By Danielle Lindner, educator and host of Miss Danielle’s Preschoolbuds

The Preschool years are some of the most wonderful times and scariest for parents, especially if it’s the first child they are sending. I receive a lot of question from parents, from “How do I handle Separation Anxiety?” to “What do I do if my child hasn’t seemed to make many friends?”

One of my favorite things to help with though is the old problem of clean up! “My preschooler just won’t clean up their toys. They are constantly making a huge mess and I spend my nights cleaning up books, blocks, trucks, you name it.” Parents are always perplexed when they walk into their child’s preschool classroom and watch how the teacher claps a few times, or flicks the light on and off, and suddenly, the class, including their child, spring into action and quickly and efficiently clean up everything in a few minutes flat! They are even more amazed when they do it without being asked four or five times and may even sing while they are doing it. “Clean up, Clean Up, Everybody, Everywhere!”

What in the world has gotten into their child? Why do they know exactly what to do in a classroom setting, but can’t figure it out in their own playroom? The answer is simple. It all comes down to something called executive functioning. Now this has nothing to do with knowing how to run a board or make the numbers for their stockholders. What it basically means is that when a child has executive functioning skills they can easily access information, come up with a solution to the problem or task and then carry out that solution.

Helping children to build executive functioning skills by giving them easy clues as to what you expect of them, solutions and a tool kit (like having a bin marked with a picture of a block) and giving them clues so they understand the routine involved with clean up, sets them up for success. By limiting the number of toys you allow out in a classroom, you also eliminate sensory overload which helps keep their executive functioning skills sharp. So, what can you do at home?

Setting up your playroom like your child’s classroom can help you both.

1. Get clear bins and label each one for easy clean up and organization. “My child can’t read,” you say? No worries. Find a picture of the items you would like to put back in each bin, print out the picture and affix it to the front of each bin. Your child will see the picture of Legos or crayons and will have an easy time cleaning up.

2. Talk to your child about how having too many toys out at once can make it hard to clean up. Set a limit as to how many toys can be played with at any one time and teach your child how to use the visual clues on each bin to figure out where toys go.

3. Model the right behavior.

Work with your child to help them clean up if it seems overwhelming. If they are helping that’s a good start. As they become older and more proficient add more tasks. Let them see that you have confidence that they can do more and can be successful. The process of organizing and cleaning up is a great start to building self-sufficiency and executive functioning skills.

Children aren’t that much different from us. If we have piles of paperwork on our desk with old coffee cups and stacks of bills, we too might find it difficult to know just where to start.

Kids need help as we do as adults. Simplify your surroundings making tasks clear, setting clear expectations and setting up success with some simple organizational tips.

4. Make Cleaning Up Fun! Encourage your child to sing their school clean up song, if they have one at home. Be creative. Ask them to pick up by color or shape. Ask them to pick up everything that starts with a letter. The options are endless!


Danielle Lindner