Tips for Walking in a Line

Tips for Walking in Line

Learning to walk in line may not be easy for some children. There is a lot that goes into students standing in line and walking in a line from classroom to classroom. School based occupational therapy plays a role in this classroom task. Their lack of balance, gross motor coordination, awareness of the body in space, and lack of impulse control can impact their ability to walk in a line with their peers. In this blog post, we’re covering tips and strategies to support students in standing in lines and walking in line in the school environment…basically supporting sensory motor skills for body awareness and patience, which is a life skill needed throughout the community.

Students standing in a line, text reads "sensory motor tips for waiting and walking in line"

Teaching Kids to Stand in Line

Being able to walk in line and stand in line is a part of a child’s educational day, and requires sensory motor, physical, cognitive, and social development. The trouble is that this skill is also impacted by patience, attention, and executive functioning skills, which are far from developed in the school age.

Occupational therapy practitioners can help a child build their skills in this area by working on some foundational skills that will facilitate more complex motor skills and behaviors later on that are essential for success in various aspects of daily life.

We wait in line at the grocery store, at the library, and at the post office. We wait at stop lights and when pulling out onto a highway. We stand in crowds and take our turn each day in the community. This is a life skill that begins in a small group in the school environment as the class moves from activity to activity.

Waiting in lines is something that we might teach along with coping strategies or self regulation strategies to support sensory needs in the lunchroom at schools.

Waiting in Lines at School

Many school-related activities, such as lining up, walking in hallways, and participating in organized group activities, require the ability to walk in line. This skill is not only important for walking at school, but walking in public places such as family or school outings, on field trips, or other group activities.

Developing this skill in OT can contribute to a smoother transition to school and other social environments. 

So, where do you start when teaching a child to walk in line? First, let’s look at the foundational skills necessary for walking in a line and standing in a line at school:

Body Control and Spatial Awareness for Standing in lines

One component of standing in lines that impacts the child that bumps into others without realizing it is the proprioceptive sense. This sensory system allows us to recognize where our body is in space in relationship to other people or objects. It allows us to know how much and how forcefully to move our body.

We can build awareness of body control and spatial awareness with some specific strategies (listed below).

Walking in line requires the maintenance of an upright posture, control over body movements, and understanding where your body is in space, and awareness of visual spatial relationships.

This body awareness and control are essential for various activities, including walking in line, playing with a group of friends, participating in a group activity, engaging in recess, and participating in P.E. and sports.

In occupational therapy interventions, we can use activities that can help a child build their body control and spatial awareness:

Mirror play – Use a full-length mirror to encourage children to watch their body movements and make adjustments to stay in line. Also check out our self-awareness games for ideas to support an awareness of how the child’s body moves.

Body poses – Practice various body poses and positions to enhance body and spatial awareness. This can include pretending to be statues or animals and positioning themselves alongside, behind, or in front of objects. You can do this in a small group, too. One way to facilitate an awareness of space and body awareness is by using partner yoga poses as a tool.

Simon Says – Use this simple game with specific movements or activities that involve starting and stopping. For example, use verbal commands like, “Simon says to take three steps forward” or “Simon says stop” or “Simon says position yourself behind the box.” Targeting Simon Says commands to gross motor movements is a great way to work on this.

Balloon buddy -Pretend to give each child an imaginary balloon buddy that is tied to their wrist. They must hold onto their balloon string while walking in line. This will help keep them from getting too close to the child in front of them.

Balance and Coordination for Walking in Lines

Walking in line requires balance and coordination. The body must maintain balance while walking a straight path and be able to coordinate arms and legs to walk smoothly and rhythmically to follow the line as it shifts and changes direction.

Balance and coordination are needed for various complex motor actions that are needed throughout the day and are essential to avoid any collisions with others and objects. 

We can facilitate dynamic balance with fun occupational therapy activities. Some activities that can help to work on balance and coordination:

  • Obstacle courses- OT practitioners LOVE obstacle courses! Use an obstacle course with various elements to promote gross motor balance and coordination that require children to navigate different surfaces, step over objects, and maintain balance while doing so. Consider walking in a straight line, stepping over objects of different heights, walking on a balance beam, or weaving through a set of cones. 
  • Balance beams- You can use indoor balance beams or outdoor balance beams to support balance skills. Use a wide balance beam initially and then transition to a narrow balance beam to advance a child’s skill. Have children walk heel to toe, sidestep, or even backward. Place cones on the left and right sides of the beam and have children squat on the beam to pick them up as they advance to them and stack them within their hands. 
  • Balance exercises- Use basic balance exercises to stand on one foot, stand on a rocker board or wiggle cushion, and walk with bean bags on their head or shoulders without dropping as all of these will help enhance overall stability and coordination.

