On a damp and misty day a group of educators and toddlers are walking on a path to a grassy field with a playground. The children are lined up two by two, holding hands with their partners, the adults take places at the front, back and middle of the line. The line nears the playground, and the children excitedly point to it. One pair of partners heads for it, taking the most direct path…..but not the path that everyone else is taking. They are no longer part of the line. Immediately an adult shouts to the two wanderers, admonishing them that they must stay in the line.
I observed this scene as I too walked in the park, meandering where I liked with no one to tell me to stay in line. I was a bit sad for the two wanderers. I saw nothing dangerous around, no cars, stray dogs, cliffs, rivers, forests…just a field and a playground.
But we’ve all done it, haven’t we? Lining kids up is part of what we do. Lining up to go outside, to go down a hallway, to go to the next room, to go to the bathroom, to wash hands, to wait for turns. Hands down, don’t poke the person in front of you, stay in line!
We want to keep children safe, we want a modicum of organization, of coordinated movement. But I also wonder if we want kids to line up so we are more comfortable, more in control.
What would happen if we started not lining up? How might we re-think our schedules and routines to avoid lining up? How might we move between places differently? What ideas do children have about movement, waiting, taking turns? What happens when we are in the role of making children stay in place?
What are we missing when we ask children to line up?