self-concept in small children. These focus the children’s attention on their self-image, senses and feelings — three cornerstones of human experience.

Self Management

Managing one’s feelings and behaviors, and liking oneself and having confidence in one’s abilities are key elements in development. Children with high self-management skills enjoy using and taking pride, but not inflated pride, in their developing skills. They also have a growing ability to identify feelings and regulate accompanying behaviors in a pro-social manner.

The Self-Management units in this guidebook have been designed to help young children develop these skills by offering Magic Circles with “success tasks” and topics which focus on effective functioning. The tasks are structured so as to assure each child a successful experience with a chance to talk about the good feelings that success brings. The tasks also serve as a vehicle to give each child deserved positive feedback immediately after his or her successful performance. The Magic Circle process also provides a continual practice in impulse control as the children have to wait for their one turn. They also must listen and not interrupt the speaker or disrupt the circle process. As they adhere to these rules, they receive positive feedback for their behavior and over time this self-management and impulse control is likely to become internalized.

Social Development and Responsibility

Learning to communicate and cooperate effectively with others and to empathize with their feelings are the themes of the Social Development and Responsibility units in this guidebook. By participating in these activities children are given the opportunity to discover for themselves the personal rewards that frequently result from kind and responsible behavior.
In addition to practicing effective and considerate forms of social interaction while participating in the circle, children are also given a chance to talk about social dynamics at a level relevant to them. This dual focus is particularly powerful in allowing children to develop effective social skills such as listening, cooperating and caring. They are also likely to understand the benefits for behaving in these ways.

A key aspect of the Social Development and Responsibility units is to provide an initial understanding to children that they are personally influential in the lives of others. They can affect others positively or negatively depending on their actions. This seemingly obvious fact is frequently missed by many people of all ages, especially young children who are usually caught up in reacting to the behavior of others while rarely considering how their own actions have affected someone else.


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Primary Subject Area – Social Skills

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