Suggestions for Clean-Up Time

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  • Utilize special songs or cues. Children will learn to associate that song mentally with clean up time. And then there's the Mary Poppins-thing- music and a positive attitude can make a chore seem more fun.
  • Have shelves labeled with words and pictures &/or silhouettes. This makes putting toys away self-correcting, and a skill building matching game, in which children can experience success and be self-sufficient. Your environment should 'make sense' and areas should lend themselves to appropriate use and clean up. Everything should have a logical place.
  • Assign specific tasks when necessary. Some children truly do not know how to clean up or know where to start. Many young children come home to a magically clean home and are not expected to clean their rooms. They actually need to be taught this skill. You may have to teach children to sort the manipulatives, instead of just throwing them all into the closest bin.
  • Clean up as you go throughout the day. Children should not be allowed to leave an area to go to another area without first picking up what they took out.
  • If one area of the room is consistently a nightmare at clean up time, examine the problem. An example of this would be the Homeliving Area. We often add to the environment, yet forget to take things out of it, creating an overwhelming mess at clean up time. Sometimes less is more. If only 4 children are allowed in the Homeliving Area, you don't need 10 purses or a table setting for 8.
  • Make a mental note of which children were playing in which area(s) during freeplay time. You have to love the child who, when you give your five minute transition warning, scoots quickly out of the really messy Homeliving Area! You also know that someone was playing with the blocks even though everyone insists "not me!". Quickly jot this down if you need to.
  • When a child wants to start some elaborate or complicated game or activity ten minutes before it is time to clean up, let him make the choice. Some children don't mind putting something away halfway through, and some do. Let them make an informed decision and retain having that control.
  • Working together is the focus of clean up time. You will, of course, hear the, "I didn't do it/It's not my mess" argument. Acknowledge that fact, talk about being a team and working together. Thank that child for helping, even though it wasn't his/her mess. And there is always the natural and logical consequence of "The sooner our room is clean, the sooner we can ____." Use the next activity as a motivator.
  • Start cleaning up some areas sooner. If you can see an area is going to be difficult or time consuming to clean up, get a head start on it.
  • Don't be locked into everything having to be cleaned up daily. If your children build an elaborate block structure they want to show their parents, consider the possibility of saving it. They can then expand upon it over the next few days.
  • Only certain areas of the room should be open at the beginning and end of the day for manageability purposes. It is really not fair to that 6:00 pm child to have to clean up the entire Block Area because all of the other children have left for the day.
  • Ask parents to help and to reinforce you by having their children put away what they're doing before they go home. Children often want to run to their cubbie and get their coat the minute they see their parent. Politely redirect the child back, because he/she "forgot to do something." Thank the parent(s), let them know you appreciate their support with this, that you know they are tired and probably just want to get home,etc.

Games/Ideas to Make Clean-Up Time Fun

  • Beat the Clock" - use an egg timer, kitchen timer, the clock, etc.
  • "I Spy" (naming overlooked items, having children figure out what they are)
  • Assign different colors of items to each child to pick up
  • Have each child pick up 10 items (or however many)
  • "Surprising" the Teacher that is coming back into the room
  • Assign cleaning buddies or create "teams"
  • A "contest" as to which area or team can be done first
  • "I need my best puzzle-doer! Who is really good at puzzles?!"
  • "Who knows where this goes?" (appeal to their sense of competency)
  • Be funny - "Does it go here?" (naming an obviously silly place)
  • Nominate a daily cleaning "Inspector" or "Inspection Committee"
  • "I'm hungry for..." Have children put things back in bin (that you hold) pretending and naming a food that they would like to eat. Involve them.
  • Reward teamwork. A marble goes into a jar each time children work together without being asked, to earn a special treat or activity
  • Puppets talking to, giving directives, and encouraging children to clean up
  • A round of applause when the room is clean. Yeah!!!!!
  • Positive reinforcement, praise, and enthusiasm work wonders!!

Skills Children Learn From Clean-Up

  • Organization - Teamwork
  • Cooperation - Matching
  • Sorting - Cause and effect
  • Ownership of the room - Responsibility
  • Increased self-esteem/Pride - Appropriate expectations
  • Independence and self-help skills - Classification
  • Non-stereo-typical experiences

Copyright 2005 ~Cathy Abraham