Lines in the Sand in ECE: Where do you Draw the Line?

By: Diane Kashin, Ed.D, RECE. and Cindy Green, BSc, RECE. This is the third in a series of blogs written about a leadership research project that we are working on with Upper Canada Child Care Centres. In the first post we introduced the research project. In the second post we reflected on reflection as an important process essential to growing pedagogical leaders. This time we want to share one of the experiences that we provided to spark dialogue, reflection and change. We asked the participants to consider their lines in the sand. What pedagogical practices do they feel just aren’t negotiable?

Lines in the Sand Exercise

A line in the sand is an idiom or group of words established by usage as having a meaning not deducible from those of the individual words. A line in the sand is a figurative boundary that someone or a group refuses to cross or go beyond and no further advance or compromise is accepted. The result of exploring lines in the sand with pedagogical leaders was discussion that was engaging and lively. Indeed, the level of engagement and energy was high as there were not always agreements about particular lines in the sand. The lists generated were collated and used to create a word cloud. The bigger the word, the more often it was said during the workshop.

Lines in the Sand

Themes, worksheets and cutouts represent the past. There was complete agreement that they depicted a line that cannot be crossed. However, it was recognized that there are those currently working with young children having difficulty letting go of these practices. This presented a dilemma. What do you do when you see these practices being used with children? Do you immediately remove them? Do you immediately let the educators using them know that they are not acceptable? Or do you wait for another time when you can offer evidence and support? What is the context of the situation? How important is it to listen to hear explanations? Dahlberg and Moss (2005) suggest that that an ethical basis for listening is ‘the ethics of an encounter’. The central idea of the ‘ethics of an encounter’ is the importance of relating to the ‘Other’, in a way that respects otherness and avoids making the Other into the Same – what the philosopher Levinas calls ‘grasping’. In grasping for the Other you do try to hear other perspectives. Removing without listening? Is that a line that should not be crossed? Colouring books generated almost heated conversations and it became obvious that amongst the leaders and facilitators this was a line some were willing to cross. Food in art was another that generated different perspectives. Listening to try to grasp other perspectives is important for early childhood educators in their practice with families, children and colleagues. However, is there ever a time, when action is required? Should dried up markers be immediately removed from the shelf? Should ripped books be repaired and broken puzzles discarded? These seem like easy fixes. Other lines in the sand may be harder to draw for others to see. They have become habits hard to break. What about having rules for capacity, for example only three children allowed in the dramatic play centre at one time. What about the constant use of words such as – walking feet, crafts, friends, say sorry, you’re okay, put your tears away, baby, big boy, big girl, cute, good boy, and good girl? How hard is it to break these habits? Should we support others to see these as lines in the sand? How do we do that?

Photo 23.1

The exercise of thinking and talking about lines in the sand proved to be one of the most valuable experiences that we had during the project and we wanted to extend an invitation to you to tell us where you draw the line? As in the past on this blog, a give away seems to encourage comments as seen in previous blog posts on loose parts, magic wand thinking and the ABCs of ECE. Again we would like to thank Louise Kool and Galt in supporting the early childhood education community with another fabulous prize. Post your line in the sand or lines in the sand in the comment section of this blog for a chance to win this sand tray.


Where do you draw the line? Not everyone will have the same line beyond which they will not go. It will be helpful to hear your reasons and to create a dialogue that allows for multiple perspectives. Are lines in the sand entrenched or can they be influenced by encounter and context? Please add to the conversations about lines in the sand in ECE. The winner will be announced in the new year.

29 thoughts on “Lines in the Sand in ECE: Where do you Draw the Line?

  1. My lines in the sand are:

    1) Limited outdoor play time. Children need ample opportunities to be outside learning.
    I made changes to the existing flow-of-the-day at school, to include more outdoor play. Children now play outside for 115 minutes daily instead of 40 minutes daily.

    2) Using phrases such as: “Sit criss cross applesauce,” “Use your walking feet.”
    In my opinion, these ‘cutesy’ sayings have been over utilized and do not clearly convey what you want the children to do.
    Why not simply say: “Please sit so others can see.” (My chidren do not have to sit with legs crossed on the carpet) or “Please walk so you are safe.”

    3) Music that only involves the Smartboard or computer.
    When I graduated from the early childhood program, I had a plethora of songs and fingerplays that I could use at Circle time, and while I do use the Smartboard occasionally for music, it does not replace singing or dancing with traditional props.
    Children need to be exposed to teacher’s voice, rhythm instruments, objects such as ribbons or scarves and a variety of music/sounds with which they can move.
    GoNoodle and othersuch sites are fine to a certain degree, but they should not be used as the only music and movement experiences in the classroom.

