Teach Babies to Clean Up

Involve baby in cleaning up!

It feels good to sit down and blog, it’s been hard to find time lately! But, I’m back and I want you to encourage a baby to clean up after themselves. Having babies engage in clean up activities develops cognitive skills such as memory, attention, language and problem solving. It’s important to provide lots of role models of cleaning up to build a good understanding. Once babies are able to follow some simple directions, typically around eight to ten months of age, they are ready to begin interacting in clean up tasks.

Check out the video example. Please excuse my singing and videography, I did the best I could trying to rein my son in, gather the many items strewn across the kitchen and maintain his attention. In the video, my son had to remember the task we were doing. He also had to attend to it and you can see his attention is very short. Babies need lots of reminders, because their attention span is brief and they are easily distracted. He thought he was finished after putting one item away and then closing the door. I had to redirect him back to the task. When initially teaching clean up, after baby puts a single item away, make a big deal of it, providing lots of verbal reinforcement and then let baby go on about their business. My son has been working on clean up for a while now, so I decided to keep going with him until we were done putting all things away. You have to start small then grow. My son is using receptive and expressive language skills by understanding what I’m asking and following directions and singing/vocalizing along. I LOVE that he has started singing during clean up. The clean up song works wonders. I’ve had success with it across settings in the classroom, therapy and home. Pair the act of clean up with singing: “clean up, clean up everybody, everywhere, clean up, clean up, everybody do your share.” You can also try: “toys away, toys away, time to put the toys away.” Singing helps to gain and maintain babies interests. My son is also using the problem solving skills of open/close, in/out, neat/messy and size/shape. Lots of good things going on here!

I realize this cannot be done every time you go to clean up or transition baby between tasks but attempt to do it at least once day. It takes practice to teach babies the understanding and routine of clean up. It also takes patience, a little extra time and lots of redirection to keep them from pulling back out what they just put away. I’ve worked with my son a lot to get to where we are. I’ve sung the clean up song and modeled cleaning up with him since he was very young, holding him as I sang and put toys away. Then I moved to guiding his hands to place items away during cleanup. At twelve months old, he has just now started to really engage with the task. Of course, littles definitions of clean up and the parents is much different, but it’s all about developing the concept, value and importance of cleaning up. So when mommy says, “time to clean up” that means we are putting things away. It also builds the foundation for responsibility. Having babies help with clean up supports their cognitive skill development, so why not give it a try?! I challenge you, let me know how it goes! Also, please share any clean up songs or tricks you have.

Peace & Love,


13 thoughts on “Teach Babies to Clean Up

    • That’s a good question! Three year olds are no doubt a challenge and very independent. I would try requiring clean up of a few toys before allowing transition to a really desirable task such as going outside or playing game, whatever your little really likes. Stick to your guns and don’t move on to the task until clean up is complete. Provide lots of excitement, high fives and verbal reinforcement when they assist with clean up. Start small with clean up so your little gets the idea but doesn’t get frustrated. You can set the stage by having a few scattered toys out and having your little help with picking them up and putting them away. Then after clean up, do something fun. You can also take turns with clean up-mommy puts a toy away, now it’s your turn. Try the clean up song as well. Have your little clean up until the song is over. You may say, “we have to clean up until mommy stops singing.” Start with one round of the song increasing to more rounds as your little gets the gist. I hope this helps, good luck mama :)!

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    • Asking littles to clean up is a tough task for them and there’s likely to be resistance no matter what we do. Cleaning up gets in the way of something they really want to do. Same with adults, I would prefer not to clean up and move on to what I really want to do but as adults, we have the ability to reason with why it’s necessary to clean up after ourselves. Littles don’t have this reasoning ability, they just know what they want and get frustrated when they don’t get it. I understand! What can you do about it?! Attempt to make clean up as fun and easy as possible but be consistent with it. You can try having labeled/marked bins/baskets for toys to be put away in. For example, you may have a book basket, stuffed animal basket and one for cars. You can have your little pick up all the cars and you as the parent pick up the books and put them away. Make it a team effort. Music is also good for clean up. You can clean up while a song is playing or after the song is done. A lot of times baiting littles with rewards is a means to an end. You may wish to offer a treat or reward after clean up. I’ve also had success with sticker charts. For example, once they get five stickers for cleaning up, they get a reward. Try having your son clean up just a few things at first and give him lots of praise then gradually increase your expectations. The key is being consistent and they will begin to understand that it’s a lot easier to clean up than to put up a fight but this takes a lot of time, patience and practice. It’s important to be firm with your clean up expectations, not moving to the next task until your expectations are met. Just don’t set your expectations too high, especially at first. It’s also a good idea to prepare your little for transitions by saying, “you can play for one-two more minutes then it’s time to clean up.” Make sure to state your expectations. “We are going to clean up then go outside.” When I teach and expect skills, I think of it like this: First, I do, then WE do, next YOU do. I hope this helps!!

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