08 February, 2021 | Posted by Michelle Hogan

Instagram Live Circle Time? Portobello Montessori School leads the way for learning in lockdown

Instagram Live Portobello Montessori School Circle Time

Circle time in a Montessori setting is a daily opportunity for children to express themselves, share, play, sing, dance, learn and interact with each other and their teachers. 

What happens when a national lockdown means children cannot be together to learn and grow in this nurturing environment they are usually part of?

Portobello Montessori School Manager, Natasha Murphy, has led the movement of circle time online to Instagram where it is easily accessible and free for anyone to follow at @portobellomontessorischool.

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The impact of this online circle time, which started out for her class but has grown to a page with over 500 follows, has been huge.

Young children from all over Ireland and beyond tune in every week to sing songs and rhymes, read stories, play games, have fun and to feel a structure and connection with Natasha.

Having progressed through the Early Years programmes at Portobello Institute from level 5 through to her Masters level 9, Natasha is well-equipped lead the way for new ways of learning.

She first took to Instagram during lockdown in March 2020 with her co-worker, Montessori Teacher, Katie Kelly, to stay connected with the children, offer parents a break and create an interactive learning environment tailored to the children’s interests despite the distance.

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Child-centered learning

Connecting with the children based on their interests and making the videos engaging for them is a huge part of the preparation Natasha puts into the weekly videos. 

“When I plan circle time, I think about the children’s interests. It is about trying to see what they want to learn, focusing in on that and creating a learning space where they can explore with it.  

“It’s also about trying to keep it upbeat, nothing too heavy. If I go around in a roundabout, I am going to lose all the children, so it is simple, straight to the point and catchy. 

“Everything that I want to talk about I need to back it up with something interesting like a song or a story book to enhance their learning in a fun and meaningful way.  

“I also need to make sure I don’t overload them with information, they’re not in person with me, I’m not exactly sure how they are reacting so I keep it brief. I ask them lots of questions with one-word answers to keep the interaction going and we always end on something fun like the music and movement or a positive shout out and a goodbye song because if we end on a positive note, they will want to do it again. 

“I’m just trying to take what they want to learn and turn it into this creative learning experience. If I tell them a frog is an amphibian no one is going to remember that. If I sing a song about the different stages of a frog life cycle and sing that it is an amphibian, they are going to remember it more. It is about using different resources like discussions, interactions by asking open ended questions, using a story book, using a song, and then doing something upbeat at the end,” she said. 


Value and benefits

The public Instagram account continues to grow, a testament to the value of the information shared on the page as well as these engaging live videos. 

Children or parents send in comments during the live video reacting to Natasha, but the comments do not appear after the videos have been saved for re-watching.

Natasha says it is benefitting the children, the parents and them as teachers. 

“It’s helping me to stay connected with the children, it’s helping the children to see me on a screen so when we go back to school, they’ll still remember me and say ‘oh yeah I’ve seen you every week’, it’s not going to be a new transition.  

Let’s just say I didn’t do anything, they never seen me, and we had three months off school. By the time they get back in it would be like day one all over again. Three months to us might seem like nothing but three months to a child would feel like a year.  

“So, it’s just helping them to keep in touch with me and keep in touch with the normality of what our routine actually is in the classroom.  

“It’s also for the parents, it can be a struggle especially if you’re working from home trying to think of different activities and trying to get out for walks every day. Having half an hour where your child can sit with the phone, get up and dance, release some energy, sing along, remember the words of songs and things like that it’s a great learning experience for them that they can do from the comfort of their own home," Natasha explained.

“Freya loves Circle Time and her Zoom calls. She is always in a better mood after them and really enjoys the interaction” - parent

What do parents think?

Children from 13 different nationalities are enrolled in Portobello Montessori School this year with some children learning English for the first time.

Parents are impressed to see the children’s progress and they have even had grandparents as far away as Slovakia tuning in to the Instagram videos for the fun and connection. 

“Some parents said they were blown away. They usually do not see what their child is doing and achieving in the classroom. I think it is helping parents to realise how much the children are learning while they are in our setting.  

“Especially for a lot of the children learning English the parents are quite shocked at how well they are understanding what I’m saying and even trying to answer me back. 

“I think it’s just lovely, lovely for me, lovely for the children and for the parents. They are starting to see a snippet of our day that they never seen before,” she said. 

Learning online

Natasha and Katie also host Zoom classes in small groups with the children in their classes which has proven to be a huge success based on feedback from parents for providing structure and routine, allowing the children to engage with friends, and supporting parents.  

Parents of the children tuning in have said these online resources are ‘brilliant’, ‘interactive’ and ‘give structure and routine’.  

- “Everyone in our house looks forward to the weekly Zoom call with friends and teachers and the online Circle Time. It can’t beat being back in school, but it’s so much better than nothing! And it’s been really important for the children to stay connected with their friends and teachers,” one parent said.  


- “Faye really enjoys seeing her teachers and friends from preschool. Having Circle Time and Zoom calls on a particular day helps us to structure our week and to have a bit of routine, and it keeps the connection going which I’m sure will help Faye transition back when we’re able to start again in person. It’s also nice to have the help and encouragement for us parents from Natasha and Katie, and all the activity ideas,” another parent added.  


- “Saoirse really listens to Circle Time and it gives her a bit of structure and routine. She loves seeing her friends on Zoom too and tells us she is really missing them. The activity ideas are also a great help for us to set some ‘work’ for the mornings, so she still has some kind of school routine,” one parent said.  


- “Jess loved seeing her friends again and especially the game to choose an object of the same colour- it gave them a chance to be together – (all running to pick a red object for example) – whilst staying apart. Thank you so much!” said another.  


- “I have watched two Circle Times live so far. I watch them with a 4-year-old who also attends a Montessori. ‘Is it Circle Time day?’ asks the 4-year-old everyday as soon as she wakes up. I love how interactive it is. Children seem to love all the songs and it's a great way for them to learn the days of the week etc,” added another parent. 


How to get involved

While the Zoom calls remain private for Portobello Montessori School students, the Instagram Live circle time is open to anyone to watch. 

Tune in to the next live Circle Time on Friday, February 5 at 10 am at @portobellomontessorischool or head straight there now to watch some previous videos back in the IGTV section of the page.  

Do you know someone who has a young child who could benefit from this? Make sure you share this article with them! 

'Like' Portobello Montessori School on Facebook here.

Portobello Institute has been renowned for educating early years practitioners for 40 years. Portobello Montessori School represents a centre of excellence in terms of applying the practices that are taught in our programmes. This online support is an example of the drive, innovation, and creativity Portobello instils in its students. If you are interested in an Early Years qualification, please find more information about our courses here

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