When I taught middle school in Houston ISD, everyone had bathroom passes that traveled with them to the bathroom. That way, if an administrator or teacher stopped you in the hall, they’d know you had permission to be out and about.
I’ll be honest – it grosses me out. I mean, think about where those bathroom passes are being placed? On the floor? On top of the toilet paper roll? Eww.
You need a bathroom pass system that allows you to keep track of who is out of the room for safety reasons. A good bathroom policy will also keep your frequent flyers from abusing bathroom privileges.
You probably know that many kids who struggle to learn will take frequent breaks just to avoid challenging work, which will only compound the problem. But when you try to speak with parents about your concerns regarding lost instructional time, some of them just don’t get it!
Here are 10 bathroom pass ideas that may work for your classroom. But I’ll begin with my favorite solution; the one that worked for my own class!
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Favorite Hall Pass Ideas
Bathroom trips can quickly become a nuisance if your policy isn’t solid at the beginning of the school year, and you don’t have clear expectations in place. These hall pass ideas should give you some inspiration for how you want to manage your classroom.
In my first year of teaching third grade, I learned that kids didn’t need to have a pass to be in the hallway. Because elementary school kids don’t tend to “skip class,” it’s generally understood that they’re allowed to be in the hallways. They don’t tend to escape. Having a bathroom pass at this age is more for record keeping and just knowing who is out of the room at any given moment.
My policy was that I never wanted more than one student of each gender out of the room at a time. Kids do get into shenanigans if they’re in the bathroom together during class. Elementary school kids tend to splash and play in the sinks, or worst case scenario, spread yuck on the walls or write misspelled graffiti.
The Random Object Hall Pass
For my classroom, I got two plastic pigs – one pink for girls and one blue for boys. I know – some of y’all are highly annoyed with my gender norming, and that’s a fair criticism. In our school culture, this is pretty standard and expected.
I only chose the pigs because I found them at Five Below and they were plastic for easy cleaning. There are similar ones on Amazon, but really anything will do! Anything that can be easily Lysol sprayed and makes the kids smile will do the trick.
You’re looking for durable, easy to clean, and something happy looking. In fact, my pigs even oinked when you squeezed them. At first, I worried that would be a big mistake. But honestly, they oinked them so often that the noise maker broke in the first few weeks, and the problem solved itself.
Anyway, this kind of bathroom pass always stays in the room. After every class, I’d do a quick spritz with the Lysol spray to minimize germs across classrooms.
The highlights of my policy were as follows:
- Only one boy and one girl allowed out at a time.
- You may use the pass only during independent work time – when I’m not doing direct teaching.
- No running to grab the pass. No fighting over it.
- No asking me to go to the bathroom.
- If you have a legitimate reason to go potty twice in one class period, come ask me about it (in case we need to send you to the nurse).
- When you decide to go to the bathroom, put the appropriate pig on your desk or work station. Girls could only use the pink pig and boys could only use the blue one. That helped me ensure only one kid of each gender would be out of the room at a time.
- Putting it on their desk makes it easy for me to quickly glance around and see who is in the bathroom. Empty desk+plastic pig=bathroom break.
The Hand Sanitizer Pass
We all know that some kids go into the bathroom, do their business, and saunter right out like their hands aren’t nasty. Some kids just DO NOT WASH HANDS. And since we’re not in there with them, who’s to say what the heck happens!?
The hand sanitizer pass stays on the desk just like the piggies. It could also leave the room, if your administrative team requires proof that kids have been released from class.
When kids return, they’ll be expected to use a pump of hand sanitizer, so we can be certain SOME degree of cleanliness is happening. Of course, it’s a nice, frugal option, since you’re likely buying hand sanitizer bottles anyway. At least this reminds kids to use them.
Elementary School Bathroom Pass Ideas
I especially like this idea from First Grade Fancy, who attempts to limit her students to two bathroom passes a day with a popsicle stick method.
Each student receives a stick for both the morning pass bucket and the afternoon pass bucket. They remain in the bucket until they need to use a bathroom pass. At that time, they move their popsicle stick to the multi-purpose behavior management pocket chart she uses.
This next idea is perfect for elementary school teachers who use a number system for students. This allows multiple classes to use the same board.
All it takes is a cookie sheet, decorated with Washi tape, and a bunch of numbered magnets to represent students. You can keep track of where they are at all times. Students take responsibility for moving their magnet to the correct zone on the cookie sheet, which is mounted to the wall.
This system doesn’t allow you to limit students’ trips out of the room; it just serves as a quick way to figure out who is missing at any time.
Here’s another great execution of the bathroom pass concept! A Primary Owl discovered that clips work well for her students. Bonus – it also keeps the bathroom passes a bit cleaner since they won’t be placed on a dirty surface.
She put them all on a ribbon, which was attached to clips on her filing cabinet.
High School Bathroom Pass Ideas
If you teach older students who have frequent passing period opportunities to use the bathroom, you may need a different approach to manage time spent out of the classroom. Here are some ideas I found.
Tools for Teaching Teens has a hole punchable card that allows students two trips per grading period. She does make allowances for true emergencies and students with special health concerns.
Finally, if you’re looking for more of a system than a bathroom PASS idea, Teaching ELA with Joy has a no-frills, super efficient (and effective!) method. It serves as a sign-out sheet.
She uses a roster on a clipboard, and gives students three passes per grading period to reduce the amount of class time students are missing. She even got her teaching team on the same system so that their policy was consistent across all classes.
I also think it’s smart to offer extra credit points to students who don’t use all their passes because you’re essentially paying them for the extra time they spend in class.
They’re still not being penalized for having basic needs, but it does incentivize kids to use their time wisely during passing periods and helps to affirm them for good time management.
Digital Hall Passes for Middle School and High School
I also love the idea of going digital with Google forms to manage your bathroom policies. You can set up a Chromebook near the door on a table or shelf. Students have to complete a Google form to leave your class, but it’s super short so you’re not wasting tons of time.
I think what I like about this idea is that you get to assume that students are responsible and can be generous with them meeting their own basic needs. If you begin to suspect they’re using the bathroom as an avoidance strategy, you will have really solid data to back up your concerns when speaking with parents and administrators.
At any point, you can access exactly how many times a kid left the room and where they were going. In short, you’re using less paper and you’ll have far better data if the trips out of the classroom ever become a problem.
Avoid The Negative Impact of Bad Bathroom Policies
You’d think you can’t mess up a bathroom pass or bathroom policy, but you can. Here are some ways to cause yourself and your students MORE problems.
1. Don’t use embarrassing bathroom passes like a toilet seat. We don’t need to shame kids for having basic bodily functions. There are better ways to solve this problem and there’s nothing wrong with a generic bathroom pass. This is not the time to be cute.
2. Stay consistent over time with your bathroom rules. It’s better to have a solid bathroom procedure in place from the beginning of the year.
3. Stay in close contact with families whose kids have medical conditions or ongoing health problems. There are plenty of reasons why students might need unlimited access to the bathroom at various points in the year, including UTIs, heavy periods, recovery from stomach bugs, IBS, and more. Zero tolerance policies are a recipe for disaster. Have private conversations with kids and let them know that the bathroom policy doesn’t apply to them until the problem is resolved.
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