The Challenge of Bathroom Management in the Elementary Classroom
Picture it: You’re in the middle of a math lesson and you ask your class, “Does anyone know what 10 – 7 is?” Several students’ hands go up, you pick one, and instead of a number you hear, “Can I go to the bathroom?”
As teachers, we all know this scenario too well. But interrupting learning time is only one bathroom issue that teachers face daily. I can think of a some more off the top of my head:
- If you say yes to one student, you can almost guarantee 12 other hands will go up.
- There are several “frequent flyers” in your group.
- Your kids think the bathroom is a place to shout and play.
- Your classroom bathroom is a mess by midday.
- The bathroom is all the way down the hall.
Whatever grade you teach, you’ve faced one or more of these bathroom dilemmas (and probably more). And on top of those, sometimes it’s hard to determine who really has to go.
The Bathroom Rules & Management Kit
For years I struggled to find the right solution, and I have tried a lot of different things. I weeded out what worked and what didn’t, and I put a bunch of them together into a Bathroom Rules & Management Kit!
The ideas presented in this post can be used together or alone. Use what’s right for YOU and YOUR STUDENTS! Please always keep in mind that some children need to use the bathroom more than others for medical reasons. Always have an open mind when it comes to bathroom emergencies as well!
Have Set Rules for Bathroom Breaks
First thing’s first, you absolutely need to set rules and expectations for bathroom breaks. This is important whether you have a bathroom IN your classroom or way down the hall. I’ve had three classrooms without and one classroom with (by far my favorite), so I’ve dealt with both scenarios.
I included nine rules posters that you can display in your class bathroom, near the door as a subtle reminder before kiddos exit your room, or even in the hall outside of the bathroom. Other reminders (not shown) include knocking first, closing the door behind you, and being quiet/no playing.
I always love to create anchor charts with my students. Discussing proper bathroom etiquette is no exception! There are large anchor chart pieces in this set that you can use with chart paper. List your ideas with markers or use Post-It notes (kids can write their ideas and put them in the correct spot).
Later you can use the editable mini posters to type your answers and create a small visual. There are two useful topics included:
- “Is it a good time to use the bathroom?”
- “How should I behave in the bathroom?”
Students can refer to these all year!
Use Stop and Go Signs for Bathroom Breaks
One idea that’s always worked for me is the use of STOP and GO signs. I like to hang them back-to-back right on the bathroom door. I just punch a hole in the top, tie with string, and hang them on a command hook. When students enter the bathroom, they flip the sign to STOP so other kids know that it’s occupied. When they come out, they flip the sign back to GO!
You can also use the STOP and GO signs as a “good to go” signal. Create a small display on your chalkboard or whiteboard using the “Is it a good time to use the bathroom?” anchor chart header.
Switch out the STOP and GO signs during the day so your students can take a look and see right away whether it’s a good time to ask.
Track Who’s Asking
An important part of bathroom management is tracking. One of the biggest bathroom issues I’ve faced is when students ask to use the bathroom A LOT. It’s hard sometimes to figure out who is just looking to escape and who really has to go. And on top of that, there’s so much going on during the day that it’s not easy to remember who already went and how many times! (I have a terrible memory, anyone else?!)
The Pom Pom Tracking Chart
I was looking for a fun way to TRACK and REDUCE bathroom breaks to see who was asking me all the time, while also hoping to cut back on the amount of [unnecessary] breaks. And so, I created a checkout system that really helped!
I explain the system in further detail inside the Bathroom Rules & Management Kit, but basically I use pom poms to represent bathroom breaks. I can easily see who’s asking and who isn’t.
The Tally Chart
Another great way to track trips is with a tally chart! You can use this on its own, and change the chart out weekly, bi-weekly, monthly… it’s up to you! There’s also a black & white version for easy copying. You can also use the tally chart WITH the pom pom system, which is what I do! Since the poms will be emptied daily (make it a student job!) the tally chart is a quick way to mark bathroom breaks at the end of the day and have a record on hand. You can refer to it if you need to speak to a parent.
Individual passes are another great option for bathroom management. Give each student three passes (or more or less–up to you) for the day/week and have them turn them in with each trip they take. Passes can be kept at student desks or in a designated spot (like a pocket chart) and they can be dropped in a specific turn-in bin.
Whichever tracking system you use, I highly recommend adding an incentive! Candy, stickers, mini erasers, and bouncy balls are all fun ideas! If kiddos aren’t asking or using up all their passes in any given day/week/month (again, it’s up to you), they can earn a little reward OR earn tickets for prize drawings. This will help discourage those unnecessary breaks.
All of the ideas above AND MORE are included in my Bathroom Rules & Management Kit. You will also find hall passes, a Wheelchair Accessible sign, labels, and various options. I really tried to include EVERYTHING you need for bathroom management in your classroom!! I’m telling you– these ideas are GAME CHANGERS!!
Feel free to pin the image below to save this post for later or share it with your teacher friends! 🙂
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