7 Steps to Teach Your Toddler to Tidy Up
After becoming a wife and mother, I learned to appreciate my own mother more than I ever had before. Lets face it, at times I was a brat, and I don't want my children to treat me the same way! So when I learned that there were parenting practices (among many, the Montessori approach) that focused on raising curious, polite and helpful children I was intrigued. I learned a significant amount about how to prepare my home to suit my child, how to model the behaviors I wanted, and how to communicate and encourage appropriately.
For this post I've pulled many ideas from The Montessori Toddler by Simone Davis, aspects of my own childhood, and personal experience with my 20 month old son, Charlie.
7 Steps to Teach Your Toddler to Tidy Up
1. Present only a select number of toys in each room
The goal here is to make the number of activities in a space manageable for your toddler and yourself. If you are overwhelmed by cleaning up the mess in a space, your toddler will be too! The number of activities in a space depends on the size of the area, but for young toddlers I think 8 or less is a good rule of thumb (ex. 8 individual toys, or 8 boxes containing activities).
2. Give each activity a container, tray, or regular spot (whenever possible) I've found this step to be really important! My son does a much better job of naturally cleaning up when he clearly knows where to put something. I've also seen moms tape pictures of the toy to the front of boxes to help remind a child where items go.
Boxes and trays with edges or handles help my son pick up the activity to place it back on a shelf. Ergonomics count!
3. Put away one activity at a time Encourage clean up by naming one toy "let's clean up the blocks please" "Can you put the books on the shelf?". One task at a time helps your child know where to start and what to focus on!
4. Model the behavior for your child. One thing I've done since Charlie was very little is to let him see me tidy up. As he got older I invited him to help and showed him how to do it, often handing him pieces to put away. I'll never know how much was internalized at the youngest ages, but I've learned not to assume they aren't listening / watching.
This principle also goes for your own belongings, without a doubt children model their parents, and if you are messy, don't expect them to be any different. Marie Kondo, a globally recognized home organizer, promotes a similar philosophy that we must treat our belongings with respect, and when we do our children model us. You don't need to be perfect, but they will copy your regular habits.
5. Sing a 'clean up song' or make sound effects
To help keep your toddler on track try singing a clean up song. We sing "Let's put the blocks away! Let's put the blocks away! Hi ho the derry-o let's put the blocks away" (to the tune of "The Farmer in Dell" nursery rhythm). I love that Charlie sings it all on his own and it reminds him of the task at hand.
Alternatively, you can make fun sound effects when the items go in their containers "Boom!" "Plunk!". Charlie laughs so hard at this!
6. Have patience through pauses or distractions So often Charlie stops mid-way through tidying to study an item (see video below). I try to let him live in the moment and take his time, but if I would like him to get back on track I will start singing the clean up song again. When friends are over or something is really distracting, however, I don't expect my son to be successful at tidying; he can only process so much. We can clean up later!
7. Say Thank You!
I don't usually clap or cheer during clean up, but I do say please and thank you endlessly throughout the day, even when he doesn't do it perfectly or gets distracted. Its respectful and they deserve as much respect as anyone else.
At the end of the day, our home is not perfect (and I would never expect that!) but it makes a huge difference to have a help from time to time.
So there you have it!
Have you tried any of these principles in teaching your toddler?
Or maybe you have other tips to add to the list? I will forever be learning and growing from the experiences of others, so please share your thoughts! Does this seem "doable" to you?