Q + A: Where do they go to the bathroom?

Have you been wondering? I know you have.  People inevitably either ask this question first, or confess later that they wanted to ask this one first. It’s funny how intriguing bathroom subjects can be.

The answer to the most common question about toddlers in forest school

But it intrigued me too, I confess.  I think it was probably one of the first three things I asked the school, and I remember getting a bit of a blank look back.  Well…not blank but rather, more disbelief that I wasn’t able to answer my own question, since it amounted to a rather simple answer.  As they’re in the forest all day, the kiddies go to the bathroom in the forest.

Now…there are a few variations here.  The first is that, as they have the building as a meeting point, there is the opportunity to use the bathroom there.  Either in the mornings before they go, or in the afternoons when they return.  In my mind, I had pictured this colossal, collective “who has to go to the bathroom?” roll call at departure time which would surely add at least 45 minutes to the routine as it tends to do at our house.  But no, they let kids figure it out themselves.  I found that rather brave.  This tends, decidedly, to NOT work at our house.

The building has a  normal bathroom, just as you would expect it, except that there is one full size bathroom and then one bathroom with two little kiddie thrones in there.   I’ve been by to do an afternoon pick up to see two tots just sitting there, doing their thing and chatting and laughing away; sometimes they’re even mixed gender.  That particular element I didn’t expect necessarily, but then again, I’m not sure it would have phased me when I was that age either…  For forest schoolers, going to the bathroom is a totally normal, if not social, thing to do – so why not take a moment to catch up?  As Taro Gomi likes to say in his book, “everybody poops”…and no one will explain that to you faster than a forest schooler.

When they’re in the forest, the possibilities are limitless – behind trees, behind bushes…Because this particular school is on the move, in a different place each day, they tend to just deal with the bathroom on the go.  When the kids are younger, they hold them up, cannonball style, but as they get older, these littles ones pop squats like pros.   The teachers carry around small plastic trash bags for when items need to be removed.  I do believe that in other forest schools more globally though, if they have a more permanent location in the woods, they might have a fixed bathroom place that’s there or that they’ve built.

Accidents definitely happen (that’s why the extra clothes in the backpack are for, amongst other things).  And for the record, you don’t need to be potty trained to attend (at least, not at our school).  Which for us, ended up helping immensely.  We arrived in Denmark when our daughter was two and a half, but with the move, then another move to our house, and then the language barrier, we were grateful for the flexibility to stay in diapers a little while longer without all that added pressure.  For those in diapers, the teachers deal with that on the go too – we just had to pack extra in her backpack for standing changes in the forest (another skill that comes in handy).

The humorous thing though that ends up happening when you’re doing training throughout all that forest school, is that the children first have a little bit of a hard time distinguishing why you can pop a squat in the woods, but not behind the tree of your local playground, or your backyard.  Or why it’s okay to write your name in the snow in the woods , but not okay to repeat that in the snow drift on your hotel balcony (true story). My daughter has always had a healthy fear of public restrooms anyway but after forest school, if there is an option for a tree, she’ll go for it every time.   It’s all green to them to them in the end.


  1. Yvonne June 24, 2015

    I never thought about it, but now that you wrote about it, that is indeed a good question.
    And I feel your girl when it comes to public bathrooms. Boy, there are some scary, filthy ones out there.


    • Right? I think it’s ultimately a better life skill to treat public bathrooms with a fair amount of suspicion 😉 A solid tree though, never disappoints!


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