Motor Planning Skills needed for Walking in Lines

Walking in line requires motor planning as the child plans, sequences, and executes the steps needed to walk in line in the correct order and at the correct time. This skill is necessary as the child navigates their way in line and if the line takes a turn, the child needs to plan and execute the turn smoothly.

There are fun and motivating ways to use play to support motor planning skills needed for standing in lines and walking in lines.

Activities to build their motor planning skills needed for walking in lines and standing in lines:

  • Follow the leader– Simply designate a leader of the group and let children take turns leading the walking line. The leader can walk in different ways like tiptoeing, giant steps, high knee marching, or heel walking.
  • Obstacle course with hand use- This is a great activity for teaching students to use coordination and balance to walk in line while holding school supplies. Simply create an obstacle in which a child must navigate while carrying objects either one-handed or two-handed. This will help them to do so when they are in school or in a public setting.
  • Mirror reflection- This game is similar to mirror play activity described above, but for this activity, we are working on motor planning skills by asking two children pair up and form a line standing side by side in front of a full-length mirror. Each child takes turns by mimicking the movements of the paired person by only looking in the mirror. Many movements can be added to make the activity more or less challenging. 

Visual Attention Needed for Walking in a Line

Visual attention is needed when walking in line as the child must keep up with the line and keep pace with the person in front of them. Attention is needed for the student to be aware of any change in direction, needed shift in the line, and for stopping. We’ve probably all seen the line of students that bump into one another down the line after one student stops suddenly. Or the student that misses a turn in the hallway and keeps walking straight, only to lead the rest of the class down the wrong hall.

Activities to help build the visual attention needed to walk in line:

  • Scavenger hunt- Take children on a scavenger hunt indoors or outdoors with a list of items to look for while walking. This will promote visual attention and observation skills necessary for walking in line. You can try ideas like an outdoor scavenger hunt, Easter egg color hunt, or I Spy activities.
  • Storytime hunt- Much like a scavenger hunt, a story version is a visual memory task where children read or listen to a story and then go off and try to find elements of the story they just read. They can read the book and then go on a Storytime stroll looking for elements identified in the book. For example, the book is about the zoo, they can look for plastic zoo animals or pictures of zoo animals.
  • Follow the leader- Have children imitate walking movements while varying the speed, direction, and style of walking to keep their visual interest and challenge their skill. You can target a variety of other skills with follow the leader, too.
  • Colored directions of the wall or floor- One tool that can be added to the school hallways are visual cues to support needs in following the classroom. These would be used along paths that are used each day. These can help children who have difficulty with visual attention to stay focused on task by visually following or locating colorful visual markers. Consider shapes, letters, numbers, dots, arrows, or even footprints to help them stay in line and proceed in transition. A simple visual marker on the person’s back in front of them can give them just enough visual focus to walk in line successfully. Other visual schedules or various types of prompts can be used in this way, too.

Impulse Control and Waiting in Lines

Walking in line requires impulse control and the ability to adhere to a set pattern or direction. It is needed when the line must start and stop as it navigates its way through a busy environment. Impulse control is valuable for self-regulation and behavioral control that are needed throughout the day in a variety of settings including the ability to walk in line for transitions.

This skill combines self-regulation and executive functioning skills. Here are more self-regulation strategies and self regulation group activities which can be used to improve impulse control in a group like the classroom.

Luckily occupational therapy practitioners use impulse control strategies to support functional skills like waiting in lines. Here are some more activities to work on building impulse control:

  • Red Light, Green Light game- Have children play the stop-and-go game while walking. Use a fun hand signal or verbal command for children to stop or freeze in place like a statue. Then give them another signal to start walking again. 
  • Musical stop-and-go game– Another form of Red Light, Green Light, but with the starting and stopping of music to freeze in place and then proceed when the music begins again all while walking in line around the room. This game uses auditory processing, which is needed for listening to directions during a multisensory task like moving from one place in the school building to another.
  • Self-Assessment- Use these impulse control worksheets for self-monitoring how a child walked down a hallway and support them in creating goals for themselves for the next time the class moves together as a group.

Social Skills for Walking in a Line at School

Walking in line requires some form of social skills whether it be by simply participating in the pattern with others or by participating in line activities that facilitate walking in line together successfully.

