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How to Get Control of Your Child’s Playroom

If you googled this, you are desperate to get your kids’ play space in order. You’re probably feeling like it’s a mess 24/7, and you’re starting to ask yourself, “Why do they have so much stuff?” “Where did most of this stuff even come from?!”

I feel you! Kids are notoriously messy, gleefully bouncing from one activity to another (or in the case of my house, being forced to another activity by a jealous sibling). And who’s left to clean up this trail of literal tears? You, of course! If you’re nodding along saying, “yesss,” then you’ve come to the right place! Take another sip of wine and read on 🙂

Blog Post Image: Organized cabinet full of children's art supplies with text How to Teach Your Child to Clean Up: 3 Teacher Secrets to Getting Children to Clean Up Toys

The Problem

So, first of all, a bit about kids… a lot of times, they aren’t trying to be disobedient, they just literally don’t know what to do. You know how we say, “I don’t know what I don’t know.” Well, that’s wildly true of kids, and sometimes we forget to think about all the things they still don’t know! We can’t assume that if we say, “clean up,” they’ll read our minds and meet our expectations. I know that stings a bit to hear. “But I have shown them how to clean,” you may say. I know that’s true, otherwise you wouldn’t be frustrated! But they need scaffolding, reminding, support, coaching as they learn.

Think about how many evaluative steps are involved in cleaning: they have to take the toy, figure out a category for it in their brain, remember where they found it, and return it. That might not seem like a big deal to our adult brains, but the smaller they are, the more overwhelming this whole process can be. Keep in mind they’re doing all this while surrounded by things that are supposed to occupy them, so not only are they overwhelmed, but now they’re also distracted.

How to Solve it

If you are still with me, give yourself a pat on the back. You are willing to admit that you have a role in teaching your child how to clean up and not just blaming him/her for not doing it. YOU ARE A GOOD PARENT. Take another sip of wine and let that sink in 🙂

Happy child cleaning up playroom

Solution 1: Teach Your Child How to Clean Up

Ask yourself if you’ve ever really taught your child how to tidy up their place space? If not, congratulations! Your solution is easy! I want you to actually model how to put away toys. This sounds absolutely ridiculous, but believe me, we overestimate what children know all the time. As adults, when we need to learn how to do something, we look it up on YouTube or Instagram because we need to have it modeled for us. It’s the same for kids, they need to have it modeled so that they actually know what to do.

As a Kindergarten teacher, my whole first week of teaching is literally just modeling every minute detail of our day. “When I say walk to the table, here is how I expect that to look.” Then for laughs, I throw in a couple of what-not-to-do examples. I get to put my theatrical skills to use by pretending I didn’t hear the instructions, walking around to different parts of the room, picking up random staples from the floor (they’re always there!), etc. It takes a time investment on the front-end, but is such a time saver for the rest of the school year!

Solution 2: Evaluate the Playroom Environment

So, let’s say you have taught your child how to clean up the playroom. You’ve been explicit in your directions, not your language (although, I think we’ve alllll had a meltdown in the playroom), modeled what to do and what not to do, and no matter what, your child still will not clean up the toys when asked. At that point, you might want to evaluate the environment itself. How many toy categories are there? Is it easy for your child to figure out where each toy “lives?” Did the child know clean-up time was coming? It may be time to simplify the space.

Say this with me: “Toy rotations are my friend.” Research shows that most kids only actually play with 10 or less of their toys. So, do a toy audit and remove some of the less-used things. You’ll put the excess toys that you want to keep in a container somewhere out of the way (we keep ours in the basement). To keep it easy, I like to switch out the toys every time there’s a school break (Fall, Winter, Spring, Summer). There are a ton of benefits to using a toy rotation system, but here are the main 2: Old toys feel new again (which saves you money!) and repeated exposure to a single toy increases your child’s creativity!

Solution 3: Evaluate the Transition

When I was in grad school, I spent a whole semester doing a field research project on shortening transition times in classrooms. Y’all. If you think it’s hard to get a kid or four out the door to go to the store (I’ve taught rhyming for too long), try getting 20-30 to line up with their library books after all having been to the restroom, washing their hands, and having their shoes tied (side note: if your child cannot yet tie their shoes, please send them in Velcro. Sincerely, teachers everywhere). So long story short, transitions take a lot of work and practice. Find a way to make cleanup time consistent every day.

Young children don’t have a sense of time, so they may have been in the zone and when you come in, it seems totally unexpected to them. Here are some strategies I use for helping kids transition at home and at school: Visual timers. This is so helpful and I recommend it to every parent who brings up issues with transitions! Think about how often we as adults check our phone/watch/clock to see how much time we have to finish something. This gives kids that same opportunity!

Check this out! –> Best Timers for Helping Kids Transition

Our Nightly Cleanup Routine

At home, I use an Echo Glow that shows different lights at different times in the day. I know this sounds like a lot, but again, if you put in the time commitment at the beginning (and follow your routine consistently), it will save you time in the end!

I have our Glow set to the exact same routine every day:

  • Before 6:00 pm it glows green
  • From 6:00-6:40pm, it changes to the “campfire” setting, which signals clean up time and that dinner will happen soon.
  • At 7:40, our Echo Dot has an alarm that goes off (we call it the bedtime timer), and the Echo Glow changes to light blue.
  • At 8:00 (my children’s bedtime), the light switches to dark blue (which signals bedtime) and stays that color until 6:00 am.

So, if you’re having a hard time with getting your children to clean up, give these three strategies a try! I would suggest focusing on each one for a week, and consistently reinforcing the whole system for a month! I’d love to hear if it works for you! If not, dm me @organizedcharm or comment below to let me know, and I’ll see if I can help you get to the bottom of it!

You might also like: 5 Tips for Organizing Your Playroom

Let me know if this is something you’d like a step-by-step workshop or ebook on and I’ll make it happen!!

Kirsten 🙂

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