    My lines in the sand have not always been embraced by everyone with whom I worked. It’s taken some honest heart-to-heart conversations, trust and small steps to get where we are today.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. My line in the sand is talking about the child’s misguided behavior in front of the child, talking about them like they are not there or on third person. Like, “Ms. Beth, Josh is not using his listening ears .”’what If we did that to adults? Embarrassing!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Another one is allowing children to watch as as the teacher addresses the harm one child has caused another. No child needs an audience when they’ve done something wrong…Some teaching moments require discretion on the part of the teacher. When I see it happening I step in and redirect the onlookers immediately.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. My lines in the sand have more to do with kavod (respect) and emotional/physical safety. In the scale of life, while I do not support periodic worksheets, coloring in the lines, long periods of waiting or forced sitting, cookie cutter art and other examples contrary to best practice, for me there is one overarching absolute:
    1) Respectful speech and action … which to me means no belittling, ostracizing, blaming, manipulating (among other ways, in, “I like how so and so is sitting” to get others to do the same), publicly talking about anyone, tearing up or throwing away a child’s work/creation, and to be being mindful of using a modulated voice.

    I do cringe when teachers speak across the room or use phrases like ‘friends’ and ‘boys and girls’ , or ones like “We don’t ______ here.” We work to help teachers transform their language and expectations. It even annoys me when teachers use names of letters instead of letter sounds. I could probably list many. But these, in the end, ‘do no harm’, so I have more patience with these.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. “Say that you are sorry”, is definitely not a statement made in our classroom. When a child has upset another, there are much more productive and appropriate responses to the situation. After encouraging the children involved to describe the event, ask; “what will you do next time?”or “how will you do that next time?” “what would be a more friendly idea?” This way the children practice or learn new & more thoughtful social behaviour. The other child or children involved who is upset feels heard and recognized.

    Building weapons and “shooting” each other is not acceptable play in our classroom. I know some strongly disagree with our strong stance on this subject. However, I ask, “do friends like to be hurt or like it when you pretend to kill? All our children say no. I ask, “what would be a more fun way to play, what be a more interesting thing to build?” The children’s thoughtful responses inspire others and their play is enriched. Building fire hoses, cameras, telescopes, powerful lights or lasers turn their play into a more imaginative experience.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. My line in the sand is “rewards”. I am thinking of extrinsic rewards. Stickers are the most obvious. Descriptive feedback is valuable to a person (any age – early years are no exception to this). I greatly dislike the practice of behaviour charts. Teaching children self-awareness of their needs (teaching is not the best verb here – supporting students to develop self-awareness is better) as a learner. Empowering children to own their own learning rather than owning it for them. How do I manage when others cross my lines in the sand? So challenging. My best strategy is to continue to lead by example. Explain my thinking, share the research that informs my thinking when asked. Another big one? Losing recess as a consequence for stress behaviour (which is often wrongly identified as “misbehaviour”). I usually can’t bite my tongue when this happens – my disagreement with this practice is so significant is must be expressed (albeit with respect). Also thanks to everyone who responded so far, I appreciated reading your posts and reflecting on them.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. My line in the sand is denying a child their much needed outdoor play (keeping a child in for recess as punishment for behaviours) It is often the most challenging behaviours that need to be addressed with even more outdoor, free expression.
    Another line in the sand is expecting children to sit cross-legged and still on the carpet. Some children need to sit on their knees or with their legs straight out or wiggle about in order to better focus. So place these children somewhere on the carpet that enables them to do this without being a distraction to the others.
    One more line in the sand is dictating which centre a child should play in and how many children are permitted in any given centre. Kids know what they like and will learn best doing what they enjoy. An observant educator can use any centre to develop any skill rather than forcing a child to an area they are not as interested in for the sake of learning a specific skill. And allow the children to regulate the centres themselves as far as participants. Children are VERY capable when permitted to be so.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I will soon be entering my 25th year as an R.E.C.E. and have had many lines in the sand drawn for me and other lines I have drawn. However, I have approximately another 17 years of practice ahead of me.
    Through my professional and personal experiences, in an array of teams and settings, I have been learning that lines can have opportunity to flow as they may in practice, yet inspiring others to experiment with their choice of practice and encouraging reflection on their observations is key to deciding if their practice is in the best interest of the whole child or if the practice is a representation of their own personal beliefs.
    For example, a child requests to bring a transitional object outside for outdoor play. The Educator explains that the object needs to stay indoors because it will get dirty and wet if it is taken outside. The child begins to escalate and become aggressive which creates a 40 minute transition to the outdoors instead of a ten minute transition. The second Educator feels that allowing the transition object being used for indoor transitions would also be beneficial for outdoor transitions. Out of respect for their partner, they allow the practice to be tried/experimented, while making a mental note of observations during the transition.
    The next day, before the transition occurs, a conversation takes place between the two Educators and observations are shared. The second Educator asks the first Educator if this time the transition object could be used for the transition to outdoors and if the object gets dirty or wet, it can be cleaned or dried. The transition then takes place in the usual ten minute timeframe and the observation of the experimenting of this transition lends itself to recognizing that it is okay to take the object outside even if we have a personal belief that the object shouldn’t get dirty or wet.
    When we remove the ‘shoulds’ and ‘shouldn’ts’ from our practice, aka, remove the ‘lines in the sand’ we can reflect through the concept of watching, waiting, and wondering to identify what is the best practice for the whole child.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, I strongly agree. A key phrase we use in our class is, “what’s your idea about that?”, this gives the child an opportunity for expression and allows us to review and re-evaluate. It is beneficial for the children both emotionally and intellectually.


