Potty Talk: A Flow Chart, A Bathroom Management System, and A Mysterious Puddle

I like to think of myself as a calm, collected teacher, and most of the time, I am. There is, however, one simple question that often throws me for a loop. It has nothing to do with complicated color mixing or trying to recall an art history date buried deep in my brain. The question that stumps me almost every single time is, “Can I go to the bathroom?”

Whether it seems like it on the surface or not, this is often a loaded question. For some students, the answer is obvious. Jumping up and down, sweating, that deer-in-the-headlights look: these are telltale signs of a true emergency. But beyond the obvious signs can lay a labyrinth of deceit. “Can I go to the bathroom,” might really mean “Can I take a break from art?” or “Can I go get a drink at the water fountain?” It can even mean, “Can I go create some mischief where no one is supervising me?” When a student asks to go to the bathroom, my answer always seems to be based on a super-complicated algorithm comprised of the age, demeanor, and trustworthiness of the student, coupled with whether or not he or she always asks to go to the bathroom every art class and what we’re doing at the time. Phew!

I decided it’s time to simplify things. Below you will find the “Can I Go To The Bathroom?” Flow Chart. Enjoy.

In all seriousness, though, coming up with a bathroom system that works was quite a process. At the first school I taught at, the students had to sign out on a sheet, which we then had to hand in at the end of the week. Talk about micromanagement! Plus, it wasn’t very “emergency friendly” if you know what I mean. When I moved to my current school and could develop my own system, I tried a lot of different things including students writing their names on the board, different passes for boys and girls and having students take passes with them to the bathroom, but none of these systems worked well for me.

What I finally came up with is a magnet system. On my whiteboard hangs a magnet that says “bathroom.” Only one student is allowed to be out of the art room at a time. When I allow a student to go to the bathroom (after he or she has asked politely, of course), the student goes up to the whiteboard, grabs the magnet and puts it at his or her table spot. Upon reentering the room, the student places the magnet back on the whiteboard.

This works well because I can do a quick visual check of the whiteboard to remind myself if someone has left the room, and then quickly scan the room to see where the pass is to remember who has left. It’s also great during a fire drill, because amidst the business of lining up to go outside, I know exactly who is missing. I have a hallway pass that works the exact same way for drinks (don’t even get me started), nurse visits, sensory breaks, etc.

How do you handle bathroom breaks in your room?  

Do you have a system that works well?

Any funny accident stories?

* One time during a kindergarten class a mysterious puddle appeared on the floor. Since all of them were wearing adult-sized t-shirts as art smocks, which went past their knees, I never found the culprit!*


Amanda Heyn

Learning Team

Amanda is the Senior Editor at AOE. She has a background in teaching elementary art and enjoys working to bring the best ideas from the world of art ed to the magazine each day. 


  • Abusing bathroom time is not a big problem in my class, I do sometimes have a repeat offender who I think is asking to leave the room instead of going to the bathroom. For that child,  I’ll say sure you can go, but I’m going to give you five more trips for the year. Do you want to use your first trip right now?  Usually, they go sit down instead of leaving. 

    • Ha. Love it Valerie! I also like to use, “Why don’t you wait 5 minutes and then see if you still have to go.” By that time, we’re usually into our project and the urge to leave is gone :)

  • Marciadotcom

    This is funny!  I’m printing it out to share with the other teachers at my school

    • Teresa Mallett

      I purchased some large probably 8 or 10 inch wooden stars, painted them and labeled them “Boys”, “Girls”, and “Nurse”. This way I can look to the wall to see that only one boy, or girl has left the room. They still have sign out on the clipboard just in case we have a fire drill. My only stipulation is that they must ask and they can only ask after directions and supplies have been passed….otherwise it is an “interruption” to teaching and they may recieve a ticket (marked INTERRUPTING INSTRUCTION). oF COURSE IF THEY ARE GOING to get sick or reallly really forgot to go….ok, I really am not the army sergant that I wish I could be!!!

      • I like to think I’m tougher than I am too, Teresa :). 

  • I love your flowchart!  What program did you use to create it? 

    • Thanks, Heather! I used Adobe Illustrator. 

  • Gerti1

    I usually let the first person who asks go to the bathroom and then my response from there is “Really???  I doubt there is more than one emergency!”  Doesn’t it always seem no one else needs to go to the bathroom until they are reminded!

    • So true.  Sometimes I just cringe at that first one because I know what’s coming! 

  • Libyad

    That was awesome

  • Susie Belzer

    Love the flow chart!  I have something similar in my room.  By my door I have two purple lanyards with cottage cheese lids hanging from them (sort of like a huge medal) that I decorated with sharpies to read ‘Art Pass’.  I only let out two students at a time and the lanyards are a great visual so I can keep track of how many students are out of my room.  Kids, especially the younger grades, seem to show up to my room already needing to go.  Grr, it’s always frustrating.  I usually make them wait until I’m finished giving directions so they don’t miss anything – unless it’s an absolute emergency.

