Teaching preschoolers expectations

There are three key elements that teachers should include in the process of setting boundaries and expectations for young children…

Explain, Rehearse, and Reinforce

These are not my words but the words of K. R. Victor. According to Victor (2001):

“Once you have created the plan you must teach it to your students.
When teaching the plan, keep in mind three things: Explain, rehearse, and reinforce.
Explain, simply put, means to create a lesson plan that teaches the rules” (p.25).

Victor’s words reflect my own views of guiding young children to meet expectations only I have used a little bit different terminology.


Helping children understand expectations should be a part of the planning process in the early childhood classroom. Young children need boundaries and guidelines that are age appropriate, reasonable, flexible, and understandable. Guidelines and boundaries are based on teacher expectations as well. In order for children to understand teacher expectations, the teacher needs to include time for teaching expectations in the planning process.

Even for the youngest preschooler, there can be an assumption that the child should already know better. For example, when a preschooler throws a napkin on the floor rather than in the trash, an adult might think that this child just doesn’t care or isn’t a good listener. Instead throwing the napkin in the trash needs to be looked as an expectation to be learned.

It is important to get into the practice of explaining expectations. Children need to be taught what is expected in simple, meaningful, and understandable terms. Just as we plan our lessons to teach the ABC’s or 123″s, we need to devise a plan for teaching expectations rather than just assuming the children should get the idea.

For example: I once had a group of children who would not lay on their cot without kicking their feet in the air. This got to be something that was funny to them and going around cot to cot was simply not effective. As soon as I got one set of feet out of the air, another set of feet popped up. It was like playing the gopher game!

So I decided to plan a lesson on laying down on the cot.  My assistant and I took out a kid’s cot and while my assistant gave me simple directions, I laid down on the cot and put my feet down. When my assistant would turn away – I dramatically kicked my feet up in the air. All the children laughed and then my assistant turned around and acted all surprised. She then explained to me why it was very important to keep my feet down and told me how she would be so proud of me if I could remember this rule.  So when she turned her back again, I  snuggled in with a blanket and bear and went to sleep. My assistant turned around again and gave me huge props for being such a big helper and good listener.  The children loved this little play:)

After explaining an expectation to the child, the next step in the process is to rehearse the expectation. The child or children must then practice what was just explained.

For example: The teacher explains how to throw a napkin in the trash; then demonstrates how to throw a napkin in the trash; then lets the child take a turn throwing the napkin in the trash.  This allow the teacher to evaluate the child’s understanding of the expectation.

In the cot example above, my assistant and I had each of the children come and show us how to lay down on the cot all snuggly. We made a huge deal out of everyone as they eagerly showed us they understood the expectation.

Once an expectation has been explained and rehearsed, now the expectation can be reinforced. To reinforce an expectation, the teacher can…

Remind the child: “Don’t forget to throw that napkin in the trash can!”
Redirect the child: “Should we put the napkin in the trash can or just leave it on the floor?”
Praise the child: “I noticed you threw the napkin in the trash can all by yourself! That was awesome!”

In the cot example, we carried our message into naptime through a positive and praiseworthy approach. The children found it more appealing to show us how they could keep those legs down. We reinforced the positive results by stating over and over, “you look so peaceful and cuddly on your cot” or “I am so proud of how you remember exactly what to do.


Back to Planning
When you see that an expectation is just not being met then this is sign to start back at the planning stage.

Perhaps time has gone by and the expectation has not been reinforced effectively or perhaps the child just wasn’t developmentally ready to grasp the expectation. It could be that the expectation was simply not age appropriate. Regardless of the reason, when a child is not demonstrating an understanding of an expectation, then it is time to start the process all over again: Explain, Rehearse, Reinforce!

Victor, K. R. (2001) Identifying effective behavior management in the early childhood classroom. B.R.E. Practical Bible College.

ayn colsh says

  1. APRIL 6, 2010 AT 1:39 PM

    Great post! It’s so important for kids to know what is expected of them. I’ve seen classes where the children don’t have clear expectations and it compounds behavior problems. I’ve found that after explaining the expectations a few times, my friends will remind others and I don’t have to do it as often, plus the friends like to play the “teacher” role !

