Helping Clean Up Time Happen Smoothly
Cleaning up is an essential element of every Playtime, but it isn’t always the most popular part of the evening for the kids (or for volunteers for that matter). Here are some suggestions for making clean up time go over better:
1) Give Clear Signals. Clean up time can be a difficult transition for the children. Many children – especially those with chaotic histories – struggle with switching gears, so remembering to give a clear warning that there are 5 minutes left before clean up can help kids prepare for the change. For individual children you know find clean up especially challenging, more frequent reminder may be necessary.
2) Be Flexible. We want to be consistent about cleaning up, but if a child has just one more piece left to put together a puzzle, or only needs to add a set of googly eyes to finish up their clay monster, it is okay to give them the space to complete their project.
2) Respect and Acknowledge Feelings. Clean up time also signals to them that Playtime is ending, which can be sad for kids – especially for those children who don’t have many toys in their rooms.If a child is refusing to help clean up, it may help to acknowledge that you understand that they are sad that Playtime is almost over. Offer to read with them after the toys are put away, so they have something to look forward to.
3) Give Them Visual Cues. Help children know where things go by having clearly labeled storage areas that are always in the same place. Since many of our Playtime kids aren’t yet readers, picture labels might be helpful. Tip: If your Playroom is not already labeled this way, your site leaders will love you (even more) for offering to help out with this.
4) Offer Specific Praise & Be Developmentally Aware. As always, give lots of specific positive feedback when a child is engaging in a desired behavior. For example, “Makiya, you are working so hard to put all those books on the shelf!” Remember that children function at different levels: a two-year can (and should be expected to) help clean up, but they may only be able to put away one or two large and easily-graspable items whereas most five-year-olds can do much more than that. However, each child is different and if a child who frequently has tantrums during clean up picks up even a single toy, make sure to praise them.
5) Put Some Play Into It!: Clean up time can be tough even for kids who have stable lives and lots of toys. After all, cleaning up is not as much fun as playing! Here are some suggestions to make cleaning up a little more fun, so that it still feels like part of the play. This is the Playtime Project after all!:
- Play Music. The Clean Up Song is an obvious and great choice – since kids sing it in school and at day care, they have an already-established connection to it – but any fun and lively music is a good way to get them moving! Playing music is also a good way to send the signal that we have transitioned into clean up time.
- Race to the Finish. Kids love to race! Ask a group of children who can clean up the fastest, or say “how many blocks can you pick up before I count to 20?”. Kids also have a blast when competing with adults, so challenge a child to clean up more legos or puzzle pieces than you can. This lets you work together, so you are modeling the desired behavior for them while keeping things fun!
- Clean Up Scavenger Hunt. Ask children “can you clean up 3 things that are blue?” or “who can put away something that starts with the letter D?” This makes clean up a fun challenge and also reinforces letter, number, and color skills!
- Never Underestimate the Power of a Sticker. Children love getting small rewards like stickers, and they are great little motivators for cleaning!