Montessori philosophy sets the sensitive period for learning to use the toilet at 18 to 24 months. Paper diaper manufacturers recommend starting at age 2 or 2 ½. The advent of super absorbent paper diapers has made it more comfortable for the child to wear diapers and easier for parents to put off the process until school requires it at age 3. Children have varying learning styles and some will take longer than others to accomplish this skill. In a Montessori classroom we want to offer the child the opportunity to practice skills when the child is ready rather than when it might be more convenient for adults. If we miss the sensitive period for learning a particular skill it will come with much more difficulty later on.
At our Jeremy Ranch Campus this year we will begin a new policy of having all toddler students (1½ to 3 year olds enrolled in Leah Linebarger’s Sunflowers Class) change into cotton training pants when they come to school. This has been a traditional Montessori policy around the world for over 100 years, but one that comes with much planning, preparation and a commitment to doing the best thing for the child. The theory is that when the children feel wet they become more aware of their body’s own needs and can change their own clothing as needed. They will wear plastic pants as well so as to prevent major mishaps. Instead of keeping a supply of diapers in their cubbies we will ask parents to provide several pairs of pants plus extra clothes so that the children can change often during the morning. We will provide a bag in which the soiled clothing can be taken home and a fresh supply returned in the morning.
This will mean more laundry for all of us, but those who have implemented this policy agree that children become accustomed to using the toilet much more quickly when it is a part of the classroom curriculum and the process is made easy for them. While it may be more practical to change into disposable diapers for car rides and outings we encourage parents to carry the practice over into the home. In order to do this we suggest purchasing about two dozen pairs of training pants, plastic covers and a leak proof pail the child can easily drop the soiled pants into. A basket of fresh pants kept in the bathroom will make changes easy.
Learning to use the toilet is a skill that enables the child to be more independent, like learning to use a spoon, squeeze a sponge or blow his nose. Most children take some time to learn new skills and will need lots of practice before they are quite good at it. Prepare yourself for a long learning curve and if it happens more quickly it will be a happy surprise.
While working on the process of toilet learning, as we do when introducing any new skill, we want to set the child up for success. This will entail preparing the child’s environment so that she can easily manage things independently. It will also mean that the adults in the environment must be committed to consistency. Children should have many changes of clothes available at all times with extras kept at school and in the car. Choose simple shirts – no onesies – and elastic-waisted pants or skirts – no snaps, buckles, overalls or tights. Once the children arrive at school they will change into a shirt and underpants plus a plastic cover. Before going home they will change back into the clothing they arrived in. Be sure to choose shoes that can be easily slipped on and off – no buckles or ties. Children will be most successful if they feel they can handle changing on their own.
During this phase of development remember to keep language and attitudes positive. Use neutral realistic language such as wet, dry, dirty and clean. Respond positively when all goes well with a simple observation like, “You’ve done it, haven’t you?” rather than a bribe or reward. When accidents happen, simply ask if assistance is needed rather than scolding. Remember to keep the focus on the child’s developmental process rather than your reaction. He’ll need a little encouragement, help and lots of patience. The reward will be the knowledge that he has accomplished something great.
Duna Strachan, AMS
Soaring Wings International Montessori School
Park City, Utah USA