  2. Centers and Circle Time says

    APRIL 7, 2010 AT 10:18 PM

    I love how easy and simple this is how easy it is to forget. This would not just be good material for a staff meeting but a wonderful resource to send home to parents as well. Thanks a job well done.

  3. Colin Wee says

    APRIL 8, 2010 AT 2:16 AM

    Reinforcement in the Montessori system can be done through a multitude of different ways and media. For instance, math can be reinforced through coloring, working on beads, cutout shapes, and sorting. Reinforcement through story is another very powerful concept that stays with a child for a very long time … and which can be digested


Potty Training basics

 Guide to Potty Training


Potty training, like many other challenges on the road to parenting success, can seem like a very daunting process. This doesn’t need to be the case and with the right approach, you’ll have bots on pots before you know it. There are a number of tried and tested methods when it comes to tackling the issue of toilet training, the most important element in all of them is to remain calm and consistent in your approach.

Timing is key, if your child is ready it will make the task a lot easier than if you were to try and force the issue too early. All children develop at their own pace and while one child may be dry before they’re a year and a half old, the next may be three years old or more. For the majority of children, parents start to address potty training between the ages of two and three. If your child is starting to show signs that he or she is ready, then you can build on this using positive encouragement, allowing them to take things one step at a time with your guidance.

Many parents report that one day, their child ‘just did it’ and things move swiftly on from there. It only takes one or two successful attempts and your child will be eager to replicate the feelings of self-confidence gained through your praise and delight at their achievement.

getting ready

Once your child has started to show an interest in going to the toilet, they may start to tell you when they’ve got a wet or dirty nappy, perhaps they’re starting to show signs of being uncomfortable in a nappy once it’s been used or just in general. As soon as you start to notice that your child is showing an interest, encourage them by introducing the potty and perhaps explaining to your child that when you go to the toilet, they could do so too, go through the steps, explaining to your child what you’re doing, how to wash hands, flush the toilet and so on.

If you have not already bought a potty or training seat, you can involve your child in choosing the potty and then explain its use, using toys or dolls if your child is not eager to try it out at first. Select a potty that is suitable for your child’s size and build, some children may need a larger or smaller potty depending on their physique.

Follow the ten step process outlined below and you’ll soon be well on your way to potty training success

step 1

Before your child even starts to show an interest in potty training, you may wish to discuss it openly and talk about your child’s nappies, distinguishing between wet and dirty nappies and that one day, they will be able to use the toilet like a big girl or boy and they will no longer need to have their nappies changed! By raising awareness early on, you are establishing the idea of using the potty. You could introduce some potty training story books that you could read to your child in the lead up to the start of potty training. Involve their favourite toys too, this will help to promote their willingness to do it themselves.

step 2

Follow your child’s lead. As soon as they start to show an interest in using the potty, make sure that you allow them to do so. If your child is able to follow simple instructions and shows a keen interest in his bowel and bladder movements, you can quite confidently start the process. Keep in mind that your child will move along at his or her own pace, your job is to continue to promote the use of the potty, the ritual of hand-washing and drying, getting dressed again and flushing the toilet. The rest will follow easily.

step 3

Structure. Start introducing the use of the potty at certain key times of the day. First thing in the morning when your child wakes up, again before or after meal times, before bath time and again before bed. This consistent, daily approach will help to teach your child about using the potty at appropriate times but ensure that you also ask your child throughout the day whether or not he or she needs to use the potty so that you can avoid accidents in the early training stage.

step 4

Be prepared. If you have a larger home with more than one toilet or perhaps you feel it would take too long initially to get to the bathroom if your child suddenly had the urge to go, you may wish to dot a few potties around the house to ensure that you are prepared in the early stages and so that your child has options depending on where they’re located in the home. If going out, it can be useful to have a portable potty or potty that you are happy to take out with you and keep in a bag for use in public toilets or where ever you need to use it.