Social skills need honing to be able to engage successfully in school outings, field trips, or other group activities.

Occupational therapy practitioners use many social skills activities to support social emotional learning. Here are some activities that can help to build social skills needed for walking in a line and patience in group setting:

  • Games while walking- Simply incorporate well-known group games like Follow the Leader or Mirror, Mirror, Tip Toe walking, or other simple tasks to encourage simple social interaction while walking in line. These games can promote turn-taking and cooperation. 
  • Group walking- It is simply the practice of walking in line as a group. This encourages interaction, cooperation, and turn-taking. Try walking along a masking tape line on the floor.
  • Peer modeling– This is a highly effective tool for younger children as you think about pairing them with a peer who excels at the skill of walking in line. Peer modeling can be a high motivator for younger children.

Following Instructions and Auditory Processing for Walking in a Line

In the school environment, a student needs to listen to instructions from the teacher about where the class is going and then follow the directions. Sometimes it might be that the class has only 2 minutes to make it to music class. Or maybe they need to be very quiet as they walk by the third grade hallway because students are taking a test.

Listening and responding to specific instructions to walk in line, maintain a certain pace, change direction, or stop is needed at school. Being able to follow these verbal directions is a highly important skill in both academic and everyday settings.

These are just some examples of how direction following and auditory processing skills are used when walking in a hallway as a class. This transfers to the real world every day when it comes to safety in the community.

Activities to work on following directions and build auditory processing skills:

  • Simon Says- Playing games like Simon Says will add an element of listening and following directions while following body commands. We have a Simon Says Commands PDF where the directions can be cut out and glued to craft sticks for a gross motor game.
  • Blindfold Group Game- This game is similar to Simon Says, only each child is blindfolded and they must hold onto a rope or other lengthy item and maintain the line as they not only follow the rope but navigate a course by listening and following the leaders verbal instructions rather than using their sight.
Students waiting in line behind a teacher, students waiting for a turn on the slide, students walking in a line into a classroom. Text reads "tips to help students wait and walk in lines"

Tips for Teaching Students to Walk in a Line

Frankly, helping any child to develop the skill of walking in line is an important part of their overall motor development. As children learn this important skill, sometimes they need a few helpful tips to move them along successfully and to feel confident in their skills.

Take a peek at these twelve quick tips for walking in line as a child builds their skill in this area:

  1. Tape a line on the floor as both a visual and physical guide for children who require additional support while walking in line. Encouraging children to concentrate on the line helps maintain visual focus in proximity, which minimizes potential distractions from distant stimuli that can be challenging for some children. 

2. Have children physically check that they are an arm’s length apart from the person in front of them by extending their arms fully in front of themselves. Another option could be for them to create a personal bubble, or “bubble zone” so as not to pop their bubble by staying the proper distance from those around them. Simply knowing how close or far the body is from surrounding objects, people, or obstacles is an important aspect of spatial awareness to avoid collisions and assist with navigating through spaces. 

3. Have children take on the roles of either the leader (engine) or the last person (caboose) in the line, instead of placing them in the middle, which may not be conducive or beneficial for their support. Assigning them these positions not only provides a sense of purpose and importance within the line but also enhances motivation for learning.  

4. Minimize the amount of time spent standing vs. walking in line, particularly in crowded areas like hallways. When children are left standing, they may resort to less productive activities to occupy themselves. Explore ways to engage children during wait times in the last section of this post.

5. Having a pair of busy hands is important for some children as they often find less constructive or favorable behaviors to occupy their hands resulting in the touching of other children or objects.  To address this issue, consider offering activities that engage their hands while walking, such as interlocking their fingers, pressing their palms together, crossing their arms across their chest, or putting their hands in their front or back pockets. 

6. Be precise in the transition time or limit the number of transition times that are needed between activities so as not to be idle too long in one place. This can enhance the success of a line walk. 

7. Consider having children transition in smaller lines either before or after the main crowds. This approach helps limit unnecessary distractions and overcrowding anxieties, fostering greater success with line walking as they gain confidence and skill. 

8. Have children carry or transport objects while walking in line. Provide them with a two-handed object like a cart or several books or a bag/backpack to carry. This task of carrying an object adds a sense of purpose and introducing additional sensory input. This can be particularly helpful for children who benefit from proprioceptive input for self-regulation.

9. Consider the caboose position for those children who find stairs more difficult to navigate to prevent accidental bumping. Ensure they hold the handrail going up and down the stairs to increase safety and limit speed. 

