Whether you are a parent of one child or four or a preschool teacher of 12, getting children to clean up after themselves seems to be an ongoing struggle. It is an important step to teach children about accepting responsibility for their actions; however, taking baby steps are the keys to success. Responsibilities need to be age and ability specific. The first mistake adults make is to assume that the child can visualize how to clean up a space to your specification. Two things limit the effective completion of the request.
First a child needs to be taught to clean up. Begin when the child is a toddler. Teaching the child to put the toys back in their place when they are 2 will help the children understand that each item has a place. This takes effort from both the child and the adult. Rather than asking a young child to pick up their toys, ask them to pick up one item at a time. For example, as you sit with the child you could say, “ Pick up the cars and I will pick up the blocks”. This approach can help the child not become overwhelmed when all the toys they own are all over the floor. Having the adult close by helps the child feel secure and sends the message that the adults believe they can accomplish the task and will be available it they are needed. As the child becomes more proficient, you can move further away and help when the child becomes overwhelmed. It is important to celebrate a job well done.
Secondly, assuming that a child will remember what a clean space looks like from your perspective is not realistic even if you just reviewed it yesterday. Children forget. They also can’t find any reason or benefit to them for cleaning up. Let face it when they are on the floor, they are easy to find and play with. Labeling the baskets and shelves with pictures of different toys helps children know where items belong. As the children get older, provided them with a picture of a clean space lets them know what you as the adult thinks a clean space looks like. To find out more about how to help children become responsible click here.