One thing that we have long struggled with at our house is that Sofi is, by nature, a helpful, domestic personality. Walter, on the other hand, has little to no desire to clean up after himself. He will happily stand and watch while Sofi cleans up an entire room (or three) on her own. We’ve tried several different systems to help them become equal partners in cleaning up, but our latest seems to be the one that is TRULY effective in helping them BOTH to organize their thoughts, themselves, and to get the messes cleaned up with equal input! And, it is easy for both the 4 year old and the 6 year old to use, which is a great bonus.
I’m going to start by saying that many families prefer the system where one toy is allowed to be out at a time. I was raised in this system, and I found it to be constrictive for a creative personality. Also, when I watch the way my children play, there is no “ending” of one game and “beginning” of another. They all sort of flow into one another. So stopping to put away the train tracks before getting out farm animals doesn’t make sense to them. After all, they stopped driving the trains on the train tracks and began to drive the tractors on them. Then they needed the barn and the animals to go with the tractors. Then they didn’t need the tractors anymore because they got out the buckets to haul the animal feed over. Stopping to pick up the train tracks completely ruins the flow of the game, but that means that by the afternoon, almost every toy in our play room can be spread around the floor.
And I can be ok with that, so long as we can get those toys picked back up.
This is where the clothespin clean up system comes in.
I got out my trusty bag of wooden clothespins that I use for a million and twelve things, and got out several of the shinier, newer ones. Then, using Sharpie marker, I wrote the name of one type of toy that needed to be cleaned up on one side of a clothespin. On the other side of the pin, I drew a picture symbol for the toy. This way an adult or older child helping to clean up can read the name, while non-readers can look at the symbols. I repeated this step for each type of toy we have in our playroom.
Next, I labelled the appropriate receptacles in our play room for each type of toy, with the matching name and symbol. We have a cubby system, and baskets, so I just used masking tape and marker to do this, but if you’ve got the fancy equipment, you could make pretty labels.
To put the system into action, I divide the clothespins evenly between the kids. They clip the pins to their shirt tails. Then they go clean up all of the toys that correspond to one of their clothespins. When they have gotten all of that type of toy up, they return the clothespin to me or the bag that we keep the pins in.
There are a few things that we’ve learned along the way. Four of the pins are harder than all the others – kitchen, tool bench, dress up and dollhouse all have many things to be picked up and put away in different areas. So, we make sure that these are divided equally between the kids instead of one child getting all or most of them. Also, both of our kids love to do the dollhouse and get it all set up and cute, so we have to take turns having that pin.
The system allows each child to focus on his or her own tasks. My “bossy” six year old doesn’t feel like she has to keep her brother on task. Nor does she feel like she is going to have to clean everything up if he isn’t working. She can see her definite, fair, to do list, and she can know that her work will be finished when the list is done. Little brother is learning that the mess doesn’t have to be as overwhelming as it may seem, if he just focuses on one item at a time. He’s also learning that if he plays around instead of cleaning, his chores will still be there, and Sofi may not be hanging out while he finishes.
And even one year old baby Elliott is learning that things get put away. He will sometimes help to put something back where it goes while the kids are cleaning – although more often, he is digging cars back out of the basket.
What type of systems do you have in place to help your kids learn to pick up after themselves?