Cleaning up, there’s no escaping it.
If you try to take it all on yourself, it can feel overwhelming and neverending.
If you can teach children to help clean and build the habit of tidying up, it can relieve the stress of a mess.
Before We Start–Be Clear with Directives! When things need to be picked up or put away in a specific manner, say exactly what is to be done and when.
Example: Ben, put the blocks on the “bottom shelf” now. Or, Sarah, before you come to snack, the toys in the playhouse need to be put away.
Often if we only say, “clean everything up” things will be put wherever just to get them out of the way.
Let’s get started with some creative games and cleaning activities for preschoolers.
Clean-Up Activity Ideas
1. How Fast Can We Do It?
You can say:
- Let’s beat the clock!
- Beat yesterday’s time.
- Can we get everything put away before the music stops
Remind the children how much time is left by using a timer, hourglass, or clock.
- Remember young children don’t have the concept of time down yet; it would be a good idea to also use a timer of some sort.
- When using a clock as a reminder with young children—say, “When the big hand is on the two, we will start to clean up”.
- When going over time with the children–consider using a 5-minute hourglass or times during circle time and have the children experience exactly what 5 minutes is. Go on with activities-while timer is winding down.
2. Help Children
Helping by giving some directions or guidance. You can say ”Do you want to pick up the little blocks or the big puzzle?
3. A Countdown Timer
For older students, have a cleanup count-up or countdown. Use a stopwatch and chart how long it takes to clean up. Say, “You have until the count of five to be ready for ______. Then count 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5.” Start a count down at whatever number you think the youth need to be ready. For example, start with 5, 10 or 15 depending on the activity to be put away.
4. Pick Up 5
Have each child pick up 5 items (or whatever number needed) in an area. Before you know it—it’s all cleaned up!
5. Give Children Visual Reminders
It’s a good idea to post what you expect from the children. Talk to them about being responsible for cleaning up after themselves–and post reminders. Put something like the sample up at various play supply and activity areas.
- When a child forgets, all you have to do is point to the sign!
- Help children in learning to put away as they go along.
- For older kids you can make or purchase a poster with the message, “I’m not your Mom (or Maid)! Please Clean Up! Make sure the art on the poster is humorous!
6. Messy Table Clean-Up Activity
Try this when your art and craft tables get messy with glue, paint, or____.
Spread non-menthol shaving cream on the tabletops and let the children finger-paint away on the table! They’ll be having fun and loosening all that dried glue mess at the same time.
When the table is clean–wipe down with paper towels. Follow this with a wet cloth. Rinse and dry the kids’ hands too!
7. Lucky Piece of Garbage Day
On the days you play this, be sure all children are informed! At clean-up time, secretly pick a random piece of trash or toy on the floor or tables.
When someone picks it up, they win a small prize or privilege. Within minutes, the entire area will be clean! Do this often enough so many kids get a chance to win!
8. “I Spy” Cleanup Game
- Play ‘I Spy’ to clean up scraps on the floor after art or messy project.
- Visually identify a scrap on the floor without telling the children which one and say, ‘I Spy.’
- Kids pick up scraps and the child who finds the one you’re looking at gets a sticker or small prize.
- Keep playing the game and giving small goodies until all scraps are off of the floor.
- Kids like this game and it’s a fast fun way to clean a room.
9. 5 Minute Cleanup
At one observed ECH site, a Kindergarten child walked to each group of children before clean-up time, holding a sign saying, “5 Minutes to Clean-Up Time!”
The other children acknowledged the sign-holder by saying, “Thank-you.” This program has ‘a weekly job chart’ with the 5-minute to clean-up reminder being one of the children’s tasks.
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10. Cleaning Party
Kids love parties! On a pre-made sign-up sheet have the children initial what they want to clean and/or organize; when all jobs are complete—the group has a celebration!
I occasionally did this at home on a Saturday/Sunday. The five of us cleaned–for what we signed up for. In 20 to 30 minutes the entire house was cleaned and we then went out and did something fun!