step 5

Timing. Although your child will indicate their readiness to potty train, experts advise that you should not attempt to start potty training during difficult or transitional phases. This could include taking family holidays, moving house, having visitors to stay, starting nursery or when your child is unwell. Wait for a reasonable period, allow your child to adjust back to normal life and start when you’re all ready and able to commit your time and attention to the issue. Incorporate the potty training into your child’s existing routine as far as possible, this will allow for minimal disruption and a more relaxed approach. You may also wish to consider whether your child can get to the potty at night if you wish them to be dry continuously. If your child is in a cot, you may wish to wait or alternatively, use night nappies until your child has moved to a bed that he or she can climb in and out of easily.

step 6

Routine. As discussed above, using your child’s existing routine as a basis for the timings of going to the potty, will help to make the whole process more relaxed and easier to get to grips with. Before trips out of the house, naps or bedtime, ensure that your child has the opportunity to use the potty, whether or not they actually do anything while sitting there. You may decide to ask your child every hour and a half to two hours whether or not they need the potty, keep it consistent and don’t get angry or rush your child during the training process as this can create setbacks.

step 7

Show your child how it’s done. Encourage your child to remove their own trousers, shorts or skirts to promote independence and explain to your child that they’ll need to sit on the potty for a few minutes, longer if they need to have a bowel movement. You may wish to sing songs, tell or read a story, discuss topical issues or simply enjoy each other’s company. Distraction can be a great tool when you have to wait so think of some fun and interesting quiet activities that you can do with your child while you sit and wait together!

REMEMBER: Your child may seem ready but they will always do things at their own pace. Pushing your child too hard can result in more ‘accidents’ down the line. Slow and steady wins the race.

step 8

Don’t forget hygiene. It is just as important to teach your child about good bathroom hygiene as it is for them to master the skills of using the potty. You could make the process more fun by perhaps giving your child his or her own hand towel, buy some fun hand soap and a little step so that they can reach up to the taps and do as much of the hand washing process as possible, on their own. This will help to build their self-confidence as well as teaching them the importance of bathroom hygiene. Don’t forget to teach your child about flushing the toilet (if using a potty, tip the contents into the toilet) but still involve your child in the flushing process to reinforce the steps. Equally, boys and girls should be taught about wiping from front to back to avoid possible infection and to ensure that they throw their toilet paper or wipes into the right place. Remember to praise your child after each step is completed.

step 9

Be patient. Some children appear to have potty trained in a day or over a weekend. Parents happily go on their way expecting their child to have mastered their new skill to the full only to be disappointed when their child wets the bed or has an ‘accident’ at home or while out and about. Again, this goes back to whether or not your child is ready and to allowing them to adjust to using the potty or toilet at their own pace. Just because your child has used the potty successfully on three or four occasions does not mean that you’re home and dry! Continue to ask your child if they need to use the potty, be patient and never get angry if they have an accident or don’t use the potty after sitting for a while. Some children regress and that is OK. They will do it at their own pace but they will do it properly eventually.

step 10

Reward. Using praise and reward can have a huge impact on your child’s success. By using a star chart or reward system that your child can identify with, you are offering them something in return for their efforts. A jelly-bean or a sticker can be just the thing to get your little one interested in the idea of potty training. Praise your child regardless of whether they used the potty or not while sitting there, this helps them to feel good about the idea of using the potty and in no time, they will be tell you when they need to go!


However carefully researched the material in this information guide might be, it is not possible to guarantee its accuracy or completeness. The author and distributor therefore accept no liability for any inaccuracies or any loss or damage arising from the use of or reliance on details obtained from this information guide. Please ensure that you check the current government guidelines and requirements relating to the information shared within this guide.



“Many adults have excellent academics yet they do not have self efficacy, do not cultivate healthy relationships, cannot make decisions, and do not have the courage to take risks. They exist but they do not live. Our adult lives are directly linked to our early childhood experiences. We have a chance to develop children who will truly live not just exist.” — Dr. Judy Hurt


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