When it comes to cleaning up the toys in the playroom I encourage the children to put away their toys before they move to another activity instead of waiting until the mess gets out of control. My only real ‘rule’ is that as you walk across the room you pick up any loose toys in your path regardless of who used them. This is more a ‘safety’ rule to prevent tripping.
With a mixed age group there are a wide variety of responses to cleaning up. The infants and toddlers tend to make the biggest mess. Often their favourite activities involve clearing all the toys off the shelves and dumping the toys out of the bins. The dozens of loose toys are then left on the floor and the toddlers move off to explore elsewhere.
Asking or telling these little ones to clean up is futile. However, that doesn’t mean that I consider this ‘trashing the playroom’ behaviour to be acceptable. Instead, I simply follow along and pick up the stray toys – I set an example that the little ones will copy at least briefly. It is the first step in learning to clean up but the little ones think is a game.
With several infants and toddlers enrolled sometimes it feels like my entire day is spent picking up toys off the floor. It is also a teaching/learning opportunity since as I pick up toys I also talk – labeling objects and attributes – and sort/arrange/organize the items. When I clean up it often looks like this;
I don’t expect anyone else to put the toys away like this, it is just something I do for ‘fun’ when I have enough time. Many of the preschoolers also enjoy sorting and organizing so much that ‘cleaning up’ is one of their favorite activities. The 3-5 year olds are the very best cleaners – and ‘teachers’ because the toddlers love to copy them.
My current group of 1-2 year olds now often pick up loose toys without much assistance – we’ve had a lot of practice with so much indoor time this winter. They are even starting to put away toys when they are done with them instead of just dropping them on the floor. However, there is one exception – this box full of miscellaneous soap containers;
These little bottles are somewhat difficult to balance on the shelf under the sink. They tip over so easily that standing them up on the shelf is very frustrating so we put them in the box first and then put the box on the shelf. Problem solved – except that for some reason the babies insist that the box must be emptied every time they come in the room. Consequently the area in front of the sink always looks like this;
They never play with these bottles but every time I put them back in the box on the shelf it immediately gets dumped on the floor again. Guess who is getting frustrated now. Sometimes, usually closer to the end of the day, I just take the whole box out of the playroom so I don’t have to pick it up any more. Then one day, when I was in a hurry to clean up before lunch, I just tossed the bottles in the box instead of lining them up;
When the children returned to the playroom no one dumped the containers on the floor. In fact, the box was not moved off that shelf for two whole weeks!!!
Did all four of the toddlers suddenly lose interest in dumping those containers on the floor? Did they get tired of playing that game? Did they just not like that I organized the containers in the box? How is tossing the containers in the box any better, or less enticing, than lining them up?
Are there are other things I should just quit doing?