Herald Journal Columns
June 26, 2006, Herald Journal

Clutter clean-up fun


How often do we, as parents, say, “My kids’ clutter is everywhere,” and then, we, as parents, proceed to pick up their toys and prized possessions, only to do the same thing the next day. What can we do to get them to clean up after themselves?

Sometimes, it may just be a matter of teaching and showing them where the items go. Cleaning up is a task that needs to be learned, like any other job or activity.

Children need to know that items have homes to go to when they are finished playing with them, or at the end of the day.

Limiting the area where your children can get their toys out and play, and containing the toys to certain areas, can help minimize toy “clutter” as well, and again, having homes for those toys when they are done being played with, helps keep some order to the household neatness. A good rule of thumb is, when a toy has reached its maximum playing time – that is, it’s done being played with – it should be put away and then, a new toy can be brought out. This also reduces the amount of clutter and the feeling of being overwhelmed with the clean-up process.

Working together as a team helps out, and decreases the feeling of being overwhelmed with the clean-up process, as well. Parent Sharon Verrilli, from Pomfret Center, Conn., noted in an article in “Parents” magazine, September 2002, that when we, as the adults or caregivers, stop what we are doing and say, “Let’s do this together (cleaning up),” it encourages children to help out, and helps them discover that the task is not too difficult.

Setting a timer, and giving your children a challenge to “beat the clean-up clock,” can work wonders for completing the clean-up tasks in a fun way, and most children love appropriate challenges and games.

Of course, using the “when you are done picking up your toys, then you can have a snack (or whatever),” approach is an appropriate technique also. Parent Terry R. Smith, from Pittsburgh, Mo., noted in the

“Parents” article that when she uses this “when-then” technique, she doesn’t have to keep asking her son to clean up, because he knows that he can’t do what he wants to, until his clean-up task is done.

I’ve also read about, and have used, the “toy time-out box” to try to keep the clutter to a reasonable amount. At a certain time during the day, such as at the end of the day, if toys or possessions aren’t put away, in their rightful spots, they are placed in the box and the owners can not retrieve them until a designated time, such as the end of the week.

The owner cannot get the items back unless they donate a quarter to the clean-up jar, or whatever consequence is set forth. Of course, you can create your own version of this strategy.

If you have small children that have attended some type of pre-school, day care, or community education early childhood class, you probably have heard some version of a clean-up song that certainly promotes the process in a positive manner. Here are some clean-up songs that I have used, heard, or read, from www.preschooleducation.com, or www.preschoolrainbow.org.

You could, or you and your children could, create your own clean-up song, that you could sing to your own melody, or to that of another well-known children’s song.

Here’s one that can be sung to “Mary had a little lamb:

“Now it’s time to tidy up, tidy up, tidy up.

Now it’s time to tidy up, and put our toys away.”

Here’s a simple song:

“It’s time to clean-up, clean-up, clean-up. It’s time to clean-up and put our toys away.”

“This is the way we pick up our toys,

pick up our toys,

pick up our toys . . .

This is the way we pick up our toys before we eat a snack.”

A clean-up song to the tune of “Farmer in the Dell:

“Let’s clean up today

Let’s clean up today

We’ve had our fun

Our day is done.

So, let’s clean up today.”

-Original authors unknown

Have fun singing and cleaning, all at the same time.

Enjoy a healthy summer snack

Make an easy and healthy red, white, and blue patriotic snack with your children. Enjoy some raspberries and/or strawberries, blueberries, and yogurt, ice cream, or vanilla pudding.


“When I approach a child, he inspires in me two sentiments; tenderness for what he is, and respect for what he may become.”

–Louis Pasteur

Jenni Sebora has a bachelor of science degree in special education, and a master of science degree in education, with a coaching certification. She has taught in the public school system for 14 years, and has coached a variety of sports at all levels.

Jenni was a children’s program leader for Family Support Network/Parents’ Anonymous, for a local chapter, for 10 years and was the children’s program resource coordinator for the Minnesota Family Support Network/Prevent Child Abuse organization, for southern Minnesota chapters. She has conducted many trainings on dealing with children, children’s activities, and behavioral management.

Jenni has worked in day care settings, served as a Sunday school teacher, summer recreation director, and on the board of education at her church. She and her husband, Marc, have three children.