When people visit my childcare home the most common comments centre on organization and cleaning up. Many are amazed by how well the children demonstrate responsibility for putting away the toys and equipment.
How do I get them to do that? Well, to be honest, my own obsessive compulsive tendencies may have something to do with it. Most importantly though — I have consistent expectations, the children know them, they apply to everyone and I set the example.
Cleaning up can be fun – counting, matching, stacking, and sorting are all activities that the children willingly engage in throughout free play time. I use these activities for cleaning too.
I’ve traced the tools hanging on the pegboard and the outlines let the children know when something is missing and what belongs there. Putting away the tools becomes like completing a puzzle. I have taken pictures of the shelves and taped the picture to the wall by each shelf. These pictures are a guide for what belongs on that particular shelf. The children use these pictures as a reference for a matching game. The blocks and small toys in bins are sorted according to color, size or shape – more games!
Did you notice all the learning opportunities without any need for a worksheet?
Probably the most significant ‘rule’ is that throughout play time we put away things that are not being used. We don’t wait until clean-up time. If there is a toy on the floor – pick it up. If you are switching to another activity – put it away the toys you don’t need anymore. If the clutter doesn’t get out of control we don’t get overwhelmed by the prospect of cleaning it up.
There are no excuses — everyone is responsible for cleaning up. Saying “I didn’t use it” is simply an acknowledgement that you know a toy needs to be put away. Being bossy or tattling on others get responses like “Hmm, maybe they don’t know how – you could demonstrate.” or “Oh, you noticed a toy that isn’t where it belongs – where should you put it?”
Cleaning up is not a competition there are no rewards for ‘best, fastest or most’ – cooperation and collaboration are valued. ‘Missing’ toys provide an opportunity to discuss the importance of putting things away. Items that are put where they belong will be easy to find when you need them.
At clean up time I guide and assist the youngest children. I follow them and prompt them to put away a few specific items and then accompany them out of the room. The youngest are always the first to leave at clean-up partially so they don’t continue play/make a mess and partially so the oldest do more work. Growing up requires more responsibility – another learning opportunity.