9 Hacks To Make Clean-Up Time Fun For Kids

Clean up, clean up, everybody, everywhere. Clean up, clean up, everybody do your share.

I'm doing it. I'm taking you behind the preschool/daycare teacher curtain today and letting you know how they always manage to get your child to clean up a huge classroom without complaint when, at home, they can never put a single thing away.

If you're not strategic, clean-up time can become a major power struggle between adult and child. On the one hand, you want your kids to have fun and play and take out the toys they need to support their play. You also don't want to be standing over them demanding that they clean up what they were playing with before starting something else. Plus, sometimes one type of play leads into another and stopping would break the flow and then all the fighting and crying and slammed doors start happening and then you end up doing it all yourself in the end anyway.

I'm not saying this NEVER happens in my house, but after years of getting preschool kids to clean up mounds of toys, and now my own, I've developed a back pocket full of hacks to make clean-up time less painful and even, dare I say it, fun!

  1. Give a five minute, two minute, and one minute warning. You don't need an actual timer, it's more about the warnings that "Clean up will be soon, it will be sooner, it is IMMINENT." At the one minute warning, tell them it's time to find their last thing to play with before play time is up and cleaning starts. This sets the right tone of respect for their play time and prepares them for what's coming next (read: avoids an immediate tantrum when clean-up time takes them by surprise).
  2. Tell the children today they will be turning into robots to clean up and go around and press the "button" on each of their backs to get them started. Be sure you also act like a robot and march around and speak in a robot voice describing your actions as you clean, "I AM ROBOT. I AM PICKING UP ONE THOUSAND PIECES OF LEGO." This works for almost anything and it's fun to switch it up or have them choose. Some other ideas:
    1. Be monkeys and hop around, ooh ooh aah aah-ing
    2. Be cars and turn the keys in their engine, then vroom around.
    3. Be dinosaurs and pop in your ear plugs while they stomp and roar.
    4. Be ballerinas and dance and twirl.
    5. Be airplanes and wind up their propellers.
    6. Be kitty cats and meow and crawl around and pick things up with paws (or bat it along with paws if your children are realists like my daughter - "kitties can't CARRY THINGS").
  3. Do an old fashioned firefighters' line-up and have the children pass the toys down the line to the person at the end (maybe the adult) who drops them in the bin/puts them on a shelf. Challenge them to do it really fast, then reaaaallly slow, then pass it under their legs, over their heads, etc. to keep it interesting.
  4. Do a clean up freeze dance. Put on music and have them clean while the music is on, dancing while cleaning is optional. Periodically stop the music and have everyone freeze, then start it up again.
  5. Clean by colour. Have the children pick up all the toys with blue on them, then red, then green, etc.
  6. Clean by counting. Have children line up, then tell them to put away a certain number of toys (say, three) then come back to the starting line. Then call out another number and set them off again. 
  7. Turn them into magicians (aka reverse psychology). Tell them you know there's NO WAY they can clean up this section of toys without using magic. Then tell them you're going to turn them into magicians so you can see if they can magically make all the toys go back to where they belong. Make sure it's an identifiable grouping (like, say, all the toy cars, or all the food from the toy kitchen) so they can do it within the allotted time. Then act amazed that they got it, and then point to another section and say, "Well, maybe you did that but there's ABSOLUTELY NO WAY you can make these toys disappear." You get the idea...
  8. Race against the clock. A smart phone is good to use as, in case they're close to finishing on time but may need another minute, you can discreetly adjust the timing without them noticing so they still win (which, really, means you win as it's clean). Let them know it's a race against the clock and give an enthusiastic on your mark, get set, go!
  9. Reward them for a job well done. When all else fails, pull out the rewards and tell them that once it's cleaned they can watch some TV, use the tablet, get a freezie...whatever small treat you know will motivate them. And remember, no need to feel guilty - it's a reward, not a bribe (read my thoughts on why they're different here).

Do you have any surefire ways to get kids to clean up? Share them in the comments below to help out the other parents reading!

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(and afterwards you'll now know how to get them to clean up all the pieces!)