Ever hear the saying that trying to clean your house while your kids are awake is like trying to brush your teeth while eating Oreos? Parents of small children can certainly relate. Within minutes of returning that last blue DUPLO block to its rightful home, your pint-sized cyclone of destruction has managed to vacate every single book from his bookshelf and scatter every member of the Little People family across his bedroom floor. Kids are messy, no doubt. Still, when your tot turns about 18 months old, you can begin to teach him the fine art of cleaning up after himself.
Use bins, buckets and boxes. As the saying goes, “A place for everything and everything in its place.” This phrase is especially true when it comes to teaching small children how to clean. Use specifically designed containers for loose items like coloring books and crayons; stuffed animals and dolls; and blocks and games. If you don’t have a bookshelf, designate a specific box or basket for books. Label everything with pictures you either draw or print out from the Internet. If children know that all of their stuffed animals belong in the red bin and all of their coloring books belong in the blue bin, they will be more likely to return displaced objects to their proper places when they’re done playing.
Let them help. Young children love to “help out” around the house. Whether it’s running the vacuum, dusting or making the beds, toddlers and preschoolers like to feel as if they are being included in “grown up” activities. Now is the time to take advantage of their eagerness. Give them a dust cloth, a small broom, or a play vacuum. Let them help you strip and remake the bed (and, what the heck, let them jump on it when you're done). Teach them how to clean and organize while they are small and maybe – just maybe -- in a decade or so, their rooms might be less likely to fall victim to the typical teenage trappings of dirty laundry piles, unmade beds and general disorganization.
Make it fun. Children are more likely to clean if there’s a level of silliness involved, and the geniuses behind children’s programming know this. Whether it’s Barney singing his famous “Clean up, clean up, everybody, everywhere” song or the Sprout Channel’s Nina and Star “doodley-doodley-do”-ing their way to a clean room before bed, the goal is to make cleaning fun. Try singing a clean-up song or dancing around the room while cleaning. Older children might enjoy a race to see who can clean up the fastest. Whatever you do, don’t make tidying up seem like a punishment or a chore.