Roll up your sleeves

1st May 1998 at 01:00
Don't worry, says Kevin Berry, the first toilet accident is always the worst

Children knock paint and water over at the most inconvenient times, they puke unexpectedly and nothing, bar a sudden visit from Santa Claus, is more disruptive than a toilet accident. Mess is best anticipated and prepared for . . . it will happen.

A box of chalk, newpapers and a bucket of fine sawdust should be at the ready in your store cupboard and you should find out where the caretaker keeps his mop and bucket. Have a brush and pan and a spray of something to clean the air.

My most effective classroom tool was a sink plunger, given to me by Great Uncle Henry when I qualified. "Here you are lad," he said. "You'll find this more than useful."

And I did. Many colleagues told me, over the years, that there is nothing more frustrating than having a blocked sink with 10 children clamouring round you. I wouldn't know, of course, because I was never without my sink plunger.

Spilled milk stinks so put a sheet of paper down. Newspaper is brilliant for any large liquid puddle - give the paper enough time to get soaked and then get rid of it. Put down more paper and use a mop only when most of the liquid has been soaked up. Use chalk for small spills on table tops, such as ink from fractured pen cartridges.

Sickness can leave a lingering smell and it can start other children feeling sick. Pour sawdust over the mess, leave for five minutes and then brush into a pan and get it out of the classroom. Repeat the dose of sawdust if necessary and then spray with air freshener.

If a child complains of feeling sick, sit them in an area where the air is fresh and have a plastic bowl ready.

On trips out, travel sickness can be avoided. Insist, in your letter to parents, that no sweets or drinks will be consumed on the coach. Find out who the potential "sickies" are and have them seated, without too much fuss, in the middle of the coach, where road bumps and sudden swings feel less severe. Show children how to relax and ride with the coach's movements rather than fight its twists and turns.

Keep a good air flow going though the coach and insist that children are seated at all times. If you do have to eat lunch on the coach get the windows open - the smell of food can soon start some children feeling queasy.

Have buckets and paper towels and spare clothes at the ready by all means, but don't have them on show.

Next - toilet accidents. Such events are terribly humiliating, so let's cut down the risk. Encourage your children to go to the toilet before classroom time and at each breaktime, give them a "toilet card" to be used for one lesson-time trip to the toilet and keep the number down by having a cardboard "toilet key" on the classroom door. The toileteer puts the key on his or her desk, goes to the loo and puts the key back when they return.

Breaktimes can be difficult because adults on duty seem overly keen on keeping children out of school and out of the loos. Insist and ensure that your children have enough time.

If you have any pupils with bladder or bowel problems ask them to go to the toilet soon after they have eaten or drunk something, and before and after an activity such as PE or assembly. Upheaval leads to stress in some children and stress does cause accidents. When a toilet accident happens, get the child out of the classroom as soon as possible.

Whatever the incident, do remain calm. Whenever I see the word "calm" I think of nine-year-old Stephen tripping over his shoelace, then skidding and slipping across my classroom floor, knocking over water and paint and glue, destroying a large painting and a beautiful graph, pulling down some curtains and leaving the room himself looking as if we'd had a visit from Noel Edmunds. Then the senior adviser walked in. I didn't get cross, there was no point. The adviser marvelled at how quickly the children cleared up and got on with their work. Mess happens, so prepare for it and train for it.

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today