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To queue or not to queue?

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In many cultures, queuing is a crucial act of social organisation and courtesy. Considered by some to be a basic preschool skill, others say there’s no need for young children to wait in line before meals, outdoor play, or even on excursions.

Is there an argument – for safety, or school-readiness – that young children must learn to line up and wait patiently? Is any attempt at such order for toddlers and preschoolers an affront to children’s agency?

We took a look at why arguments continue about standing young children in line, and we were fortunate to receive some wise words from ECE teacher and thinker Anne Peters on this topic.

Her thoughts follow.

Anne asks…

Do we need to line children up in early childhood education settings? There is no simple answer.

When a topic generates such a range of opinions, it’s helpful to ask yourself some questions to define whether, and why, it’s a problem for you.

In this case, you might ask yourself:

  • Are the children lining up for their convenience or yours?
  • How long are they in a queue?
  • Are they bored and restless?
  • Do they tend to irritate each other while queuing?
  • Do some children dominate the line? Do they insist on being first or standing next to their buddies?
  • Do you spend much of your time trying to control the lining up process?

The longer the queue, the greater the boredom

The more people there are in a queue, and the more waiting time involved, the greater the likelihood of boredom, restlessness, and frustrations taken out on others. This won’t help educators, nor is it positive for the children.

Is it developmentally appropriate for children in this situation to be bored, restless and act out? Absolutely.

Although some young children may master the skills needed to queue up patiently and correctly, most will not.  They are simply not ready, and it’s not fair for these children to be criticised or corrected for displaying behaviour that is entirely age-appropriate and predictable.

Being first in the queue is next to godliness. Being able to see the front of the queue is excellent. Being able to see people who can see the front is not bad. Seeing nothing but the queue is not good. And being at the very back of the queue is dreadful. The only thing that’ll make you feel better is when some poor loser joins the queue behind you.

Guy Browning, ‘How To Queue’ – The Guardian.

Who really needs to learn?

When we educators find our expectations of behaviour in conflict with the children’s ability to behave that way, it is up to us to make the changes needed – not the children.

Some educators feel strongly that children need to learn to queue as it is a life skill. After all, once children are in school there will be constant lines to join, won’t there?

The thing about life skills is that they are learned as and when they are needed, rather than in anticipation of what comes next. The ‘life’ part of life skills is really about living the action, and interestingly, many schools have reduced their emphasis on standing in lines so it might not be such a requirement of school-readiness as it was in the past.

Strategies prevent chaos

Without queues, how do we avoid causing havoc or creating risks for children? As educators, we have many strategies to draw from so children can progress safely from one situation to another.

Planning that allows for flowing indoor-outdoor play is one such strategy.  If this is not possible at your service, you might use a strategy that will alter the children’s movements around the room or outdoors. You might say: When you have finished that activity, you can go outside. Don’t forget to put on your sunscreen and remember your hat. This will naturally lead children to move outside at different times, so lines won’t be needed for the door or sunscreen station.

Time to reconsider whole group activities?

If your program involves whole-group activities, this will be more difficult. The larger the group, the bigger the problem. Trying to ensure 28 children get out the door in a manner that is safe and that does not require them to line up is definitely a challenge!

This is just one reason to reconsider the use of whole-group activities, such as storytime. I suspect most children would prefer a cosy reading nook with a few friends anyway.

Staggered snack and meal times are also useful in this regard. If you have only six children eating lunch, then you have only six needing to wash their hands, which is not nearly as stressful as having 25 (or more) crowding around the hand basins together.

Small group lunches can help you avoid chaos

Reflection questions

Developing a program that meets the needs of the children and works for educators can take time as well as reflection. Below are some wonderful questions that Louise Dorrat shared in a Facebook post on this subject:

“I believe it is worthwhile to discuss and reflect on all our practices (including lining up). Surely this is part of the QIP and Reflective Practice. There is no right or wrong, it is the ‘HOW’ and ‘WHY’ behind the practice.

The Guide to the NQF, the NQS, the EYLF (p.13) and the Educators’ Guide (p.13-14) ask us:

Which of your routines promote children’s agency and which need to be modified?

How do we ensure routines are child-centred rather than adult-directed or clock-driven?

Do you believe children are competent and capable?

Are children given choices during routines and transition times?

How do you continually adapt routines and transitions to meet the needs of all children?

Who is advantaged when we work this way? Who is disadvantaged?

Look at the fairness of the practice for ALL children.

Observe the rhythm and flow of the day.”

“The beliefs of the educator are a major factor in how the curriculum is planned and how the learning environment is established. When we truly reflect, some of our pedagogical practices will be reinforced and some will be challenged.”Louise Dorrat (on lining up and other practices) – Facebook

Examine your beliefs

Our beliefs are very powerful in setting the curriculum, and sometimes we have expectations based on beliefs that we have not truly examined. In such instances, our expectations are no more than reflex responses.

If we truly reflect on the questions Louise posed (and the NQS, NQF and EYLF), we will be honestly examining our expectations. This allows us to achieve professional expectations that go beyond knee-jerk responses as we’ve always done it that way.

You may even surprise yourself when you engage in reflections like this. I’ve seen recent discussions where some educators suggest that failing to learn ‘lining up’ in preschool is a precursor to unruly and objectionable behaviour later in life – I find this a very long bow to draw! Possibly this is a fear they have, based on unexamined beliefs.

Facing our fears

Our worries about negative outcomes are often driven by fear. This may be true in the ‘lining up’ debate too. Educators may fear they may have been doing something that is not necessary, or that a belief they hold is being criticised, or that failing to keep control over children leads to anti-social behaviour. Our fears give us powerful reasons to stick like glue to our first response, rather than openly examine the ‘why’ behind our beliefs.

If this is you, your response is understandable. Facing our fears is a very challenging thing. Yet educators who can find the courage to do so are rewarded with new insights into their own behaviour, as well as the behaviour of the children in their care.

The P Plate analogy

As a general rule, lining up is not necessary in early childhood settings.

If your circumstances make it necessary that young children must form queues, please implement the strategy thoughtfully and only when essential. Minimise waiting times in lines, carefully consider the size of a lined up group, and have reasonable expectations of age-appropriate behaviour.

And remember this! Learning to drive is also a life skill. But there is no evidence that failing to get your P Plates in preschool will lead to road chaos later in life!

Have confidence that the children in your care are confident, capable learners who will master life skills as they are needed. And this includes ‘lining up’!


You might like this CELA training session

  • Demystifying Critical Reflection – Assumptions, possibilities and practice – NESA Registered PD
    FIND OUT MORE
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