10. Provide verbal warnings to children who need a cue for uneven terrain ahead such as elevated surfaces, grassy areas, stairs, doorways, curbs, holes in the ground or pavement, etc. This is especially needed for times off campus or in unfamiliar locations. Offer a hand to hold to provide better stabilization and balance as they navigate these areas while walking in line with others.

One important tip is to practice, demonstrate, provide verbal cues or visual aids, and give positive reinforcement. It might be too much to expect a classroom full of kindergarten students to come into the school setting and immediately be able to walk in a line in the hallways. Frequent praise or acknowledgment of each small step toward progress will motivate and boost a child’s confidence as they learn to be like the bigger kids in the school building.

Firedrills in Schools

Fire drills or bells are NOT the time to think about walking in line, simply take the hands of those requiring assistance or establish a reliable peer-partner system for a safe and efficient evacuation, ensuring the well-being of all individuals exiting the building!

Line of people and one person doing walk push ups. Text reads "calming self regulation strategies for waiting in lines"

Sensory Strategies for Walking in Line at School

Ultimately, children will consistently encounter situations where they will be expected to wait in line and it’s not a simple task. Whether waiting in line at school during transitions or waiting in line at the store checkout with mom and dad, this can be challenging.

Because there are so many sensory components that impact direction following, body awareness, and motor planning needed for walking in lines or waiting in lines at school, sensory strategies can be a huge support.

Children will often seek various activities to occupy themselves during these times, and occasionally, their choices are not appropriate.

Try employing these tips to assist them in cultivating a sense of calmness while waiting as needed:

  1. Always carry a hand fidget in your bag when standing in line. This provides a useful option for children to stand or sit patiently, and it might even be beneficial for you as well! Explore items like pop-its, squeeze balls, tangles, bendies, spinners, or stretchies. These keychain fidgets are a powerful strategy for some kiddos!
  2. Teach kids to give themselves heavy work through the hands. Have children push their hands together by placing their palms flat against one another and pushing for the count of 10. Repeat as often as needed. 
  3. If there’s a nearby wall, encourage children to do wall push-ups. Instruct them to place their hands flat on the wall, shoulder-width apart, and move their bodies towards the wall by bending their elbows while keeping their gaze fixed on the wall. Guide them to perform wall push-ups slowly, challenging them to see how close they can get their nose to the wall without touching it. This activity provides a nearby focal point, helping them avoid distractions by keeping their focus in close proximity.
  4. If children tend to touch everything while waiting in line, encourage them to practice finger squeezes. Begin with squeezing the nail of their thumb, then progress along each finger until reaching the palm. Continue this sequence with the pointer finger, middle finger, ring finger, and pinky finger. Then, switch to the other hand and repeat the exercise.
  5. Have children star stretch and then cross their arms and legs to give themselves a full body hug for the count of 10. Repeat as often as needed. 
  6. Do wall-sits. If there’s a wall or another stationary object nearby, prompt children to sit against it as if sitting in a chair.  Time them to see how long they can maintain this position until they become fatigued. Challenge them to increase their time each trial.
  7. Have children give themselves a bear hug while waiting in line. Wrap their arms around themselves and count SLOWLY to 10 while gently squeezing themselves with a hug. Repeat as often as needed.

Finally, keep in mind that every child is different and unique and it is very important to customize all tips and activities to meet their specific needs and abilities.

The key is to ensure that the activities are enjoyable and to celebrate their progress, no matter how small. By incorporating fun games and creative ways to walk in line, children will find it enjoyable and educational.

If you are aware that a child is receiving occupational or physical therapy services, consult with their practitioner.  Always prioritize safety, especially when incorporating activities such as blindfolding participants or creating obstacle courses. Adjust the difficulty level based on the age and physical abilities of the participants, and, most importantly, have fun!

Victoria Wood, OTR/L is a contributor to The OT Toolbox and has been providing Occupational Therapy treatment in pediatrics for more than 25 years. She has practiced in hospital settings (inpatient, outpatient, NICU, PICU), school systems, and outpatient clinics in several states. She has treated hundreds of children with various sensory processing dysfunction in the areas of behavior, gross/fine motor skills, social skills and self-care. Ms. Wood has also been a featured speaker at seminars, webinars, and school staff development training. She is the author of Seeing your Home and Community with Sensory Eyes.

Line of people and one person doing walk push ups. Text reads "calming self regulation strategies for waiting in lines"

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