We begin each class with a gathering activity. It gives the little ones a chance to acclimate to the environment, moms a chance to get their materials put out for the activity they are hosting that day, and everyone just a chance to breath and ease into the morning. AND of course, gives the moms running a couple of minutes late (because an independent 3 year old insisted on tying his shoes himself), a chance to make it before we start circle time.
We try to offer a mixture of hands on activities and quiet activities. Some little ones need a chance to warm up. I always have a selection of books in a basket available for those wanting/needing some lap time with Mommy. For those ready to jump right in to playing with friends, I have theme related puzzles or activities available. Each lesson plan includes ideas for these activities.
I give a two minute warning when it is time to get ready for circle time, to allow them time to finish a book or activity they are working on.