Last week, as the kids were playing and making a perfectly toddler-ific mess, my friend asked me: “How did you teach Farrah to clean?”

I started scratching my head, because for a moment, I really had no idea.  But then I started tracing back to her developmental milestones (yay education) and things we do around the house, and I came up with some tips for her.

Kids love to help out when they are young.  And yes, there is a window of opportunity to introduce some things into their routines that will soon become habits.  So here goes:

Provide opportunities for “cleaning up” dont just expect it to happen!

Cleaning is a learned and very abstract and involved concept.  If you don’t teach it, they won’t do it.

1. As you are playing with toys, invite your toddler to place items inside other items like a bucket, box or basket.  This is a developmental “milestone” regardless (taking items in and out of containers), so make it into a game.  Put the “doggies” in, or the red items first, whatever you feel will motivate your child.

2. When you are cleaning around the house, doing windows, floors, etc. Invite your toddler to join you.  We started by giving Farrah a spray bottle of water and a rag.  Very little in our house is ruined by water, and whatever can be ruined, is placed very high.  She would go and spray the whole house and wipe it down with a towel.  At first, we ended up with a very wet carpet or a puddle on the kitchen floor, but the smile on her face was from ear to ear.  Now, a year or so later, she gets a real spray bottle (child safe cleaner like Shaklee) and she goes to town.  In fact, today she did the windows in the kitchen and play room, the coffee table, kitchen counters and kitchen table.  Who knew we would have an amazing helper!

3. Give everything a place.  Just as you want to organize your house by giving everything a “place”, so does your toddler.  When things have a specific place (ie. stuffed animals in the green basket, food items in the play kitchen, cars on the shelf, etc.) your child will know where they go and it becomes second nature.  Of course, you can always switch it up (that will really teach your child to expand their learning).  Every few months, we move things around and change places.  Change is okay 🙂

4. Sing a Song! What kind of Music Therapist would I be if this wasn’t a tip????  In all honesty, kids learn songs so quickly, that it would be silly NOT to include this on the tip list.  There are several already popular clean-up songs out there including:

“Clean up, clean up, Everybody Everywhere…” or “Clean up time, Clean up time, now my friends it’s clean up”

In addition, I have included very specifically laid out clean-up songs in our music therapy sessions and with my child.  For example:

“Put the eggs in the box, in the box. Put the eggs in the box, in the box” (It’s specific and to the point)

5. It’s okay if they don’t do the right thing automatically.  Remember that learning a new skill takes time.  Sometimes weeks, months or even years to get the skill learned and mastered.  Cleaning is no exception, so don’t be upset if water gets on the floor or toy sare put in the wrong place.  Just know that they are trying, and you should celebrate that.

What tips do you have for helping your toddler learn how to clean? How about when they are older? Do you have ideas for “chore charts” or cleaning tools?