    • So true. There are a lot of behaviours in my room and I feel it is all the lines that have been drawn in the sand.
      I plan to use your example to help erase some of the lines


  9. My lines in the sand have to do with ensuring the educator team has clear communication regarding expectations during instructional time. For me that means you are not doing “Prep” work or catching up on your own work during instructional time-there’s too much to do!: documentation, small group work, guided reading. The large chunks of play-based learning in the flow of the day must be respected.
    As for the no colouring books mentioned in the Wordle above, we use colouring books when it’s indoor recess and the kids love them-great for team building and fine motor skills.


  10. I apologize if this shows up twice-feel free to delete the second one Diane. As someone who does not work front line with children but rather educates ECE and BEd students, I ask them to recall their own experiences and we create an ongoing list that becomes a touch stone for them over their time in the program. Our program did create a document of things we ask students not do as they are not developmentally appropriate things such as calendar or phrases that are meaningless like “that toy is busy” or “use your words”. When supervising students on practicum, I am always open to dialogue about this list. I find in the school system there is often a culture that does not promote saying “I don’t know” so this prevents people from moving forward, in some cases. My lines in the sand, when it comes to direct work with children:
    1. Shaming or belittling children
    2. Not acknowledging children’s genuine feelings by uttering a catch phrase such as “put your tears away” or “you’re fine”.
    3. Not encouraging children with needs to participate or telling our students they don’t need to worry about that child because they won’t participate anyways.
    I am in a unique position in that I am not having to work with people beyond supervising a student so I do not hesitate to call people out on these practices. This has resulted in complaints and in some cases asking not to supervise students on placement, which I feel compelled to follow up on. This has not always gone well but I have the luxury of knowing that i am supported in my actions. I receive so many emails from former students who struggle to confront co-workers about issues they consider to be “their lines”, I think this is the work not only of post secondary institutions but is part of our professional obligation to encourage dialogue about these matters in a way that encourages reflection and contemplation rather than blame or superiority.
    p.s I love that sand “box”


  11. My line in the sand is intentional purposeful planning around play – and ensuring the classroom environment is the 3rd teacher!


  12. I appreciate this post so much – after a very difficult year last year in which my (then new) partner and I had many of our beliefs challenged by a class with social/physical/emotional demands beyond our collective experience… which is to say I was working with a brand new partner while facing situations that constantly required me to question my deeply held beliefs (such as the access to outdoors for all for long periods of time, which was not possible for several of our students). I appreciated her willingness to try changing the rountines, the groupings (many times we were able to take a small group out for adventures if the other stayed close to class with those unable to safely travel “beyond the gate”). While it was a difficult year that eventually resulted in the entire room team leaving the school (my partner, myself) or changing hours (ERF now half-time), I don’t regret what I learned in that exhausting year. There was much love and learning, throughout the year.

    So now I’m in a new school, another big team, and another partner. My teaching partner is frankly amazing, and through all the difficulties that we face (class sizes fluctuate but hit 31, some social/emotional needs that require additional outside support when available)… we face them together through daily talk, negotiation, support for each other and the children in our class. It feels like family, though it’s so new. I am so fortunate to work with a partner who’s open to flexible schedule, boundaries, groupings, planning – all in response to the students’ needs and interests. It allows us to meet many needs in such a large class. It also allows us to support each other to take a down moment when one of us needs it (like taking a small group out to read a story somewhere quiet).

    Many lines in the sand are shared, for which I am grateful.

