Imagine toy soldiers marching all by themselves into the toy box. Or how about clothes that fold themselves at the snap of your fingers?
Any parent who’s seen the Disney classic Mary Poppins might pine for such magical cleaning abilities. The Banks children certainly knew how to make a mess of the nursery. And, truth be told, so do my kids – and yours. Legos, Little People, play dishes, dolls, books, dirty socks: If a kid owns it, it’s bound to hit the floor in chaos eventually.
But take a spoonful of Poppins’ advice: Find that “element of fun.”
If we can make cleaning easier for our kids, they’ll balk less at the work. And, while learning valuable life skills and a sense of responsibility, they’ll become active participants in the everyday workings of the household.
I can’t teach you that finger-snapping thing, but here are some pick-up tricks to make cleaning easier and a little more fun at your house!
Divide and conquer
A room full of toys can look daunting to a little person, especially when the toys are strewn about the floor haphazardly. Help your child divide the task into doable parts, focusing on one type of toy, like blocks, that needs to be put away.
After your child has collected the blocks and put them away, help him narrow in on the next thing, such as books. This method helps the child make sense of a big project, at the same time providing practice for sorting and identification skills.
Consider ways to organize your home so that it allows your children to easily help with daily chores. They are more likely to be tidy when it’s easy for them.
Our son, Judah, 2, can help empty the dishwasher because all our plastic cups, bowls and plates are in the lower cabinets – easily within his reach. My husband recently built and installed a low peg rack for the kids to hang their coats on. Before he’d even completed the project, someone had already hung up a coat.
Store each kind of toy in separate clear plastic boxes with lids. The boxes stack nicely and are easily identifiable. Limiting your children to one box at a time is also helpful in heading off messes. Set your kids up for success.
Since my husband is a contractor, we are big on tools at our house. “Tools” are defined as anything to help you do your job better. Provide your little helpers with tools that enable them to truly help you. A dishpan is great for collecting messy dishes after dinner.
Teach your child to wipe the table and to use a dustpan to collect the crumbs. If the budget allows, purchase a rechargeable, cordless sweeper. You push it like a vacuum, but its round brush actually sweeps dirt, dust and debris into an inner compartment.
Our kids often fight over who gets to use it because it’s so much fun to do! This is one of Judah’s favorite tools and he can even empty it himself.
Make it a game
While there are many instances in life when chores are chores and you just have to do them, there’s no reason we can’t try to show our kids that work can be fun. One cleaning game our boys like is “freeze cleaning.”
I set the stereo with fun, loud music and the kids begin to clean. I randomly stop the music, and they have to freeze in the position they’re in. The positions they end up in are sometimes hilarious (and often choreographed). They enjoy the process of getting the room in shape.
Calvary, our 4-year-old, loves to play I Spy, which we’ve turned into another cleaning game. Mama says, “I spy three books,” and he searches the room for the books that are out of place and puts them away.
After a recent game when I had “spied” everything there was to pick up in the living room, he requested to go clean another room – proof that making it fun makes kids want to clean.
Consider your own household, family and lifestyle. With a little imagination, you can discover fun ways to teach your kids to put a little order in their chaos. No, they won’t do it as nicely as you would. Instead, they will learn a good work ethic and you will receive valuable help.
Don’t worry: You won’t always be tripping on Little People and stuffed animals. Make-up and car keys are just around the corner.
This article was originally published in February 2011.