it's just a part of life. i don't like doing it. and i'm sure leo doesn't like doing it, either. if i need strategies to keep our home neat, why shouldn't he? cleaning up doesn't need to be a burden all the time. there are ways that we try to keep it light, habitual, and just a part of our day. so then, at the end of the day, i'm not the one putting away a ton of little cars and stepping on many along the way.
here are some of the things we do in order to keep all the toys tidy and keep leo involved in the process...
- change our perspective on "cleaning up": instead of just declaring "alright, it's time to clean up!" we work it into our play as best we can. when the whole basket of cars is spilled on the ground, the basket becomes the parking garage, and all the cars have to drive in to park. when the blocks are sprawled all over the floor, we become front loaders, and have to load them up to put them back into the basket that has become a dump truck. the pile of books on the couch? they become the bricks to build the little pig's house in the bookshelf. by making the clean up just another step in the play process, it doesn't even feel like cleaning up!
- let leo be the one to put the last thing away: when the amount of things that are out are just a little beyond what he's capable of cleaning up on his own, i'll give some help. (i often want help when i'm cleaning, so why not help him, as well?). however, by having the last few things be leo's responsibility, it allows him a sense of accomplishment, which can feel very intrinsically rewarding.
- don't have too many toys out at once: this sounds obvious, but is so easy to let slip. especially when i'm doing my own thing, and he's engrossed in play. but every so often, if i look over and there are things not being used, before he takes anything else out, i'll remind him to put some of the other things away first.
- keep his play area simple: we have some nice little cubby-like shelves from ikea, and only keep one toy (or toy set) in each cubby. it makes it easier to clean up, and is easy on the eyes, as well. considering leo's play area is also part of our dining area, it's important to me that it doesn't look too chaotic. i always appreciate how well this works when he has friends over, and without me even explaining, they can put things away where they belong.
- having just a few books: this goes right along with the last point made. it's so easy for the books to pile up! we keep just a few out, and have a separate basket for any library books we've borrowed. every few weeks, i'll rotate the books from what we have stored in the garage... i usually keep them theme related (by season, holiday, etc.) except for a few favorites here and there. this not only keeps the area neat, but keeps leo interested in what books are out at the time. (check out the tutorial on the cool pallet bookshelf here!)
- being open and honest: just because we have strategies to keep things clean, doesn't mean that things always stay clean. it also doesn't mean that leo is perfectly compliant with clean up. so i remind him, if toys are on the ground, they can get broken. someone can get hurt. we might not be able to find them the next time we want to play. and even, if we can't clean things up, then we probably shouldn't play with so many toys. sometimes we do put toys away in the garage when it starts to get too overwhelming, and i think he understands why.
- respect his play time and space: if he is in the middle of doing something, i have to respect that. it might just seem like play to us, but for him, it's a very valuable part of his day... and development! if he tells me "not yet" or "one more time", i can respect that. often, i think parents assume they are being manipulated... but if we can just look at it as respecting our child's words, it becomes so much understandable. if i respect leo's words, in turn, he can learn to respect mine, as well.
- give a warning: if we don't have the time to make the clean up process into play, i at least give him a heads up. a concrete heads up. by using timed warnings like "one more minute", he really doesn't know what that means. but if i say, "draw two more circles," or "drive the car around the track one more time," then he understands what i'm saying.
any other creative ways to get your children to help in the clean up process?