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Try these fun games to get your kids to clean up their toys – without tears or complaining!
The good news – it’s really not as hard as you think to get kids to clean up their toys. Yes, these games require a little more effort than just asking your kids to pick up – unless you have to repeat yourself 187 times. And don’t you pretty much always have to repeat yourself 187 times? Wouldn’t you rather your children clean up their toys willingly, without tears or complaining?
It’s so much easier just to turn clean-up time into a game. And these ideas work!
The not as good news – you may have to help out, or at least supervise, depending on the age and disposition of your little ones. No one, especially children, wants to clean up alone! Can you blame them?
Containers Are Key for Cleaning Up Toys
The single most important factor is to have containers for the toys that are easy for children to use. It’s easy to have the mindset that, oh, crayons come in a crayon box, that’s how we will store them. Well, crayon boxes are super flimsy, they tear, and there is just barely enough room for the crayons to fit. It’s a challenge for little fingers to get them all in, which will only create frustration and an “I can’t do it” mindset.
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Grab an old shoebox or a snap-top bin from the dollar store, and just dump those Crayolas in all nice and loose. Repeat with all the other toys (in other bins, of course!). Have lots of open shelving to put those boxes in when they are full. Make it easy to put toys away.
If you want to be a little fancier than the shoe box method, Amazon, Target, Walmart, and pretty much any other big box store will have dozens, if not hundreds, of options for storage. Think about the quantity of toys, and the size of those toys (are we talking playground balls or Legos?) as a way to determine what will work best for you.
Generally, you will want either open-topped or clear storage, so that it’s easy to see what toys are inside. Handles are great so the toys can be moved easily from room to room, outside, or to a buddy’s home. Some great options are these top-snap clear plastic bins.
or these colorful bins with handles on the sides.
If you want to buy a shelf and bin set, this shelving unit with soft bins offers a lot of storage.
Here’s a similar shelving unit with hard-sided bins.
Easy storage means easy clean-up!
Ok, so let’s say you have boxes, bins, baskets, or whatever to put the toys into. How do you go about convincing your children to actually put the toys in them instead of all over the floor in the living room? Make it a game! Kids love games! Be sure to show lots of enthusiasm and encouragement so that it really feels like a game, and be prepared for your kids to clean up their toys the first time you ask.
Games to Clean Up Toys
Go Home, Toys! – Just as your children understand what it means for them to “go home”, teach them that at the end of the day, it’s time for their toys to go home. Go home, trucks. Go home, Legos. This technique works best if most of your toys have designated storage locations, so they can “go home” to the same place each time, just as your child does. Variations on this idea would be “Naptime, Toys”, “Goodnight, Toys”, or even “Time to Go to Grandma’s, Toys”. If it works, run with it.
Categories – Put away all the animal toys first. Then all the red toys. Then all the square toys. Trucks. Dinosaurs. People. Toys bigger than your head. It’s not so overwhelming when it’s one category at a time. Hint: if you have more than one child, give them different categories at the same time, and see how fast they can each move from one category to the next.
Toys that Belong Together – This is a great two-step clean-up that works especially well for kids that find tidying to be overwhelming. The idea is not to put anything away (at first). Instead, sort all the toys that go together into separate piles on the floor. Lego pile, Barbie pile, Matchbox pile, video game pile. Only after the toys are sorted do you put them away, one grouping at a time. In a child’s mind, picking up each toy individually and carrying it to its storage place can be exhausting work. Back and forth, back and forth across the room. But now that all the toys that belong together are together, the entire pile can be put away all at once. Bam! Done.
Toes – Ok, so this technique is probably the favorite of the kids I have known, but it is not a fast technique, so use it when you have time to spare. First, the kids get barefoot and wiggle their piggies to warm them up. Now, how many toys can they put away if they can only touch them with their toes (you’ll be amazed). Lots of giggles here!
Mittens – Similar concept to Toes, except put some mittens on your littles’ hands – the bigger and bulkier the better! Again, this is not a technique for speed but rather for fun.
One Hand Behind Your Back – Again, same concept, different challenge. Anytime children are confronted with a silly version of an activity, good things result.
Bubble Time – You’ll need a prop for this one – yes, a container of bubbles. Just go for the basic bubbles, or if you really want to impress your kids, get fancy with something like this. Blowing bubbles, especially indoors, gets ‘em every time. The real trick is that you only blow the bubbles while they are actively putting toys away! If they stop, you stop. If they want more bubbles, they give you more tidying effort.
One Minute Pick-up – It’s a race against time! Just before you leave for somewhere fun (playground time!), let your kids know you are putting one minute on the clock. Their challenge is to see what sort of impact they can make in a very short period of time (spoiler: it can be a LOT). Expect a burst of energy, and probably some happy noise, as they run around grabbing things at random to put away. Make sure you announce the time increments (30 seconds!) and do a final 10-second countdown. The outing is the reward (even though you were going anyway). One Minute Pick-up is also the absolute best way to clean up after messy craft projects when those little fingers can grab crayon stubs, scraps of paper, glue stick lids, and all those other wonderful things that you will otherwise step on in the middle of the night.
Leave One Behind – While tidying up, each child should be thinking about one toy they want to leave out for now. Mom or Dad can make it fun by trying to guess which toy each child is thinking of keeping out. When everything is tidy, sit down and play with your child and their chosen toy! Be sure to give them your undivided attention for however long seems appropriate based on their age, interest, etc. – not your convenience or level of interest. This is your time to devote just to your little one and something that is important to them. They worked hard, and they deserve – YOU! After all, a parent’s attention is worth more to a child than all the toys in the world!
I hope you try some of these methods to get your kids to clean up their toys! Let me know in the comments below how they work for you, and of course, I’d love for you to share your successes, too!