A while ago, I wrote a post about how to get children to pick up their toys at the end of the day.
I received some comments about how I was expecting a lot from my two and a half year old son to clean up after himself.
But, I don’t think it was too much. By two and a half, he has already been practicing cleaning up for a year or more.
I fully believe that as soon as a child is physically and developmentally capable of cleaning, then there is no reason why he should be expected to participate in the cleaning process.
As soon as my boys were able to walk and follow simple, one-step directions, I started teaching them to put away their toys. That means that my boys were around 14-16 months old when they started helping.
At this age, I did not demand that they clean up everything on their own, but it was a fun game we did at the end of the day.
It takes patience, because it’s a teaching process. There are a few important things to remember when doing this.
Get their attention
Make sure that you have your child’s attention before giving directions. You don’t necessarily have to have eye contact, just check that they hear you.
Point to a specific toy on the floor nearby and ask them to pick it up. Also, point to where it should specifically go. Don’t just say, put it away. Point to where it goes and tell them to put it there.
Also, go to the toy and point directly at it. A child may not know the name of a toy, or might not be able to follow your direction if you tell them from across the room to pick it up. Go to the toy and point at it, and walk to wear it goes and point to a specific spot.
One step at a time.
Young children can only follow one step instructions. So instead of saying “pick this up and put it away”, take a break between steps.
Point to the toy and say “pick up”. Once the child has the toy, show them where it goes and say “put back”. When we put together too many directions at once, we can easily confuse a young toddler.
When a child completes the steps, make sure to give them some praise. Something like a simple “Yay!” or “good job putting it in the right spot”.
This encourages them to keep going with the clean up process.
Don’t expect perfection
Remember it’s a game and it’s about slowly beginning the process of cleaning. Don’t expect that your one year old will be able to clean up for more than a few minutes (5 or less) at a time, or clean the whole room by himself.
Now, they might really enjoy the game and want to continue playing, and that’s awesome, just don’t force it and make it a chore.
This cleaning process is more than just getting your house clean at the end of the day, it teaches children so much.
How to Follow Simple Directions
Teaching young children to pick up is a great way to practice simple directions. They learn to listen, pay attention, and follow through with requests. It’s great for their development.
By teaching children to clean so young, we are laying the foundation for future expectations we have for them.
I’m a big believer in the concept of “start as you mean to go”. I start young and make it habit. That way, I won’t have to teach a much older child how to clean, because he’ll already know how.
Children are also less likely to push boundaries about cleaning because it’s part of their routine. It’s just something that we’ve always done. It’s an expectation, and that’s just the way it’s always been.
Teaching children to clean early, you’re teaching them how to take responsibility for their things. We take care of things by treating them nicely and putting them away so that they don’t get broken and ruined.
This is a concept that will have to be reinforced throughout the years and in many different ways, but picking up helps teach responsibility.
Cleaning and having a certain place for things helps children learn how to stay organized as they grow. They learn that everything has a place.
Again, this is a skill that needs to be taught in many different ways and throughout a child’s life, but this is one tool that can reinforce the concept.
As your child grows
As my children grow, my expectations for their ability to clean also goes up.
At 2, my youngest still needs some guidance and help while cleaning, but I no longer have to go toy by toy with him. I can simply point to a pile of blocks (for example) and say “pick up”. Once he gets going, I can pretty much walk away and let him finish. He may need some reminding from time to time though.
My older son, who’s almost 5, can independently clean without my help. He knows when it’s time to clean, because it’s part of our routine, and he just does it. He may play around some, but I don’t care, as long as he’s cleaning.
It’s nice not having to fight with my children to clean every night. Because it’s been an expectation from the beginning, and it’s a part of our daily routine, cleaning up is easy.
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This does really sound like a good idea. If taught from small it becomes routine. I am definately going to try it. Thank-you
Yep, it’s all about the routine. It has worked beautifully with my two boys, I hope it works with your kids too!
Why would anyone think its ever too early to start teaching such fundamental life skills? I’ve been doing the same with my toddler and its been such a huge help keeping our apartment clean. Books don’t fly off the shelves in mass bulks, blocks don’t go flying all over the living room. Everything that is a toy is played with and put back, the rest are left on their own, meaning very little baby proofing is needed. Kids meet the expectations we set for them, no matter how low or how high.
At what points in your day do you have cleaning up in your routine? like before bed time?
We do it every day before nap time and bedtime. Sometimes, when the mess is really bad, we do a quick clean up. But usually it’s just before sleeping.
I’m in complete agreement…it’s never too early to start teaching these concepts. When I ran an in-home daycare, we had a clean up song. My barely one-year-old knew that once she heard the song, it was time to pick up the items and put them back into their boxes. She was smart enough to even put them back in the right place because we had a consistent location for all of the toys. She was amazing at helping. Even though she didn’t know that she was helping at that point, she was totally capable. If I had cleaned up everything for all of them there wouldn’t have been enough energy left in me to play with them, make their meals and teach them what they needed to know about life!
Thanks for tackling this topic, even though some people thought that your expectations were too high. I personally feel that you were right to write about it and the specifics in the plan help to make it more doable for parents.
As a grandmother, I watch my grandson 2 days a week. I am trying to teach my almost 2 year old grandson to pick up his toys before we watch Sesame Street. He absolutely refuses. I have tried games, singing and stickers. He flat out refuses . Any other suggests?
Dont overlook the Barney cleanup tune! “Clean up, Clean up, everyone all over the place… Clean up, Clean up, everyone do your share”
I can get my most younger to do essentially anything if I sing lol.