Make Cleaning Up Fun for Young Children
Imagine toy soldiers marching all by themselves into the toy box. Or clothes that fold themselves at the snap of your fingers. Any parent who’s seen the Disney classic, Mary Poppins, might desire this magical ability to clean up the room.
The Banks children certainly knew how to make a mess of the nursery. And, if truth be told, so do my kids, and most likely yours, too. Duplos, Little People, play dishes, dollies, books, dirty socks — if a kid owns it, it’s bound to hit the floor in chaos sooner or later. Family life, while full of joy, is also full of messes.
However, there is hope. Mary Poppins says, “In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun. Find the fun, and — snap — the job’s a game.” If parents can make cleaning easier for kids, and even a little bit fun, they will balk less at the work that needs to be done. In addition, while learning valuable life skills and a sense of responsibility, children will become active participants in the everyday workings of the household.
I can’t teach you that finger-snapping thing, but here are some pick-up tricks to make cleaning easier and a little more fun.
Divide and conquer
A room full of toys can look daunting to a little person, especially when the toys are strewn about the floor haphazardly. Help your child divide the task into doable parts, focusing on one type of toy, like blocks, that needs to be put away. After your child has collected the blocks and put them away, help him to narrow in on the next thing, such as books. This helps the child make sense of a big project while also providing practice for sorting and identification skills.
Consider ways to organize your home so that it allows your children to easily help with daily chores. They are more likely to be tidy when it’s easy for them. Our 2-year-old son, Judah, can help empty the dishwasher because our plastic cups, bowls and plates are in the lower cabinets, easily within his reach.
My husband built and installed a low peg rack for the kids to hang their coats on. Before he’d even completed the project, someone had hung up a coat.
Store each kind of toy in a separate clear plastic box with a lid. The boxes stack nicely and are easily identifiable. Limiting your children to playing with one box at a time also helps head off messes. Set your kids up for success.
Since my husband is a contractor, we are big on tools at our house. Tools are anything to help you do your job better. Provide your little helpers with tools that enable them to truly help you. A dishpan is great for collecting messy dishes after dinner. Teach your child to wipe the table and to use a dustpan to collect the crumbs as they fall off the edge.
If the budget allows, purchase a rechargeable, cordless sweeper. You push it like a vacuum, but its round brush actually sweeps dirt, dust and crumbs into an inner compartment. Our kids often fight over who gets to use it because it’s so much fun to use. This is one of Judah’s favorite tools, and he can even empty it himself.
Make it a game
As my favorite nanny says, “A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.” While there are many instances in life when chores are chores and you just have to do them, there’s no reason we can’t endeavor to show our kids that work can be fun.
One cleaning game our boys like is Freeze Cleaning. I set the stereo with fun, loud music, and the kids begin to clean. I randomly stop the music and they have to freeze in position. The positions they end up in are sometimes hilarious (as well as often choreographed). They enjoy the process of setting the room to rights.
Calvary, our 4-year-old, loves to play I Spy, which we’ve turned into another cleaning game. Mama says, “I spy three books,” and he searches the room for the books that are out of place and puts them away. After a recent game when I had “spied” everything there was to pick up in the living room, he requested to go clean another room — proof that making it fun makes kids want to clean.
Consider your own household, family and lifestyle. With a little imagination, you can discover fun ways to teach your kids to bring a little order to their chaos. No, they won’t do it as nicely as you would. Instead, they will learn a good work ethic and you will receive valuable help. You won’t always be tripping on Little People and stuffed animals. Makeup, car keys and greasy auto parts are just around the corner.
Jessica Fisher is a wife, freelance writer and mother of six young children.