Being able to keep things neat and tidy is an important life skill - one that can be difficult to teach to young children. Often, they don't understand the need to put things away.  They are content to play in whatever small space they can find surrounded by all the treasures they have accumulated throughout the day.  However, with the right tools, children will be helping keep your space clutter free in no time. 

Label Everything

A key step in teaching children to put things away is to have a space for that particular item to go.  Label shelves, containers, and designated areas for toys.  Most preschool aged children cannot read yet, so use pictures instead of words.  For example, designate a shelf in your room for puzzles.  Then create a label with a picture of a puzzle and adhere it to that shelf.  When a child is finished playing with a puzzle, they will know where it goes because they can easily see the label. 

Clear or Open Containers

Small toys or those with many small parts (such as building blocks) should be kept in containers.  Those containers should be clear or uncovered so that children can easily see what belongs in them.  Teach children that they should only use one container at a time and that the objects inside should not be mixed with those from another toy.  When toys or parts do get mixed together, children will be able to use or learn sorting skills to help separate the items into the right containers.

Model Behavior

It is not logical to expect children to learn to keep things neat and orderly if the rest of the area is messy. If your desk is messy, how will children understand the importance of cleaning up their crayons when they are done coloring?  Model the behavior you are trying to teach by keeping your things picked up.  Use it as a teaching tool by explaining to the children why you are putting your pen back in the drawer when you are done writing with it. 

Remind, Remind, Remind

Young children have a short attention span.  They learn best through repetition.  Use a gentle tone to remind children to put something away when they are done with it.  Ask them if they know where a toy goes when you see them finish playing.  Be willing to help clean up if necessary, and don't lose your temper. 

Teach Children to Purge Items

Having a place for everything and teaching kids to put those things where they go are important skills, but knowing when and how to dispose of items is equally important.  Instead of clearing out broken toys when the children are not around, involve them in the process.  Have them choose items to donate or throw away.  Let them help fix something that can be repaired while you talk about the importance of taking care of things. 

Many adults struggle with the ability to clean up after themselves because they didn't learn the habit at a young age.  As hard as it might seem, with consistency and patience, your kids will have the necessary skills to keep things clean, orderly, and organized for a lifetime.  

For more information or advice, contact a school such as Mountainside School.