Toys strewn all over a room

Some rights reserved by Dean Terry via Flickr

Getting kids to clean up their toys is one of those never-ending battles all parents have to deal with. Toys end up in the most random places, too: cabinets, closets, under the couch, refrigerators…the toilet (I know, gross, but true. I’ve even found crayons there!). Well, I’m here to tell you something very important: if you don’t teach your children how to clean up their toys, they will never learn.

Let’s be honest, how many of us cleaned up our toys as kids? As an adult, I’m obsessive about cleaning, but growing up I remember many times where I was in trouble for not cleaning my room, the bathroom, doing my own laundry, etc; but, no one really ever made me clean up my stuff. I knew my grandmother would clean whatever she was complaining about eventually.

The common excuse I hear from parents is: “Oh, Susie is still too little to clean up by herself. She’s only 3.” Wait, what? Right there that parent has already started creating a world for their child where it is perfectly acceptable to have mommy, daddy, grandma, the nanny, etc., clean up their toys for them.

What age is appropriate for a child to clean up their toys? Children over a year old are old enough to learn about picking up their toys.

Here are some guidelines in making clean-up time successful:

  1. Create an organized space for your child. If kids know exactly where their toys go, they will be more apt to put them away. Your child might not be able to read the labels on the toy buckets, but if the left bucket always has cars in it, they will understand that cars always go in the left bucket. If everything has a home, the room will be easier for kids to keep organized. It also helps to put picture and word labels onto the toy containers to promote reading. This will show children the correlation between the word and the picture, helping them to learn the word quicker.
  2. Be consistent. Pick up toys after every transition. Your kids will start to understand that this needs to be done before they can start something else. If you are constantly incorporating cleaning into your child’s day from an early age (you can start at any age, just be consistent after starting new routines), they will view the action as normal.
  3. Make it fun. Cleaning doesn’t have to be an annoying chore. Do it with your child to show them that everyone cleans up. Sing songs while you are cleaning up or make it a game. Ex: “Who can get the most red blocks?” “I spy with my little eye a Lightening MacQueen car (try and get your child to search for it).” Or “Let’s see how fast we can clean the books, I will time you (for older kids you can have them try and beat their last cleaning record).”

One more word of advice: Children easily get over whelmed. Try giving them one little task at a time rather than asking them to go clean the whole room. Happy Cleaning!

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