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Preschool Education Articles

Cleaning Up

How do you get children to pick up toys and clean up after themselves? Each
provider has a bag of tricks. Here are some ideas.

- KEEP THE AREA NEAT. If everything has a place, picking up isn't so hard. Children develop a sense of order when they live in an organized environment.

- MAKE A GAME OUT OF PICKING UP TOYS. Putting things back in their places can give the same joy as working a puzzle. Some children don't even know that picking up is a dreaded chore.

- PICK UP AFTER YOURSELF. Example is a good teacher. You don't even have to talk. They get the idea just by being around you.

Of course it isn't always so easy. Some children arrive in your care with a bad attitude about picking up. They don't see it as fun and games. They just don't want to do it.

In this case you have to take a problem solving approach. Discuss,
negotiate, determine consequences. As a group you can figure out how to solve this problem if you are dedicated to the idea that order in the play environment is the responsibility of those who use it.

Don't get into power struggles. Don't make cleanup such a negative
experience that kids go to any length to avoid it.

Some providers have a need for more order than others. Some are willing and able to let the mess accumulate as long as the children are constructively involved in play. Clean-up time may be ongoing, or it may be a scheduled event - say before lunch. Both ways work.

Some providers see a need for ongoing projects and are willing to suspend pick up time in some areas. For instance an art project may take a whole day to complete - or several days. A block structure may be saved to work on later. Of course this becomes a problem if the blocks are not available for other children to work or play with. However, that's the kind of problem that can be solved. You need to help one child know what the other is feeling and help them work out a solution together.

What doesn't work is to let the mess accumulate all day and face it by
yourself after the children are gone. That's not fair to you, and it
doesn't teach children responsibility.

Reprinted with permission from the National Network for Child Care - NNCC.
(1993). Cleaning up. In M. Lopes (Ed.) CareGiver News (July, p.4). Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Cooperative Extension.

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