Kylie from How We Montessori, and I, have collaborated on putting together an e-booklet describing the Montessori approach to learning learning - which is essentially a child-led approach. This e-booklet is the first in a series about Montessori in the Home and written for parents who are seeking practical information written in accessible and parent-friendly English! Please visit here to purchase a copy. 

The Montessori approach to toilet learning is a gentle one, where the parent observes their child for signs of readiness, and responds accordingly by preparing the environment to facilitate independent toileting appropriate to their child's unique and individual capabilities. There is a fine line between facilitation and control though, and this is where an understanding of the fundamentals of the Montessori approach helps us to be sensitive partners in this learned skill.

Preparation of the environment to facilitate toilet learning really begins from birth. The use of cloth nappies helps the baby to feel wet when he urinates. He then learns to distinguish between the sensations of being wet and dry and this will be an important part of the toilet learning process. If you are unable/unwilling to use cloth nappies all of the time, consider using them when at home during the day. Every time your baby feels the wet sensation he will be building an understanding of toileting, which will make the job that much easier. Training pants are another option when your baby starts to walk or is unwilling to lie down for nappy changes. He can then start learning to take the dirty pants off by himself. He will need a small bench to sit on for this purpose.

So when can children be expected to exert some control over their bladder? A general rule of thumb is that when your baby can sit up unaided, her nervous system is able to control the sphincter muscles to some degree. The nerves and neural pathways have been myelinated allowing the messages between the brain and the sphincter muscles to travel quickly and smoothly. This process has usually finished by twelve months of age. Don't expect your baby to be able to control her urination immediately - she may be physically ready to do this but needs lots of time and opportunity to practice this skill and an environment that supports this. As with every aspect of your child's development, there is a sensitive period for this learning. The sensitive period for toilet learning occurs between twelve and eighteen months. By giving your attention to toileting during this period, you will find that not only is your toddler a willing and active partner, she will also acquire the skills for independent toileting much faster than at a later stage.

 Another important aspect of toileting is the location of the activities. If possible, nappy changes should take place near the toilet/potty from the start so that your baby can learn to associate these activities with the appropriate places to do them! If you are unable to have your toileting area near to your toilet, at least set up a prepared, child-appropriate area that remains constant and accessible for your baby. This will support their strong sense of order and need for things to be predictable.

A nappy changing station mounted at floor level will mean that your crawling baby can actively participate in nappy changes.

You'll need to provide a laundry basket for the dirty nappies and pants, a basket for the clean ones, a stool or chair to sit on whilst undressing and dressing (taking clothes off is easier to master than putting them on, so start with this first), and a potty or toilet seat adapter.

Night time toilet learning will require some training pants (a waterproof cover can be used at first) and a good mattress protector. Spare bedding needs to be kept close the bed to minimise disruptions to everyone's sleep in the middle of the night. Many parents find that the greatest success with night time toileting comes when it happens during the same period as the day time learning, however even if you choose to help your toddler to master day time control before trying for night time control, it is important to persevere once you have started. If things are not working, sit back and observe your child and try to modify things to better suit everyone's needs.

The key to success is preparing the environment thoroughly and thoughtfully from the start, so that all these routines are a familiar experience for your child. If you are modelling the toileting behaviours from the beginning, the transition for your child from being changed to changing themselves will be much smoother. The Montessori way is to help the child to do it for themselves, so try to consider this important aspect when choosing items and designing the toileting environment. 

Another source of information about a family's approach to toileting the Montessori way can be found here.