    Some that come to mind:

    ECE teacher treated as assistant (by OCT, admin, supply teachers, parents, staff in school, planning time teacher – any or all are unprofessional)
    Kindergarten seen as “grade one prep” and thus academic concerns not contained in K program presented as goals
    “Must-do” lessons or all must join activities
    Documentation and reporting that focuses on negative, what child “can’t do”
    Suppressing first language use in classroom (I embrace it, have children teach to me, use as often as possible)
    Focus on reading/writing over oral language in K
    Focus on “spelling” instead of drawing, emergent writing and other forms of creating messages
    Making children say “Sorry” instead of examining situation
    Having loose parts that aren’t (must stay in one area, can’t be used in combination, etc.) Loose means loose! Functional freedom is the point!
    Outdoor areas “off-limits” because of dirt/mud/water/ice (custodians may disallow muddy field access, for example, because students track mud through halls upon rentry)
    Risks discussed as hazards

    Thank you for this thought-provoking post!


    • Hi Laurel. “Treating ECE as assistants” certainly is a line in the sand that jumps out from your reflections. Thanks for all remaining thoughts as well.


  13. Fascinating post and comments section.

    My line in the sand is allowing children completely free choice in the morning as they enter. Many teachers in my school provide “morning work” and the children are required to come into the room, put away their belongings and sit down to do a worksheet. I believe that children should do what teachers and others do when they start their day together: talk, use the bathroom, get a drink of water or a snack, play, just hang out, sit somewhere quietly, etc. Children come to school excited or upset or tired or whatever and they often need to communicate that to their teacher or to each other. Keeping entry time open allows us to productively start our day together without “busy work.”


  14. As I age, my lines in the sand have become blurry. I work with people of varied ages and backgrounds. To work as a team there must be some give and take. I honestly think no child will be scarred by colouring books or precut shapes so long as they grow up in a warm loving environment and teachers treat them as capable individuals, helping to foster self esteem.
    My line in the sand are behaviour charts. Early in my career I quickly pulled mine down when a parent used it as a measuring stick for a child’s day. I also don’t like forcing children to say sorry. The word has no meaning if a child doesn’t understand what it means.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. I first heard this phrase when George Bush used it before the US entered into the Gulf War. Now I am hearing it again as it pertains to Early Childhood Educators. I enjoyed reading your comments and am asking myself “why do we need to draw lines at all with young children?” What is their purpose? What is our objective when we draw lines in the sand? I strongly believe in lifelong learning and I also believe, we learn more when we make our own mistakes. As always, I appreciate all the comments and reflections shared. As my mentor taught me, “there are many ways to be right”.


  16. Lines in the sand are always difficult once you are working in a team of educators with varying experiences and training and also beneficial as a self checking mechanism. We all have our own ‘constructs’ of how we see the world and what is best, depending on our backgrounds, subconscious bias and past experiences. I think it is always wise to use reflective practice skills with both children and staff and be prepared to be open minded. Opening up communication and asking the questions, ‘Why do I think that? Why do we do that?’ ‘ How does that feel for ….’ etc, can have a great base for discussion to work towards the best outcomes that keep the best interests of the child and families, in the context of best practice, in the lens of decision making. In saying that, practices that are not respectful of the children and families, or other staff need addressing immediately and I don’t have any hesitation in doing this. Over the past 31 years I have worked and trained within the Early Childhood Sector in a variety of roles and I am the first to say that my lines in the sand have shifted and changed over that time, and I believe for the better as I journey forward with an attitude of life long learning.


  17. 🤔I like the swirl…making loops sounds fun, maybe X marks the treasure!
    Where do we draw the line & why do we do the things we do…criss cross, straight lines, insist on quiet, hurry, hurry! Why?
    This was my initial comment on the photo posted on Facebook & now I’ll read the full blog :p


  18. 🤔I like the swirl…making loops sounds fun, maybe X marks the treasure! I went literal as I had not read the blog😆This was my initial comment on the photo posted on Facebook & now I’ll read the full blog :p
    Where do we draw the line & why do we do the things we do…criss cross, straight lines, insist on quiet, hurry, hurry! Why do we do what we do…I work in an elementary school in a Kindergarten class & feel I’ve been acclimated to school.


  19. Over the past few years of changing schedules and routines beyond my control (such as gym time) my lines in the sand have changed as well. My biggest, deepest line is treating others with kindness and love. Whether it be with my class, my teaching partner, or whomever, I try to be kind and expect kindness in return. Another commentator said it also, a worksheet and precursor shapes will not hurt a child if they are in a warm, loving, and safe environment.


  20. Hi Laurel. “Treating ECE as assistants” certainly is a line in the sand that jumps out from your reflections. Thanks for all remaining thoughts as well.


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