Tips for getting kids to clean up

Between my nesting mentality, summer cleaning and just being sick of the toys and clutter after spending so much time at home these last 4 months, cleaning has been on my mind. Below are some ideas that have helped keep toys and materials organized AND helped avoid power struggles in the process.

Offer choices

This works not only for cleaning but for most other directions as well. When we give our kids a choice, they are more likely to follow our directions. It won’t work every time but having a say is a great way to guide children into the behavior you want them to complete. The choice for cleaning I often give my kids is, “Do you want to clean up by yourself or with help?”

The key with with choices is they should be equal. It shouldn’t sound like, “Do you want to clean up or go to time out?” The choices should both accomplish the goal – having the toys cleaned up. Other options could sound like:

Do you want to clean up:

  • using a timer or no timer?
  • using one hand or two hands?
  • before we can count to 30 or 40?
  • the trucks or the blocks?
  • the markers or the stickers?

Keep it organized

It’s easier to keep areas tidy when things/toys have a space where they belong. Keener and Grace were playing with these building toys and cars and when it was time to clean up, Keener checked the label on the bin to make sure that each toy was going in its proper place. Kids tend to crave order and consistency so knowing where toys go and having a separate bin for each type of toy can be helpful.

Not all of our toys have their own bin. For more miscellaneous toys, we have bigger baskets where they are all grouped together. This is still helpful because it is clear when I am asking them to “clean up” what this means. Having some system in which toys are organized or have a “home” makes it more clear to kids what you are asking when you say, “clean up.”

Make it fun

Sometimes we throw the toys in the bin. In this picture, we put the bin on the floor and slid the toys off the table to try and get them to land in the bin. Of course, some cleaning tasks can’t be made all that fun. But when it can, try and find a way to make it more enjoyable for you and your kids.

Make cleaning visible and inviting

Things we do without even thinking such as taking out the trash or loading the dishwasher are perfect examples that model us cleaning. More often than not, our kids want to do what we are doing. Although it doesn’t always work due to time constraints or other factors, invite your kids to join you for every day tasks. Keener recently figured out how to load a new trash bag into the trash can and finds it thrilling 🙂 This is the part of Montessori that I love – the idea that kids are on task and exhibit respectful behavior when they are taking part in meaningful activities.

Have cleaning options available

I did a post on cleaning back in February in the context of managing my own stress level; I am less stressed and less likely to explode on my kids when things are kept relatively clean and organized. Therefore, I have a handheld vacuum that I leave out and expect the kids to use to help clean up messes that are made. I also just purchased a new small broom and dustpan for the kids and they love it. They can use it together with one holding the dustpan and the other sweeping the broom or by themselves. Keener wanted to take apart a box and then used the dustpan to collect all of the trash in one place before dumping into into the trash can (affiliate links).

Make use of dump trucks

Keener loves all things trucks and I use this to my advantage. He often prefers to clean up by filling up a truck or other container and then dumping that into a container where it belongs. We were cleaning up Dominos similar to these which are such a great toy (affiliate link)! The only down side, it comes with 144 pieces which means a lot to clean up! Instead of putting the pieces directly into the red tub, Keener preferred to fill two smaller containers over and over and then dump those into the red bin. Likewise, if he has a truck nearby, he will almost always want to fill it up and then dump it out wherever it goes. As long as he cleans up, the added extra steps don’t bother me!

And when all else fails, just do what Grace does and put a trash can on your head 🙂

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