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Encourage Your Child to Clean Up with a SMILE

Clean up time is always a tricky time of day. Your child is told to stop what they are doing in order to get ready for the next activity. Cleaning up, to a child, means that they must end what they are currently doing and sometimes they are not ready to do it.

Often we hear “but why……????, I don’t want to. I’m not done yet!”.

As a preschool teacher, I have learned that children need notification prior to clean up time. This includes both a visual and auditory cue. For instance, five minutes before it is time to clean up and transition to another activity, I turn off the classroom lights and tell all of the children to freeze! Once frozen, I say “five more minutes till clean up time” and I show them that I am setting the egg-timer for five minutes. I turn the lights back on and allow them to continue their play. When the egg-timer goes off, I say “Oh, the timer says it is now clean up time. Let’s sing the clean up song together and get ready to  (what is happening next)“.

(For more information on clean up songs, visit: )

By using both the visual (lights off) and auditory (buzzer and clean up song) cues, the children will quickly stop, clean up and get ready for the next activity. Providing a five-minute warning allows a child to finish up what they are doing and end their play in a way that is meaningful to them. Children are able to put work/play up on the counter to save till later, or they can start cleaning the materials up.

Play is a child’s way of learning and it is important to give warnings before we have them stop what they are doing. As adults, we wouldn’t like it if someone walked in and told us to stop writing an email at that moment because we have to go to the store. In fact, I would say “Just a moment, I need to finish this”. Adults and children both need a few minutes to wrap up current projects. When proper warnings are provided, children comply with little hesitation.

To make cleaning up fun, some examples of “clean up games” include:

  1. Count to ten and see if your child can clean up all of their toys before you get to ten.
  2. Have your child put away their items by categories (put all of the red blocks away, now all the blue, now all the green…etc.)
  3. Use a kitchen timer or the timer on your phone to see how quickly your child can clean up their toys. Did they do it faster than the day before?

Remember, playing is your child’s work and the primary way of learning. Respectfully giving your child a warning, with time to prepare for a transition, is critical to both the parent-child relationship and your child’s learning process.

For more information about organizing toys, creating a mess-free and beautiful play-space,  see my blog post How to Set Up an Indoor Play Space.

Happy Cleaning!


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