We often use the term accessibility when designing spaces for the elderly or for people with special needs. However, to guarantee effective universal design for children, it is necessary to understand and cater to their specific needs as well, especially through ergonomics, safety, lighting, colors, and some particular accessories. In this article, we will cover the most important parameters to consider when choosing dimensions and materials in public bathrooms for young children.
When it comes to a residential renovation, only small adaptations are necessary for children to have the autonomy to use the toilet and sink safely. A stool and a toilet seat cover, attached to the toilet bowl, are effective short-term interventions. In the case of public bathroom projects in schools, parks, gyms, or family areas in shopping centers, for example, there are other important points to consider.
Every country has unique rules and instructions regarding safety elements and dimensions to use for different types of construction. For illustrative purposes, we will use toilets for school children in Brazil as an example. Among other technical specifications, the following are recommended:
- They must be located close to the activity rooms.
- They cannot be directly next to the kitchen and/or cafeteria.
- It is suggested that for every 20 children, 1 toilet, 1 sink, and 1 shower be added.
- It is essential that the bathroom used by adults is separate from the bathroom for children. The bathroom can be attached to the locker room area and can be installed near administrative areas, service areas, or a covered patio.
- For stalls, it is preferable to opt for individual doors without keys or locks. In these cases, use latches that are easy to open from the outside, which can indicate whether the cab is free or occupied.
- The stall partitions should be open at the top and bottom and should measure approximately 150 centimeters in length.
One of the most important elements to ensure safety is the floor, which must be non-slip and waterproof. All the coatings must be easy to clean and maintain, even on partition walls that are only 1.50 meters in height. For the safety of the children, it is essential to check the edge of the floor (especially near the sink area) to eliminate water accumulation. Dimensioning the number of drains correctly contributes heavily to this end.
As with any type of building at any scale, good lighting is essential. It can contribute to a feeling of security and well-being, two very important emotions for strengthening children's self-esteem in such an important period in the formation of their personality.
- Natural Lighting
A reference value for bathrooms, recommended by MEC Brazil, is to make the area of the window at least 1/8 of the total floor area. This formula can also be applied to the natural ventilation of the environment.
- Artificial Lighting
Generally, go for bulbs that are cold and intense. Diffuse lighting is the most effective method for ensuring the same level of lighting and comfort at any time of the day (or night). Including enough lightbulbs to light every stall is another key consideration in designing children's bathrooms. Check out some tips for lighting indoor spaces for kids here.
In nurseries, where there is usually a mixture of ages, designers might consider installing sinks at different levels, adapting them to the different heights of the children who will use them.
The sink surface should be installed approximately 40 centimeters from the floor. Additionally, the shape of the faucet is a primary consideration, as the faucet handle or lever must be easy to use for children whose motor coordination is not yet fully developed. Designers may even avoid water temperature adjustment systems so as not to add additional difficulty in this phase of learning self-care.
In children's bathrooms, whether unisex or divided by gender, toilet and urinal cups should be installed according to the guidelines of each provider, but always keeping in mind that the average height of a 3-year-old is approximately 95 centimeters.
- Bath Areas
There are three types of users in children's restrooms: infants, toddlers, and older children. Each one has different needs since they are in very specific periods of development.
- For babies, it is essential to provide areas with hot baths and taps so that caregivers can comfortably bathe them. A padded area should also be provided for dressing children and changing diapers.
- For children from 1 to 3 years old, installing raised partitions about 40 centimeters high can facilitate caregiver aid during the bath.
- For those over 4 years old (who tend to bathe themselves), the floor should be completely non-slip and, when possible, support bars should be installed within reach of the child's hands.
For children with special needs, specific toilets and showers should be offered, as well as a bath chair and a sink. The space must be dimensioned so that it is comfortable for the child and their caregivers.
Ideally, bathrooms should be a calm and relaxing environment, especially those with areas for bathing. If your project aims to convey this kind of feeling, you should try to use primarily light colors. If, on the other hand, your design seeks a stimulating environment, it is possible to innovate and take advantage of the many possibilities for colors and shapes offered by cladding for wet areas.
It is important to emphasize once again that we have used illustrative benchmarks in this article. Whenever you design equipment for collective use (children or not), we recommend consulting the specific manuals for each country and type of project.
See also an article on designing safe bathrooms for the elderly.