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Fun Ways to Get Toddlers to Clean Up

Parent tips & tricks to make cleanup time fun for young kids

When it comes to getting kids to clean up their rooms, what parent wouldn't want Mary Poppins' magical abilities. Toy soldiers march in formation straight into the toy box. Clothes fold themselves at the snap of the fingers.

Family life, while full of joy, is also full of messiness. However, by adopting a “Spoonful of Sugar,” it’s possible to make cleanup easier (and even a little fun) for kids. As Mary Poppins chirps: “In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun. You find the fun and — snap! — the job’s a game.”

Do so, and they will balk less at the work that needs to be done, learn valuable life skills, develop a sense of responsibility and become active participants in the everyday workings of the household. Here’s how to make the job a game.

Divide larger cleaning tasks

A messy playroom can look daunting to a little person, especially when toys are strewnabout the floor haphazardly. Help your child divide the task into doable parts, focusing on just one type of toy — say, blocks — that needs to be cleaned up. After your child has finished putting away the blocks, help him to narrow in on the next item, such as books. This method helps the child both make sense of a big project and practice his sorting and identification skills.

Reorganize with cleanup in mind

Consider ways to organize your home so that it allows your child to easily help with daily chores. For instance, if you keep plastic cups, bowls and plates in lower cabinets that are within a preschooler’s reach, she’ll be able to help unload the dishwasher at her level. Using low coat pegs and stackable craft boxes are other examples of organizational strategies for kid success. (Click here for more smart ideas about how to foster kid self-reliance.)

Cleanup tools

Provide your little helper with tools that enable him to truly help you. A plastic dishpan is great for collecting messy dishes after dinner. Teach your child to wipe the table and use a dustpan to collect the crumbs as they fall off the edge. If your preschooler’s able to handle gadgets, let him use a rechargeable cordless sweeper. Young kids tend to find vacuuming tasks plenty of fun.

A spoonful of sugar

While there are many instances in life when chores are chores and you just have to do them, there’s no reason that we can’t endeavor to show our kids that work can be fun. Cleaning games go down like that proverbial spoonful of sugar.

Cleaning game 1: Freeze cleaning

Put on some fun, loud music and have the kids begin to clean. Whenever you randomly hit the pause button, tell them to freeze in the (sometimes hilarious, often choreographed) position they’re in.

Cleaning game 2: I Spy

Set your kids on a cleaning trail. Say, “I spy three books” (or however many need to be shelved) and let them search the room for the out-of-place books. After those are put away, move on to another item category.

Cleaning game 3: Sock Dusters

Stick an old sock on each of your child’s hands. Then point him in the direction of anything that needs dustings. The dustier the sock at the end of the game, the better he’s done the job.

Consider your own household, family and lifestyle. With a little imagination, you can discover fun ways to teach your kids to put a little order back into their chaos. No, they won’t clean up as nicely as you would. Instead, they will learn a good work ethic and you will (eventually) reap the rewards of valuable help around the house.

And don’t worry — you won’t always be tripping on Pinypons and Battlebots. Makeup and car keys (gulp!) are just around the corner.

Jessica Fisher is the mother of six. Visit Lifeasmom.com for more tips on home and family management.

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