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September 26, 2023

Montessori Potty Learning: When Should I Start?

Potty learning can feel like this huge undertaking. A dreaded process of mess and rules and misses. But, I think we need to change our outlook on potty learning. Just like anything else our small child is learning, we need to approach potty learning like learning. Every child will have ups and downs, hits and misses, and their own unique journey to complete the process. 

Nothing needs to be done in one day, one weekend,  or even one season. Just like learning to walk, talk, ride a bike, or any other skill your child will undertake, potty learning is the same. It is unique to them, it takes as long as it takes. It happens when it happens.

Penelope has been potty learning for several months now. She has been one of my earliest kids to do so, but not because of anything I've done - it's her path. Here, though, I want to share a few things I look for before starting the potty learning process. 

Signs to Look for to Start Potty Training or Learning

There's a pervasive saying in the Montessori community that the sensitive period for toilet learning is between 12 and 18 months old. Now, I have never seen anything in an actual Montessori text to support that (and I would love to be wrong here, so send it to me if that does exist!) I think this actually adds a lot of stress as if if you miss this window potty learning will be so much harder. 

When in fact, many kids (and their families) just aren't ready at this time to move to full time potty learning. So what signs do I look for instead of age?!  Here are a few: 

  • Solidly walking -  this indicates that the myelinization of the nerves (that process helps signals travel from the nerves to the brain) has occurred.  This is essential to being able to control bladder/bowels. 
  • Some Awareness - maybe it's a word they say when they go pee/poop (usually after the fact at first), maybe it's hiding to go, maybe it's asking for a diaper change, maybe. It doesn't have to be all the time, but they are at least casually aware that they are eliminating. 
  • Some Interest - maybe they really like to flush the toilet, maybe they follow you into the bathroom, maybe they like to take off their diaper, maybe they are trying to help wipe or touch during changes. Again, this doesn't have to be a huge thing or every single time, but just some reason to think they have an interest. 
  • Family Cooperation - You have to be ready for this process too! You have to be in a place where you're ready to change some routines and your rhythm to accommodate this process. You need to be ready to make environmental changes and take an active role in the process. 

Like I said, Penelope was ready a little earlier than I was anticipating. She started walking around 16-months, and pretty quickly after than developed a word for "potty."  The funny thing is that when she would say this word, she would follow up by actually going. Her physical readiness just hit at the same time as the interest. Her awareness came earlier before she could walk. 

Problem was that I wasn't ready. It was summer, I had all my kids home and adding potty learning was just too overwhelming to think about. So I kept it causal and light, until I met all those signs - including my own readiness. And, even though she's over 18-months-old now, she still has just as much interest and awareness, and is happily undertaking the process now that I'm more ready. 


There's no perfect time to start potty learning. You'll need to balance these signs to find the time that works best for your child and for your family. That's real life Montessori parenting.  

Unravel the fascinating process of potty learning! Discover the integral role of patience, recognizing early signs, and personal readiness in successful potty training.

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