Preparing to Learn—Teach Children How to Clean Up

Children appreciate cleanliness and a sense of order in their lives—but they don’t usually know how to achieve it. It is our job to teach our children how to clean up after they play and how to keep their things organized so they will be prepared to learn when they begin school.

I know a 2 ½ year-old child who has a strong sense of where things belong.  When he visits my home and sees a coaster I left out on the coffee table the evening before, he notices right away and picks it up and places it on a stack of coasters on an end table right where it belongs.  Amazing!  Most of us do not have kids like that.  In fact, many teenagers are living in rooms their parents prefer to close a door on rather than to look inside.

How do we teach children to clean up after themselves?  When children have too many toys, they often leave a path of things they have played with all through the house along with things they pulled out and did not play with.  At the end of the day the idea of cleaning up seems overwhelming to children. There is just too much stuff! What is a parent to do?

1 – Limit the amount of toys that you have in your home. Donate things that are not used.  Watch your children at play. Do they dump all of the toys out while searching for a favorite, but the other toys are not used? Depending on their age, your children may help you decide what will be donated and what they will keep.  If it is difficult to decide what to get rid of, quietly gather up everything that is not being played with.  If the toys are not missed or asked for, then donate them.  Often younger children will not be able to decide what is useful and what is not, but when those unused items are gone they do not miss them.

Toys are only useful when they are actually used—so do not keep anything that is not being used—or will not be used in the future.  If you are saving some toys for a younger child that an older one has outgrown, box them up and put them away. Get them out again when the younger child is old enough to play with them.  In the meantime, cleanup for the older child is now much easier.

2 – Limit the amount of toys and/or art supplies that can be taken out at one time.  If you organize toys into categories, it is easier for children to find what they want.  Only allow one or two bins out at a time.  Teach your children to clean up those things before they can get a new bin out.  This way, their things will stay organized. Cleanup will be easier for them when there are fewer things to pick up.

Some children do not want to pick up their toys, and they may need a little encouragement until it becomes a habit.  How do you teach children to clean up when they do not want to? You can pick up a toy and put it in the box (you are their example), and then ask your child to pick up a toy and put it away. Pretty quickly, everything is cleaned up!  If he refuses, you can take his hands in your hands and gently guide him into picking up each item and putting it away. This is good practice. Your child may not like this, but after a few times, he will get the idea that this is now the expected behavior. Then you can help just a little, until he is able to clean up by himself. Reward your child for cleaning up by making a chart and putting a “good job” sticker on the chart.

Get creative with your cleanup routine.  If your children enjoy watching a pre-recorded nature show or a special kids’ TV show, here’s a way to encourage quick clean up.  Tell your children they have five minutes to clean up their toys, and then they get to watch the special show. Time this so that you now have free time to go cook dinner while the kids are occupied with viewing their show. If your family does not view videos, you might have a special toy or game for use only during this time of day after the other toys are all put away.

After you have cleaned up and donated things your children no longer need, you can help your children organize their things to make playing and cleaning up easier. Learning to be organized will be of great benefit when your children begin school.  I’ll give you some ideas about how to do that in next week’s blog.

Happy cleaning up and sorting out together!