Tips to Encourage Your Children to Tidy Up
Updated: Feb 16
If you follow my Instagram account then it is no surprise that we do a lot of open ended independent play. What does that look like in our home? A beautiful mess. At first glace, it may seem like the playroom has completely exploded as most of the time there are a ton of little toys all over the floor. However, if you had the chance to hear the conversations happening, you would understand that the "mess" is actually well thought out and planned play - the work of children. There is usually purpose to why the toys are placed where they are, how they problem solved to stack certain items, and why there are groups of toys in different areas. Open ended, small world, independent play is beautiful depending on your perspective.
The past couple of weeks I've received quite a few questions such as, "who tidies that up after?", "how do you manage to keep the room tidy?", "how do you get your kids to tidy up?". These are all great questions and I'm going to start off by saying that:
a) Children are not tidy beings (for the most part) and this is a skill that takes time to learn
b) We do not always tidy up our mess. SAY WHAT?! You might be thinking? In our home and in my classroom, we do not always tidy up our mess/creations/work and here's why:
- Children's play is their hardest work. It takes time, patience, perseverance, problem solving, communication etc. A ton of skills go into children's play that are imperative to their learning and confidence. Long periods of time to play are necessary to master these skills. If I observe that our boys have been creating a structure for a long period of time and they are not quite finished then it stays. We have a conversation about why they feel it is not finished and what they plan on doing next if it stays. We also discuss which toys are not being used and why items cannot be left in unsafe places - those items are non negotiable and get put away. Sometimes structures/small world play/creations stay up for a few days but when I notice that the boys' interest has dwindled and they have moved onto something else then it is time to put it all away.
Now, please don't think that my children get excited to tidy up or jump at the opportunity. That is far from reality. However, there is an expectation in our home to tidy up after ourselves and for the most part they do a great job. Our three year old definitely needs more reminders than our six year old but this is expected and is developmentally appropriate. So let's talk about what we've implemented in our home to get to this point ...
1.Start Healthy Habits
Children learn by watching and doing. Don't wait until your children are in bed and asleep to tidy up. Do it with them. Let them see how you sort and tidy up around the house including the playroom. You can even talk out loud for example, "I found a dinosaur on the carpet can you help me find the dinosaur bin?". There are also many habits and routines that children can help with at a very young age for example, putting garbage in the trash bin, putting books on the shelf, balls in a bin, laundry in the hamper etc. Ask them to help and allow them to participate!
2. First and Then
If you have a child that notoriously wants to play with an item, dump it, then move onto something else or if they get very emotional when it is time to tidy up because they want to watch TV, go outside etc., try the "first and then technique". For example, "first tidy up the puzzle, then you can play with the blocks" or "first tidy up the cars, then we can go play outside". This tactic clearly outlines the expectation for your child.
3. Make It Fun
When my children are in a mood and refusing to help, we turn it into a game. An easy and fun way to do this is by using a kids countdown timer on YouTube. I usually use the ten minute ones and we play "beat the timer". The boys (and my students) love this and it creates a more fun and positive atmosphere for putting toys away. You can also play tidy up songs/music which younger children love!
Sometimes tidying up can be overwhelming for children because the playroom has too many toys. Try purging items that are no longer used and rotating toys if you have extra storage. Not only does this help with keeping the space tidy but it also maintains your child's interest with the materials and toys that are available.
Take an audit on what type of storage you have available. I like to include storage bins that children can easily see what is inside as this minimizes dumping. I also like to use open storage to display toys which creates a more inviting atmosphere to play. Be sure that every item has a clear home. Your child should be able to find each item and independently put them away (unless it is a supervised activity such as arts and crafts).
Have a short tidy up time and keep it consistent everyday. For example, 5-10 minutes everyday before dinner. Children thrive on routine and if they know that it is expected everyday before dinner then it becomes a habit.
The goal is to intrinsically motivate children rather than using consequence tactics that are not even related to the situation. You may want to discuss how you feel when the house is tidy vs messy (ie. calm vs anxious) and ask your children how they feel. Tidying up with children is a process. It takes time and sometimes we are inclined to just do it quickly ourselves. However, investing in the time will pay off in the end. These are life skills that your children need and not only will it benefit them, but it also makes your life easier in the long run! Praise and encourage your children along the way because there will be bumps in the road with this learning process.
I hope these tips help you and your children! Thank you for taking the time to read this and for following along!