5 ingredients for getting children to help tidy

supporting simplicity parenting

 Five ingredients for getting your children to help tidy

 After leading Little Round Schoolhouse's Children's Garden for over a decade, it was clear we were doing something right when it came to getting children to help tidy up. These elements are easy to bring home to your children and family to increase cooperation and enjoyment around tidying and cleaning up.

Five key ingredients:

  1. Have a consistent and predictable rhythm around tidying up and chores. 
  2. Simplify your environment and have places for things to live.
  3. Embrace appropriate expectations: 
  4. Model and participate in the chores with your child.
  5. Use story & song to support you.

Have a consistent and predictable rhythm around tidying up and chores. 

Children thrive with consistency and predictability and the same goes for when they are expected to help clean up or tidy. During days at Little Round Schoolhouse, we tidied up every day after free play, both inside and out. Children knew that when free play was over, we would tidy everything up. We had a couple of transition songs around this so they would know it was coming. Once they had been in our program for a few days and learned the rhythm, they were much more likely to transition from play to clean-up with ease. The same principle holds true at home: when tidying up isn’t an unexpected surprise, they are much more likely to get on board.

For some families, it works better to have one time a day when the whole family cleans up for a certain period of time. I know one family who sets a timer for 15 minutes every night before dinner and spends the time cleaning and tidying up their home. I know another family who has a “dance party” after dinner each night, cranking up the music and cleaning together.

Regardless of the rhythm you create, try to have clean-up time at a predictable and consistent time during your day and/or week. If you are new at rhythm, you can learn more about rhythm in my rhythm series (first post here and all available here on my blog). 

Simplify your environment and have places for things to live.

It’s a lot easier to keep things clean when there aren’t as many things! For the sake of this post, I am specifically focused on your children’s toys and play space. A key ingredient to getting your child to tidy up (cooperatively) is to have fewer things to tidy and a place for everything to go. 


Embrace appropriate expectations.

We often expect our children to clean up on their own after being asked. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but this is too high of an expectation for most all children in early childhood (until 7 or 8). We also frequently expect them to do more than is reasonable. Many of our frustrations around tidying up can be minimized with more appropriate expectations.

First, a standard rule of thumb is to have no more toys than your child can tidy in five minutes. (Think of this in terms of play spaces; five minutes to tidy their room; five minutes to tidy the outside toys; five minutes to tidy their playroom; etc.) More toys than this create feelings of overwhelm and anxiety... which do not lend themselves to cooperative participation. Parents I work with often create rotating toy libraries or other storage solutions to keep accessible toys at a minimum.
(There are many other benefits to having few toys but that’s the subject of another post!)

Second, young children need you to be close by and participate (more on this next).

Model and participate in the chores with your child.

Again, we cannot expect our children to tidy simply because we have asked them to. Our younger children especially need us to model this for them. This looks like helping them to clean their room during tidy-up time; sticking with them and modeling focus and a positive attitude. It also looks like keeping your own spaces clean and tidying up after yourself. You teach more with your actions than your words!


Use story & song to support you.

Stories are powerful teachers and I have used stories for years to teach the importance of cleaning and helping around the house. My Storytime in the Schoolhouse community saw a huge increase in cleaning up around the house after we listened to a story about cleaning up.

Songs can serve as wonderful transition tools. You don’t need anything fancy and can make something up! If you sing the same song each time you begin to tidy, your children will begin to hear the song as the tidying-up request. You may not even have to ask them directly anymore! 

Singing while cleaning is a wonderful way to keep it light, fun, and enjoyable.

I have included two tidy-up songs at the end of the above video. My favorite resource for clean-up and tidying-up songs is from Mary Thienes Schunemann and is called "This is the Way We Wash a Day." The book and CD are available on Amazon or the album is available on Spotify. This is a lovely way to learn some new songs for singing while cleaning! 

Interested in more resources about tidying up with young children? Check out these other blog posts:

Developmentally Appropriate Chores for Children

Teaching Tidying through Story: A Puppet Show of Ms. Tiggly-Wiggle --> A video of a puppet show from Storytime in the Schoolhouse

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