Every parent knows the struggle of cleaning up toys. Either you’re spending half of your day doing it, or you’re struggling with making your kids clean up after themselves.
Nobody wants a messy house, and nobody wants to be stepping on toys all the time. How to get kids to pick up after themselves is one of the top questions that parents ask.
Believe me, I’ve been there, as a teacher and as a parent. I’ve had my own struggles with getting kids to clean up after play time. But I’m also here to tell you that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. I’m going to give you some tips and tricks for how to get kids to clean up their toys.
Before you go hire a bulldozer to plow up your house and everything in it, take a deep breath and read on.
- When Can You Start Teaching Your Child to Put Toys Away?
- How to Get Kids to Clean Up Their Toys Without Fail After Each Play Time?
- #1 Designate A Place for Every Toy and Thing
- #2 Be A Toy Clean Up Role Model
- #3 Set Clear Playtime Rules and Expectations
- #4 Make Cleaning Up Toys A Fun Game
- #5 Break Down the Cleaning Up Into Small, Manageable Tasks
- #6 Incorporate Music Into The Cleaning Up
- #7 Give Rewards or Positive Feedback Post-Clean Up
- Toy Storage Ideas to Easily Help Your Children Cleaning Up Toys
- Toy Cleaning Up FAQs:
- Pain-free Cleanup – It’s not a Myth!
It’s never too early to start teaching your toddler cleaning up toys. Montessori teachers do this from a very young age by modeling.
At first, when your baby is very little, they won’t be able to help you, but they can watch you as you put the toys back in their spots. Soon your baby will be able to start helping, and very often little children love to help mom or dad.
No matter what your child’s age is, you can use these tips for teaching kids to clean up after playtime. With a little time and practice, cleanup time will become far less painful.
This is a Montessori method basic. In a Montessori classroom or playroom, every item has a place. Small children thrive on order, and they will love to put things back where they belong, as long as you make it easy for them.
Keep your child’s play area simple and clear of clutter. Especially when your child is small, keep only 8-10 toys out at a time to avoid massive messes.
Take some time to observe your child and see what they gravitate towards, what are their favorite toys, and put away the toys that they don’t use often. You can switch up what toys are out periodically.
Keep toys on low, open shelves rather than in a box or bin, and designate a spot for each item. When your child can see exactly where each thing goes, their love of order will kick in and they’ll be putting their toys away every time.
As I mentioned before, modeling cleanup is a key to getting your child to want to clean up. Little children’s play is work to them, and they love to do any work that you as a parent are doing.
However, this doesn’t mean you need to turn into a helicopter parent and start hovering over them from the start of playtime until clean-up time just to make sure they put away their toys properly – set an example, but give them some room to work and play on their own.
From a very early age, model cleaning up. Put toys slowly and deliberately on the shelves where they belong while your baby watches, and soon they’ll want to help.
Setting clear rules and expectations for playtime will set your child up for success. Make sure your child understands each rule clearly. Always be consistent with your rules. Don’t make too many, or it will be hard to be consistent.
Some rules and expectations may include:
- Whether your child can only play with one toy at a time, or several
- What rooms toys can be in
- Who cleans up when they’re playing with a sibling or friend
- Whether big projects and games can be left out overnight
Little children love playing games – that’s why there are so many toys on the floor! Incorporate their love of games into cleanup time to make it painless. Play games like:
- Collecting one color at a time
- How many toys can you put away before a song ends
- Who can put away the most toys in x amount of time
You can incorporate pretend cleaning toys as well, such as a toy vacuum or broom. A cleaning set for toddlers makes them feel like mommy or daddy.
If you have a giant mess to clean up, don’t expect your child to be able to do it all at once. Children have short attention spans, so a child picking up toys can get frustrated and tired easily.
If the play area is very messy, take it a few minutes at a time. Say things like, “Put away all of the blocks, and then you can have a snack.” After a short break, tackle the mess with your child again.
Music is a fun way to get children to enjoy toy clean up time. Many teachers use this method. Play or sing a song that encourages cleaning up, like the Barney “Clean Up Song”. Every time there’s something to clean up, start singing the song.
When your child has successfully put away toys, reward them with positive words or a more physical reward. Say things like, “I really liked how fast you put away the doll clothes.” Say how good the room looks with everything put away.
If your child likes charts, use one to help with cleanup time. Keep a chart somewhere in your home decorated with kids putting away toys clipart, and whenever your child finishes a task they can add it to the chart. You can have the stickers add up to a bigger reward, or just let your child enjoy putting stickers up.
It’s important that your child’s play area has good storage for all of their toys. Cleanup is easier when your child knows where each item belongs. Keep toys to a minimum, and make sure there is a spot for each item.
A great way to store toys is on open shelves, especially for younger children. You can also sort like items into smaller bins or boxes to keep things organized. Tape pictures of the items onto each bin so your child knows what belongs where.
If your child refuses to clean up their toys, one way to set clear boundaries is to put the toys in “time out”. Place the toys in a box out of reach, and say to your child that they can have the toys back when they are ready to put them away properly.
Small children love to explore, and exploring their environment is how they learn about it. One way they have of exploring is to dump things out. If your child is constantly dumping toys, it could be because they are trying to fulfill a developmental need. Some ways to combat that are:
- Need for maximum effort: toddlers need heavy work for their development. If your child is dumping a lot, try giving them heavier toys or things they can bang or hammer safely.
- Too many toys: keep your child’s toys to a minimum to avoid dumping. When there are too many things around, little children can become overwhelmed and act out by dumping.
- Give your child a proper dumping outlet. Toddlers love to dump, it’s just part of their development. Give your child something they can safely dump, such as beans in a bucket, or sand in a sandbox.
- Don’t overreact: this one is crucial. If you’re constantly overreacting when your child dumps, they find it funny and will do it again. Keep calm and help your child to return the items where they belong.
- Beat the timer. Set a timer and challenge your child to finish a designated task or section in that time.
- Give your child a small bag and tell them to collect, for example, everything that goes in the bedroom.
- Use categories. “Pick up all of the trucks first.”
- Use positive motivation: “When you are finished picking up your toys we can have lunch.”
Every child is different, and what works for one child won’t necessarily work for another. One child may love cleaning in categories, but another can’t stand it.
When it comes to kids cleaning up toys, don’t hesitate to try different things. When you find something that works, stick with it, or mix it up with a few other methods that also work.
Whatever you decide to do, just remember a few key basics: start modeling as soon as possible (even if your child is a little older modeling still works!), keep your child’s play area free of clutter, and always try (remember, I said “try”) to be positive and calm. If you make cleanup time fun, you’ll have your kids putting toys away in no time!
What are your go-to methods in asking your toddler to clean up their playtime mess? Share with us your thoughts and feedback in the comments!