Getting kids to put their toys away themselves

I asked a couple other moms whether or not their kids picked up their toys when they were done playing. This was around the time I was starting to see a future spent picking up dozens of toys in every room of the house several times every day.

Most days I feel I can barely keep up with the clutter I generate myself. You might say I’m a bit lazy when it comes to cleaning. So there’s no way I was going to be picking up mounds of toys every day, too.

I was relieved to hear my friends say their kids did clean up after themselves.  But the most important thing I learned was that this is a habit you have to actively foster, by making it fun.

Bless our babysitter, a sweet kindergarten teacher wise beyond her years. We came home one evening to her singing “Clean up, clean up, everybody clean up…” and our toddler son happily tossing every last toy into his toy box.

Realizing this was an opportunity to be seized, I relentlessly focused on having him put away his toys when he was done playing. (I may be relaxed about some things, but if I see a chance to decrease the work I’ll have to do around the house, it’s gonna happen.)

This is the progression of his clean-up habit over the last few months:

  • In the beginning I stood over him (well, I sat on his bed) and named each toy to help direct his efforts. “Put Thomas in the toy box. Now put Percy in. Oh, there’s Spencer – put him in, too.” He liked hearing me name all the toys. And I liked lounging there while he did the work.
  • Sometimes I sang “Clean up”, but that was mostly to set the tone just before cleaning.
  • I used the word “after” a lot. (Sure, you can have a glass of chocolate milk AFTER you put your cars in the box.)
  • He has a little golf club that comes with an extendable handle . To encourage him to put his toys away when he’s not in the mood, we “golf” them toward the toy box, where he’ll sit and put them away. He gets a giggle, and it’s good golfing practice for my husband.
  • Last night, I told him to go in his room and put his toys away. He went in, came out, and that was it. I was sure there would still be some on the floor when I looked later, but nope, he put them ALL away. By himself.

Who knew my own laziness could lead to a good habit for my toddler?

Fun props for little boys’ photos
Strange things you do for your toddler son

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