Is your playroom clean? How did it get that way? Would it surprise you to know that I do not clean up our playroom? Ever. Would it surprise you more to know that at the end of the day it is always clean?
Is your house taken over with toys?
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My children, now four, learned to put their toys away at a young age. From around two, it was their job to clean up their playroom. At the end of playtime and always at the end of the day they put everything back where it belongs. There are days that they are less thrilled about this job than others, but in general, they have accepted that it is their responsibility and they usually take care of it quite quickly.
How do I make this happen? Do I just have super cooperative children? No. I followed these five simple steps to teaching my children how to clean up.
#1 Start Young
I truly believe that this is one of the biggest parenting secrets. Want your kids to do something (bus their dishes? Dress themselves? Clean up their toys?), start them young. We started practicing cleaning up together when my kids were still babies. At the beginning, I did most of it but they always helped put away a few things. Gradually they took on more and more of the job.
#2 Declutter and Limit Toys
If you end up with a floor covered in toys at the end of the day then you probably have too many toys out. You can read more about decluttering toys. Then make sure everything has its own spot and I promise clean-up will go more smoothly.
#3 Encourage them to clean up as they go
This is a good life skill. You make a mess, you clean it up. When they were toddlers I would step in and ask them to do this occasionally. For example, “I see a big mess here, why don’t we clean it up so you have some more space to play.” Now I usually just offer it as a suggestion if I can see some big messes piling up. For example, if they finish cutting at the table and head off to play with blocks, I might say “why don’t you clear off the table before you work on that so you don’t have a huge mess at dinner time.”
#4 Post-Clean Up Motivation
I am not suggesting that you bribe your child to clean up, however simply consider the motivation you are presenting when planning your day. For example, if you have playtime right before bed they are likely to fight you. Who wants to clean up so they can go to bed? If you have clean up right before dinner they will likely be more motivated to join you for dinner.
#5 The Box
We introduced the Box in the past year after a few clean up fights. I wouldn’t suggest this for children much under 4, but for preschoolers, it has worked great. The Box is simply a box that sits on top of the fridge. The logic behind the box is this: it is their job to clean up the playroom. If they do not clean up the playroom then I have to clean up the playroom. If I clean up the playroom I put anything on the floor in the box. In order to get their toys back, they have to do some of my jobs to make up for me having to spend time doing theirs. Once I had to dump most of the playroom into the box and they spent the next morning dusting and folding towels to earn their toys back. Since then only the occasional toy gets found randomly dropped somewhere and gets placed in the box.
I would love to hear your best clean-up hacks in the comments!
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Erin Buhr has a Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Education and works as a freelance writer and early childhood educator. She currently lives in Mississippi with husband and twin four year olds. You can read more by Erin on her blog, Bambini Travel, where she writes about family travel, children’s books, and preschool activities.