Potty Training in Montessori Toddler Classrooms

One of the biggest challenges parents have with Toddlers is teaching them to use the toilet. Some children take to it right away, others are still working on it when they arrive in preschool. No matter where your child is on the spectrum, the Montessori curriculum for Toddlers is heavily geared towards independent toileting.

This is a team effort between the child, the Montessori Toddler Guide, and the parents, so don’t feel overwhelmed by the process. The guides at White Bear Montessori are going to show you the Montessori method of toilet learning, which is based on the way our grandmothers taught it before disposable diapers were ever invented.

Important note: Montessori calls potty training "toilet learning" because of our commitment to using the correct language from the start. It's called learning because in case you haven't noticed, we can't "train" a Toddler. Children have to learn how to do it.

How does toilet learning work in a Montessori classroom?

On the first day at WBMS, toddlers are shown the cotton underwear that they’ll wear at school. 

That’s right— every child wears underwear, regardless of where they are on the toilet learning spectrum. Toileting is embedded in the Toddler curriculum because Dr. Montessori observed that toileting works best when it begins at birth, so that children feel the wetness from a very early age.

In the beginning, toddlers might arrive at school in a diaper and leave with a large bag of soiled clothing. I know, this sounds awful. I will admit that it took a couple of weeks to get used to this, but the children adjusted to it right away.

It is a commitment for everyone—the child, the Guide and the family—but it’s one that pays off as the child gains confidence and control.

In the classroom, there is an ongoing cycle of checking in with the child, assisting them with the toilet or changing them into dry clothes if needed. There are a few important things parents can do to make their child’s school days go smoothly:

  • Provide enough training pants or vinyl covers for the day.

  • Send your child in clothing that is loose fitting and doesn’t have buttons or snaps (this includes onesies). Remember that we are teaching them to be independent and want to give them the best opportunity to be successful.

  • Don’t send your child in clothes that are otherwise impractical. The Montessori learning environment means that they can (and probably will!) end up with paint, dirt and food on their clothes, so save fancy or sentimental clothing for non-school days.

There is one exception to the underwear rule in the Toddler classroom: children wear diapers during nap time, because sleep is the most important aspect of their life at this stage. When this same philosophy is followed at home, as well as school, you will have them trained in much less time.

Montessori Potty Training at Home

Families who are completely committed to toilet learning will help their child to avoid the confusion caused by going back and forth between diapers and underwear. While the amount of time it takes to toilet train depends on the child, the reinforcement of Montessori toileting concepts at home is a big factor in your child’s toileting success.

Trust me on this point. With my first child, I resisted putting him in underwear because we always seemed to be somewhere that was inconvenient to have an accident. This went on for some time and I missed the best window of opportunity. Needless to say, he wasn’t fully trained by the time he was finished with the Toddler program.

When my daughter came along a couple of years later, I was determined to follow our Guide’s suggestions. We used underwear that I lined with waterproof material (I got this at our local craft store and just sewed a big square onto the underwear.) She was going to be toilet trained by Christmas. (Ha!) She wasn’t exactly fully trained by then but she sure was close… and definitely an independent toileter by the time the school year was finished.

I remember taking a picture of myself in the diaper aisle at Sam’s Club the first time I went shopping and DIDN’T have to purchase pull-ups. It felt like I should celebrate with champagne. Or maybe chocolate. 

Don’t let the idea of toilet learning your child at home overwhelm you. I say this from the bottom of my heart. You will be so happy you taught them independence when they are older.

Keep it simple, and follow these tips:

  • Make it fun for your child. Not only does this make it more likely that they will use the toilet, but it makes it easier on you.

  • Don’t use rewards. We want this to be a simple process and we don’t want to give rewards for something that should be natural. 

  • Get as many potty chairs as you need. Purchase one for each bathroom in your house if that will help you and your child be more successful. You can frequently find them at your local dollar store.

  • Apply natural consequences. For example, don’t force your child to sit on the toilet for ten minutes, but, when needed, do tell them that they need to freshen up before they can continue other work they love.

  • Know that your child will learn and adapt. Remember that your job as the parent is to set their boundaries. If you allow them to try, they will learn.

  • If they have made progress on their toilet learning journey and something happens that causes them to revert, stay calm (even though you may want to scream inside). They didn’t forget how to use the toilet, and they don’t need you to do anything other than return to your normal routine. (This was my biggest problem. When I stuck to the routine, all was good. When I didn’t, it was baaaaad. )

Keep in mind that, for your toddler, using the toilet is about independence—and fostering independence is worth a little (or even a lot) of extra laundry. Now that my children are 5 and 8 years old, their independence shows in areas that make my heart swell with joy. It’s natural for them at this point because we started so early.

I’m grateful for the opportunity to raise my children with the help of our guides at White Bear Montessori. There were many times when I leaned on them for advice when I barely had a grip on my sanity.

If you’re wondering how a Montessori classroom would benefit your child, experience it for yourself! Contact us to set up a tour of our Toddler classroom.

Danielle Cloe