This did not include the kids’ rooms, that was separate! My grown daughter now carries on the tradition! Barb
11. Cleaning for Points and Rewards
As a group, earn letters/points for a “whatever party”. When the group does not have to be reminded or “nagged” to clean-up—-a “letter” is earned.
Example: Spell the word Donut Party. Each day a letter is earned. When the letter spaces are filled in, a Donut Party is held. (You can have a Hot-Cocoa Party, Ice-Cream Party, Pizza Party, etc.) Hopefully, the process will carry over!
12. Fill the Gumball Machine
Take an idea from Doreen Zmijski (Mrs. Z): Using cardstock, create a gumball machine shape. You can purchase round stickers (that look like gumballs) at a dollar or office supply store.
Each time the kids do a good job at cleaning-up (without nagging) a gumball (round stickers that look like gumballs) is put on the “gumball machine shape”.
Mrs. Z. combined this incentive with kids “caught being good” in a variety of ways! When the gumball machine was filled—the group celebrated with an ice-cream party.
I visited one program (Long Meadow in Rochester, Michigan) and caregivers carried this over to Acts of Kindness! On a wall, children/staff made a HUGE gumball machine. Children’s names combined with their act of ‘kindness’ was recorded on large gumballs and then placed on the gumball globe.
13. Praise for a Job Well Done
Give specific praise for a good job done: “Wow Ryan, I really like the way you put away all the games.”
14. Help Children Remember
This often works well if you have a child who has a chronic problem in not remembering to clean-up (or engaged in something else that is problematic).
Take the child aside in private and assure him/her that they are NOT in trouble; however, it seems they’re having a hard time remembering to put away and clean up what they’ve been playing with. You want to help them remember.
- You’d like them to write down three reasons why “we all need to clean up after ourselves”. What could happen if no one cleaned up? (Be specific to the not cleaning up–Games? Legos? etc.)
- They may come up with such things as we could lose things; someone could step on it; someone could trip over it; it could get broken; we won’t be able to find it when we want it; things get all mixed up—or even–I don’t want to get into trouble.
- It doesn’t matter what they say–the point is to have the child think about it.
- When the child is finished–tell them, “Good! Tell me what you came up with.”
- Briefly talk about it; ask him/her if it will help them to remember? They usually will say a resounding, “Yes!” Then tell the child to go and have a fun day! A reminder or two should do the trick!
- If this is a YOUNG CHILD —have them draw a picture of what the room would look like if no one cleaned up (or what could happen )-and then briefly talk about it. This must NOT be presented as a punishment–but a logical consequence to “help remember”.
15. Make an Art Box
This is one idea to keep all the ‘coloring and word game pages’ from piling up about the room!
It’s a nice alternative to lining up individual manila folders across a table or bench.
This is the one I keep at home for my grandchildren–and update it as the season dictates! Barb.
- Decorate the box and put directions on it for the children to follow. Place dividers in the box.
- Place a manila folder– with the activity written on the tab– in the dividers.
- Place the folders in an order that works for your program/classroom.
- Seasonal and Holiday pages usually work the best upfront; follow that with alphabetically place pages such as Barbie, Cars, Cute pictures, Dinosaurs, Dot-to-Dot, Etc.
- Besides verbally explaining the function and use of the box to the kids–Make sure directions are on the box.
- Your direction page (such as on the lid in the sample photo) can say something like this:
Pictures to Color
Paper & Pencil Games
Dot to Dot
This Month’s Specials and more!
- Complete & Put Away the Old, Before Starting the New!
- Put your “unfinished paper” (with your name) in the boxes’ last folder…
- Come back and finish it later!
It does help! For work that is left in the box–after a time–place them in your version of a ‘Parents Information Box’. For keeping the box up to date–keep ‘master copies’ of pictures in your own files. Make copies as the season and holidays dictate.
We hope you have enjoyed these cleaning activities for preschoolers. Were you able to try some of the fun ideas? With some consistency, you will find that cleanup time becomes easier and easier. Just because cleaning up sounds like work, doesn’t mean you can’t make it fun and engage the young children.
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