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It's Clean Up Time! Teaching Your Preschooler to Pick Up Toys


Cleaning up after a fun day of play is probably tops on your preschooler’s “Things I Don’t Like to Do List.” But unless you want to spend your time tripping over the Little People and their school bus (and their farm and their zoo and their Ferris wheel), your preschooler needs to put away her own toys.

An important part of a young person’s development, cleaning up helps develop your preschooler's sense of responsibility. How a child learns to clean up now sets the stage for how they will complete the chore as they get older. If you are constantly picking up after your child at this age, they’ll learn to always expect it. Here’s how to make the task run smoothly:

Choose your words carefully.

Don’t just say “clean up.” It is easy for a preschooler to be overwhelmed by a big mess, often because they don’t know where to start. Instead try “Put away your cars first and then move to the books.” By breaking the job down into little tasks, a seemingly-endless chore becomes manageable.

Explain why cleaning up is necessary.

To you it's obvious, but to your preschooler, cleaning up is putting away the fun.

Create kid-friendly storage.

Place removable picture labels on drawers and bins to help kids learn where everything goes. Have your child either draw or cut out of magazines pictures of specific items (blocks, puzzles, games) that go into each one. Under the picture, write the name of the item (great word recognition for pre-readers).

Pump up the tunes.

Blast Dan Zanes or The Wiggles while cleanup time is underway. It makes the job go faster and the peppy music will keep your child in a good mood. Or sing your own. "This is the way we pick up blocks, pick up blocks, pick up blocks. This is the way we pick up blocks, as we clean up your room!"

Make it a game.

Set the kitchen timer for 10 minutes and challenge your preschooler to “Beat the Clock.” Or ask, “Can you finish putting these puzzle pieces away before I put away the doll clothes?"

Don't "fix" it.

When her room is finally clean, don’t redo what isn’t perfect. Lumpy bed sheets? No need to smooth them. Mismatched dollhouse furniture? Ignore it. As long as the job was done properly, just leave it be. A 4-year-old will never clean up as well as an adult.

Reward a job well done.

Keep a chart in the kitchen or other prominent place in the house. As soon as your preschooler finishes his task, give him a sticker to put on the chart.

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