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How to Teach Kids to Help “Clean Up”

Child DevelopmentParent Resources

8th December 2021

It is time to clean up! Picking up after crafts, playing, and snacks do not always have to be a perilous request. As caregivers, it can be easy to slip into the routine of cleaning up or committing to chores in the wake of a child’s day-to-day activity. But teaching kids how to take care of their surroundings can go above and beyond simple clean-up. They can find a sense of fulfillment, community, and independence that transcends the chore list. Here’s how to teach kids to clean up.

Break It Down

San Francisco child care centers often use this tactic. Just telling a child to “clean up” can be vague. In these early stages, kids are honed in. They want to know why things are the way they are, why birds sound different from dogs, why the sky is blue one day and grey another day. So, when it’s time to clean up, “Let’s start with our dolls” can ring much differently than “clean up this mess”. You are taking the task of cleaning up and breaking it into manageable parts. Not only does the task seem less daunting, but it can also teach your little one time management and prioritization.

Every Picture Tells a Story

It is all well and good to have different containers for different toys, clothes, or the handfuls of random things children can come home with from the playground. Cutting out pictures from a catalog or magazine to represent what goes into those containers is another story. This is also perfect for pre-readers that are starting to relate images with physical items. You can even make picking out the pictures or stickers a fun activity for you and your young one to do together!

Explore the Space

Now, you have probably already explained how leaving items out could trip or hurt someone, but now it’s time to step back and let your child clean. Just because an item is not put away “just so” does not mean there’s no method at work here. Your child is learning how to value and treat their space, as well as the items within it. So, maybe the doll wound up in the craft box, but going in behind your child after they clean their space can send the message that it just was not cleaned well enough. This can ultimately discourage them. If you are concerned about how your child is cleaning or why: ask! Just as you explained your method to them, they are more than excited to share their world with yours.

These are only a few examples of teaching kids the “cleaning up” facts of life. It may take practice and it may take time, but showing your child that they can have a world all to themselves turns a chore into a gift.

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