  • Funny  chart! At my K-2 school we have bathrooms in the classroom. since they are little they know if I am talking that they can get up and just go since I will see where they are going. They will usually ask though. At the 3-5 school the bathrooms are down the hall. I have a sign out sheet and they must sign out if they leave to use the bathroom or get a drink. They MUST ask to leave  the room in that school. I decide whether they need to go out based on many of the factors you discussed.  If I think they are just trying to get out of the room I will have them wait a few minutes and see if they ask again. Usually they don’t.  I only let one student out at a time.

    • Wow, I’ve never heard of a whole school with bathrooms in the classroom! We just have them in our K rooms. I hope you’re not responsible for keeping it clean! :)

  • I can’t decide what portion of this article I like best. The Bathroom Management plan that helps you stay organized by putting the pass ON THE TABLE marking the vacant spot, (genius) or the amazing flow chart that is oh, so true! This is awesome. 

  • Wendy Gilbert

    I get frustrated that other teachers don’t let students go to the bathroom. When my 6th graders get to my class at the end of the day, all of them are doing the dance and have that look of terror in their eyes. 

  • Marni Oberpriller

    I don’t like having kids out of my room unsupervised as you explained in your blog post. Our Specialist team requests Generalists to bathroom students before and/or after Specialist time.  However, I will let a student go to the bathroom if s/he asks without potty dancing.
    I will privately tell a student s/he can go when the big hand is on the next number and to take a hall pass (aka art plate, rubber ducky or a yellow logo cup);  and expect s/he to not ask me again before leaving the art room.  When returning to the art room, I expect a student touch my arm to let me physically know they have returned to the classroom.  If students really have to go, they will at the right time. If they don’t have to go, then more often than not, they forget and the issue is dropped. : )

    • Hahaha. I love the phrase “potty dancing.” Love that you have students use a nonverbal cue when they come back to the room. 

  • SandaDi

    In my classroom, the kids are strictly prohibited from going to the bathroom.  Or getting water.  Or throwing up.  Or getting hurt badly enough to need the nurse.  Or having dentist appointments during their measly little 50-minutes-per-week.  Or from getting in trouble, for that matter.  But I can’t really guarantee that any of those little rules will be followed.

    This year, with the older students (3rd-5th grade) I told them that I would simply always say “no” if they asked to go to the bathroom, but I let them know that I and their classmates would much more likely forgive and forget if they disobeyed me by running out of the room to take care of for-real, gonna-need-new-pants emergencies than we would if they made a mess of the floor.  So far, I think it’s worked.  They seem to have caught on that it’s really and truly only the serious emergencies that warrant them missing any class time.

    I love your flow chart, though! I think I might make a giant one for my classroom wall, with a few minor adjustments so that it fits the heading of “Am I Allowed to Go to the Bathroom?” (For example, I would include a “Can I hold it for 5 more minutes?” –when I ask that, if they say yes, I conveniently lose track of the time and they usually make it through the rest of class.)

    • hahaha. I like how you made “No throwing up” a rule. I might have to add that to my rules too :)

  • Vonnie

    I always have that one child who can be depended on to ask to go to the bathroom (in several classes). This is a child (usually) that I r-e-a-l-l-y find questionable. At our school, students must leave with a buddy. That’s bad because it takes another child’s class time away but good in that she/he can keep an eye on each other. Lately, I’ve told the constant ‘potty breakers’ that I am appointing a guardian in the class – he or she will remind the student to use the restroom BEFORE coming to Art. That way, I don’t have to guess whether they have to go or not. I also clear this with the classroom teacher to make sure there really aren’t any preexisting conditions. :)

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  • Jess

    I use a positive reward system. They earn “Mona bucks” and at the end of class I draw a few names out. If they want to leave for the bathroom I tell them they give up their Mona drawing. Meaning if I draw their name out they don’t get a prize. Works like magic. Kids instantly change their minds if it isn’t a true emergency. I’ve been doing this for 3 years and I’ve had no problems!

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  • Richard Wills

    I had two students have an accident in class last year. I taught at two schools, and it only happened at my afternoon school, and happened in the exact same chair. Before you ask, one was kindergarten, and one was first grade. Neither student asked to go to the restroom, they just sat quietly and went in class. The whole rest of the year, I paid very special attention to anyone who sat at that table, in that chair.

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  • very funny flowchart on can I go to the bathroom. Nice colors used there as well.

    shalin @ creately

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  • ian sands

    I know you are going to find this shocking coming from me (written in sarcasm font) but my bathroom policy is, if you need to go to the bathroom, go. Don’t even ask. Just go.

    Can I use the bathroom? No, treat it nicely. Nobody likes to get used, not even bathrooms

    Can I go to the bathroom real fast? No, take your time. These things need not be rushed.

    Can I run to the bathroom? I would prefer you walk. Next time don’t wait till the last minute.


  • ian sands

    Also, I got rid of the bathroom pass. We used to have clipboards for hall passes. The kids would take them to the bathroom and then do what with them? No place to put them so the got put on the bathroom floor.

    Have you ever seen a school bathroom floor? If something’s touches the school bathroom floor, it should never be picked up! There is no five second rule or kiss it up to God policy when it comes to the school bathroom floor!

    So I got rid of those disgusting clipboards.


    • Agree! That’s why I had the kids leave their bathroom passes at their seats in the art room. I knew who was gone, and no disgusting germs came back to the art room :)

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