You know the scene: I was crouched over with an armload of random toys, dodging Legos and Hotwheels, stepping in banana while the kids follow behind dumping out everything I just put away. Cleaning up was making a bigger mess than making a mess.
Homeschool Room Tour
A place to stuff our homeschool stuff…
and how I get my kids to clean it in nine minutes.
Our kindergarten room is basically a glorified playroom in the back half of our kitchen. It became a homeschool room when I found myself at the very edge of sanity, picking up toys, games, crayons, and books in every room of the house. I needed a dedicated space for all this STUFF. So I hauled out our huge dining table and loaded the kitchen with every. single. toy. Out of the way, kids! Mommy’s on a mission!
Now it’s more manageable. With a dedicated and organized space for toys and school stuff, the kids can mostly manage the mess themselves. Check out how we clean it all up in nine minutes in this time-lapse video:
1) A Room for the Stuff
A major part of the overwhelm was that there was kid stuff in every room. Now all the toys live here (with the one exception of Pickle’s doll house which is in her closet). When toys begin to migrate all over the house I give each kid a bin and tell them to go get all the toys and bring them into the playroom. Then it’s just a matter of sorting them out.
2) Dollar Store Extravaganza
Everything has a bin. Bins are labeled. This makes cleaning up a simple sorting game. Mr. Potato goes in here. Dress up goes in here. Go to town!
3) You Broke, Bye
I don’t keep ANYTHING broken or missing a part. This makes getting rid of stuff pretty simple. Broken? Buh-bye. After a few times of having to toss out “my very most favorite,” the kids are more careful when they play and clean up.
4) I’m Not Above Bribery
…because sometimes I even have to bribe myself to clean. Most of the time the bribe is not food, however when I’m on the verge of losing it, we play a game called “Clean up for Skittles/Jellybeans/blueberries/whatever Mom has available.” They get ONE for doing a big job like shelving all the books. The playroom and their bedrooms are clean for three jellybeans each.
The motivation for the video, above, was “Yes! Painting sounds like a great idea, but we can’t paint in this mess!” They will also clean for company, which is fabulous. I tell them that we clean up for company so that our friends will feel comfortable when they come over to our house. They seem to understand that. It’s when they do their best work. (Me, too.)
5) Clean side-by-side
My least favorite part, but it’s true. When you’re building your own cleaning army it takes a lot of training and practice. At 5 and 3, they aren’t ready to be let loose on the mess, and it takes more than light supervision to get it done right. We work next to each other, not together. I give them their assignments, tell them what mine is, and we do it side-by-side.
6) It’s Our Mess
“Yeah, I know it’s not fair that the baby dumped it and now you have to put it away. It doesn’t matter if you didn’t play with it. We play together. We clean together. It’s OUR mess.” This is when cleaning side-by-side helps; I am literally always picking up something someone else played with. Sometimes I ask Pickle to clean up, say, puzzles that the oldest took out while Oldest cleans up the kitchen stuff that Pickle poured out. They see it goes both ways.
7) One Chore at a Time
We practice chores. I usually introduce one new chore every two months or so – or however long it takes them to be able to do a reasonably good job. I’m not looking for mastery, here. Whatever has been bothering me most goes on the New Things the Kids Can Do mental list. We go through weeks upon weeks of demonstrate/practice/remind. Eventually, I can just ask them to do the chore and it gets done… for the most part.
8) Age Appropriateness is a Lie
I’ve seen the list of age-appropriate chores on Pinterest. How nice. A list of what my kids SHOULD be doing from someone who has never met them. Cleaning is a skill that must be learned and practiced. Some kids will be ready to make their own beds at age 3 others not until 6. Some kids will be able to sort toys into bins at age 2 others not until 5. Don’t let lists of what your kids should be doing discourage you.
If they aren’t going to break it they can try it, but I don’t ask them to do frustrating tasks. For example, I don’t force my oldest (fine motor and coordination issues) to pick up rice from the tile floor or use the dustpan. There’s a time for fun fine motor practice. Cleaning up time is not that. I don’t want them to dread clean up time or fear making a mess because cleaning it up is frustrating.
9) Fast and Furious
Wait no, not furious. That doesn’t work! Speed does. I use the stove timer so the oldest can see it. Sometimes I combine speed with bribery and tell them, “If we get it done in 10 minutes we will have time for XYZ.” It’s almost always ten minutes. Ten minutes seems to be their max attention span for cleaning. It’s a short time so we move fast.
10) Cleaning Can be Fun. No Really. Well Sorta.
At very least it’s not torture. We sing silly songs (Clean up, clean up, everybody everywhere. Clean up, clean up, little brother has no hair!). We move fast. We do it together. At the end they can feel proud of themselves. “Did I do a good job, Mommy?” Yes. The biggest reward is that Mommy isn’t going to lose her mind. Everyone wins.