When Kids Need a Break: Hall passes with a purpose


“What’s that?” I asked my teaching assistant.

I glanced over her shoulder to see a two-columned chart with students’ names on the side.

“Oh…I’m making a bathroom chart to help us curb all of these bathroom breaks. I think the kids should go once in the morning and once in the afternoon…and that’s ALL.”

“But why?” I asked, knowing what the answer would be.

“Because of Donald*, of course! That kid goes to the bathroom more than any kid I’ve ever seen. And I’ve watched him as he walks down the hall. Sometimes he doesn’t even go INTO the bathroom. He just looks at bulletin boards or gets a drink. We need to put a stop to this,” she said indignantly.

Her intentions were good. She wanted Donald in the classroom so he wouldn’t miss instruction…which made my words even harder for her to swallow…

“Yes, I realize he’s not actually going to the bathroom,” I told her, “but we’re not going to limit his requests.”

“WHAT?” she asked, incredulous.

“Donald needs those breaks. Between his ADHD and his anxiety, sitting for a whole reading group is just too hard for him. He’s figured out that he can regulate himself by taking these short breaks…this prevents him from having meltdowns, and helps him focus better.”

My assistant rolled her eyes and sighed, obviously irritated with my decision.

But I didn’t mind…because these breaks were just what Donald needed!


We’ve all had situations like these…in classrooms, Sunday School or youth group.  Be sure to consider the function of kids’ behavior as you manage the students in your care. Some kids might need an opportunity to stretch their muscles because of a physical condition; others may experience mental fatigue and need a moment of quiet. In Donald’s case, the “bathroom breaks” provided an opportunity to calm down and refocus; limiting breaks to once every three hours would have exacerbated his difficulty.

While breaks might be completely necessary, sometimes it is necessary to add some structure, especially if students’ progress or participation suffers because of the frequency or duration. However, this structure needs to be flexible and reasonable. My well-meaning assistant’s suggestion of one break would not have worked for Donald! One way to assist them is to offer a pre-set number of hall passes (tickets, post-it notes or index cards can work well for this purpose!) Allow them to use those passes as necessary…but when they’re gone, they’re gone! This can help kids to think through their need for a break, and help them to use those breaks wisely, and only when truly necessary.

When offering this kind of support, continue monitoring the student’s behavior and participation ensure that the strategy is working.

For Donald, this worked like a charm. He continued taking breaks during class…and he continued to make both academic and social progress.

And every once in a while, he’d come back into my classroom and give me a wink and a grin…and then settle right back into his work.

See you in the hallway!

Photos: Medaviesmallsteps.com; YoungTeacherLove.blogspot.com
*Name has been changed.

5 Ways To Help Kids Pay Attention


“1-2-3- all eyes on me…”
“I’m only going to say this ONE TIME…”
“I like how Joe and Cindy are paying attention…”
“Everyone who is seated and ready is getting a sticker…”

Sound familiar?

Whether we are teaching or parenting, we all want kids to pay attention! However, sometimes, their ability to focus is elusive. It’s important to recognize that improving kids’ attention to task often has more to do with our behavior than with theirs. As we interact with children and teens, we can improve the likelihood that they’ll absorb what we’re saying by offering a preview so they know what to expect.

Consider the title of this blog, for example. “Five Ways to Get Kids to Pay Attention.” Articles with numbered lists are ALL over the blogosphere these days…just scroll through twitter or Facebook and you’ll easily find several at first glance…from “10 Things Your Doctor Wishes You Knew” to “Four Steps to a Happy Family.” We like information to be organized for us, and when we see titles like these, we know that the information will likely be listed in an easy-to-read format.

When you read the title of this blog, for example, you likely anticipated a rather succinct article with five key strategies. You might have asked yourself, “I wonder if I use any of those strategies?” or thought, “I could use a few new tricks for helping kids…” You also had the number 5 in your mind…this gave you an idea of how long this article would be so you could gauge how much time you might need. Finally, you drew on your past experience, knowing that you would likely be able to remember a list of 5 things, and you could also relate new information to what you already know.

So…this article ISN’T really going to give you “5 Ways To Get Kids To Pay Attention.” It’s going to give you just one…when you are giving directions or teaching, considering using a number to get kids’ attention and help them anticipate instruction:

“Today we are going to learn about the THREE branches of government”
“You need TWO things for group work: your pencil and your workbook.”
“This morning, we’re going to learn FOUR ways to obey God.”
” TWO things: brush your teeth and put your laundry in the hamper.”

Wishing you infinite success in your teaching and parenting today!

(Image courtesy freeimageslive.co.uk)


Cool Tools: “Pickture That” Bracelets

photo from pickturethat.com

photo from pickturethat.com

I love to learn about new products and services, and share them with you. Today, I want to tell you about a really great bracelet that can be adapted for use in school or in church for kids with disabilities.

A company called Pickture That sells personalized photo bracelets.  Buyers upload three to four photos, crop them and choose between three color styles…and voila! A lovely, one-of-a-kind bracelet is created!


While these are great for new moms or

Photo from pickturethat.com

Photo from pickturethat.com

sorority pledges, they can also be wonderful transitional objects for students with disabilities. Many children with special needs struggle with separation anxiety. Sometimes, a special object from home can help to soothe this worry by allowing children to have a tangible reminder of their parent or caregiver. These bracelets could work very well for this purpose.

These bracelets could also be used as a visual schedule or a reminder of expectations. For example, the bracelet might show three or four pictures of the child working on various activities and showing appropriate behavior. Teachers and parents can review the expectations by showing the child each of the pictures, and they can redirect a child’s off-task behavior unobtrusively by simply tapping or pointing to the bracelet. Any image can be uploaded to create these bracelets; if a child responds better to words or icons, those can be uploaded as well, as long as they are in a jpeg, png or gif format.

Some things to consider…
These bracelets currently come in only one size, so they may be large for younger children. As a result, they may need to be worn higher on the arm or over a sleeve. Obviously, students with sensory sensitivities may not like the feeling of the bracelet on their skin, and, for some children, the bracelet might become more of a distraction than a comfort. As with any tool, it will be important to explicitly teach children how to use the bracelet appropriately.

Finally, any tool, including these bracelets, can be stigmatizing. To avoid this, teachers and volunteers…and students themselves…should be ready for questions from typically developing peers. When a child asks, “How come Jacob wears that bracelet?” a teacher can respond, “That helps him remember what we do in our class. We all have our own ways to remember the rules. What helps you remember?” Remaining neutral and matter-of-fact helps students recognize that they have more in common than they might realize!

For more information on creating and ordering bracelets, please visit the Pickture That website.

Please note: this is not a paid endorsement…just a “hey look at that!” from me to you. 🙂