Bigger Learning That Can Come From A Bathroom Break

On Friday morning, I read Doug Peterson‘s This Week In Ontario Edublogs post. I enjoyed reading his thoughts on one of my latest blog posts about giving students a chance to learn from mistakes. As I was reading this post, I realized that I forgot to add something to my list: There are many accidents. In Kindergarten, we focus a lot on self-regulation. (I’d highly recommend reading Stuart Shanker‘s Calm, Alert, and Learning to learn more about self-regulation. As an aside, I’d say that self-regulation is not just important for Kindergarten.) Children learn to self-regulate in many ways, as shared in these examples.

  • They learn how to calm down (down-regulate) when they’re too excited (up-regulated).
  • They learn how to up-regulate when they’re too sluggish (too down-regulated).
  • They learn how to eat when they’re hungry (and wait for a place at the Snack Table, or one of the couple of Snack Tables, to eat).
  • They learn how to go to the bathroom when they feel the need.

In the six years that I’ve been away from teaching Kindergarten, it’s this last point on the list that really hasn’t changed much. Avoiding having an accident can be a huge challenge. A Kindergarten classroom is an exciting place. When students are in the middle of an activity or project that they enjoy, they don’t want to break for a trip to the bathroom. With 24 students in the classroom though, and one bathroom, a last minute break doesn’t usually turn out well.

While this may seem like a somewhat amusing blog post topic, I write about this topic because I think that it speaks to something bigger. As adults, we can regulate children a lot.

  • We can tell them when to eat.
  • We can tell them what to do and when to do it.
  • We can notice when children are too up-regulated or down-regulated, and instead of talking to them about our observations, we can change their activities to help them self-regulate. 
  • We can also insist on a bathroom schedule, and sometimes in school, full class bathroom breaks.

Yes, some students need our assistance, and just like with a “gradual release of responsibility” model, I think that we may need to gradually help students self-regulate. But this is when metacognition is key. We have to help children recognize these needs in themselves by sharing what led to the decision(s) that we made for them. In the case of bathroom breaks, maybe we look at,

  • key times to try.
  • how to put aside activities that children can go to go back to when they’re done.
  • and how to slow down and listen to their bodies.

Giving students opportunities to independently practice this skill will likely lead to a few close calls and some accidents, but given time and opportunities for reflection, it should help with self-regulation. This matters. You see, even elementary teachers talk about, “preparing students for the future.” They talk about succeeding in post-secondary education and eventually in the workforce. How can students do this, if they rely on us to schedule everything for them — from activity choices to eating times to bathroom breaks? How do we provide more opportunities for independence and self-regulation at home and at school? I’d love to hear your ideas, as I continue to learn more about developing self-regulation skills in children.


2 thoughts on “Bigger Learning That Can Come From A Bathroom Break

  1. Good point, A. The idea with the gradual release of responsibility is to co-regulate with our students to scaffold their regulation. Teaching coregulation with strategies along with the recognition of biological stressors sets the stage for pro-social relationships and new growth (I can see those dendrites building as they make new emotional gains in their relationships).

    • Thanks for the comment, Tina! These are all important points. I continue to think about the classroom environment, and how we ensure that we take the time to build these skills in students. When changing after an accident can be time-consuming, sometimes it’s easier to put into place those regular bathroom breaks. I’d be curious to know how people make the time for developing these self-regulation skills, and what value they see in doing so.


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