Let me start by saying that children younger than six really can’t be expected to clean up an overwhelming amount of toys on their own. They really do need your help. It’s not necessarily that they don’t want to obey you, but looking around at the mess they’ve made causes some kind of disorientation to occur in their little brains. They can’t make order out of a great deal of chaos without help.
It really helps to have designated places to put all of their toys. And it’s a good idea for those places to remain concrete (i.e. the toys always go in the same place).
Finally, here are my tips for getting them in the spirit of helpfulness.
- Give specific instructions “Let’s put all the balls in the basket” rather than “pick up all your toys” is easier to follow.
- Sing a song about cleaning up. Use their names and sing your directions.
- Use a toy of some kind to communicate the need for clean up. (Today, “Mr. Train” told the boys that his tracks were a big mess and needed to be put away in the train track box.)
- Encourage and praise your child as she is putting things away (Thank you for putting the toys away! You are doing so much to take care of your things! You are a happy helper!)
- Tell the kids what’s coming next (if it’s a fun thing, like lunch or a trip) to encourage help. (As soon as we finish with the toy clean up, we are going upstairs for our snack time!)
- Make it a contest. This works really great for our boys for smaller messes. I start counting to ten and we see who can put away the most blocks while I count.
One more tip. Try not to have more toys available than your children regularly play with. My rule is that if it takes more than 5 minutes to pick up the play room, we need to put some toys in the closet for later use. You can rotate favorites every three months or so, putting away the ones they haven’t touched in a while.