Potty Training the Montessori Way

Does potty training scare you to death? You are not alone! The thought of trying to get your busy toddler to sit still for any length of time let alone on a toilet to complete his “business” can be daunting and stressful at the very least! It’s probably a good bet that “potty training my toddler” is one of the most googled phrases around. The amount of advice and strategies can overwhelm even the most Zen parent.  It’s another sure bet that every child is different and unique, and there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to potty training.

In Montessori, we believe toilet training is based on a child’s readiness and willingness to participate and is one of the few things a child maintains complete control over. Dr. Montessori’s core belief in “follow the child” is never more evident than when faced with the process of toilet training. As daunting as it may seem, here’s how our toddler teams at Villa Montessori at Leesburg work to make potty training as smooth as possible for the child.


“To assist a child, we must provide him with an environment which will enable him to develop freely” – Maria Montessori

Potty training or toilet training: When and how does it begin?

Potty training begins with awareness and exposure. First and foremost, children need to be aware of the toilet and how to use it. Our toddler classrooms at Villa Montessori are equipped with a child-sized potty that children could use independently. We do not have step stools that children need to step on and find their balance. We want the children to focus on using the potty and getting the job done.

To get the job done, children first need to understand that using the potty is a natural process — it’s how the body functions. Simply put, the body needs to eliminate certain undigested foods for good health. Although it may seem too early to talk about body functions with a toddler, children start showing interest in toilet training around one year of age. Our teachers talk to the toddlers to make them comfortable and get them familiar with the process. They tell stories and read books for children to understand this normal process and thereby make it a positive experience.

Once the children have this awareness, the next important step is to expose them to the toilet. How can toddlers be ready for something they do not know exists? So, just like how children are exposed to walking, eating, or sleeping as soon as they are born, they need to be exposed to regularly using the toilet. They should also be provided the opportunity to practice what they have observed and learned.

Once our teachers identify that toddlers are ready for toilet training, they invite the children and offer the toilet to use when they need to. There are multiple times in a day children will be offered to use the toilet. It may be before they are ready to begin their work, before they sit for their snack, before and after they go outdoors, and before and after their nap.

What are the signs toddlers are ready?

Potty training is a milestone children need to fulfill before they can move to the Primary (ages 3-6) classroom. While the ideal age to start potty training is between 12 and 18 months, there is no magic age for toilet learning as every child is different. However, there are both physical and psychological signs of readiness that our teachers watch for. 

When our teachers observe a toddler standing quietly against the wall, or in a corner, it is almost a sure sign that they are in the process of shall we say, “evicting certain unwanted tenants.” Additionally, our team watches out for the following signs:

  • Are the toddlers showing general interest in the toilet?
  • Do their diapers stay dry for longer periods?
  • Can they push down and pull up their pants with minimal help?
  • Do they communicate when they need a diaper?
  • Are they able to regularly use the toilet with success?

Once a teacher determines a child is ready to proceed, potty training starts in earnest. Our teachers set the stage. They establish a positive tone and avoid using negative signals through facial expressions, actions, or words. So, no frowning, or making children feel dirty, or speaking negatively about bodily functions and potty in general. Instead of asking the child if they want to use the toilet (with ‘no’ being the answer most often) our teachers will say, “It’s time to use the toilet”; or “I think you need to go to the toilet.” When children have accidents – and they will, the teachers keep calm and help them change rather than embarrass them.

True to the Montessori approach, our teachers avoid rewarding a child with prizes for using the toilet.  If rewards were given, the child would start to expect one each time they have a success. Rather, the reward is the pride they feel as they grow in their self-confidence and independence. Our teachers provide opportunities for our students to be successful at using the toilet and are always encouraging never punishing.

How can parents support?

It is important for parents and teachers to be on the same page to help children be successfully potty trained. Set a time to speak with your child’s teacher to go over the JOINT plan to continue training at home. The key is to remain consistent both at home and at school, so the child is not confused.

Shop for underwear and some easy clothing for children to pull up and down. Pants with elastic waist bands and without buttons or zippers are easier for children to work with while being potty trained.

Say “No” to pull ups. Though pull ups are the easiest solution, using pull ups will hinder toilet awareness and will probably make it take longer. Pull ups are not the preferred method to teach with as they do the same thing a diaper does in not letting your child know when they have had an accident. Trust that children can be potty trained without ever using pull ups.

When children show interest in using the toilet, they can be taught to use toilet paper, flush the toilet, wash their hands and be given independence to use the bathroom. There may be setbacks and accidents along the way, but this is normal. The key is to remain calm, supportive, and consistent.  Before you know it, your child will reach this milestone and be ready to move forward to the next challenge! 

We invite you to visit our preschool in Leesburg and see for yourself how our dedicated staff work with children. Also, check out our Facebook Leesburg page for a glimpse of what the children are doing at Villa Montessori. We are excited to meet you and your child and welcome you to our wonderful community!

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