How to Teach Preschoolers to help with Cleanup

Curious and creative, young children are too busy learning to notice the messes they’re making!  When you teach preschoolers to help with cleanup, you teach them important life skills and how to be thoughtful of others.  Cleaning your classroom together puts things back in order and teaches the children how to work as a team.

Give them an incentive –
Clean up should always come before another activity they enjoy.  This gives them a goal to aim for – finish picking up, clearing the table or putting chairs back in their places … then we will have time for a story or nature walk, etc.  This is a way of teaching young children that there should be a proper balance between work and recreation.

Give them specific tasks –
Assign preschoolers to specific tasks during clean-up time. If children sit in small groups at their tables, give each table group a specific job, such as straightening book shelves or collecting glue sticks and turning them in to the teacher.  You can also divide the class into three or four groups by color and give each group a task.  Place a red, blue or yellow sticker dot on their shirts to remind them which group they are in and review their assignment.

Give them the right tools –
Small brooms, dustpans and brushes, dusting cloths, cleaning wipes and/or spray bottles with water and a clean rag work wonders.  As long as they are working hard, affirm and commend them for their efforts.  Difficult stains should be handled by the school janitor.  Never allow students to handle furniture polish, spray cleaners or any other chemicals.

Give them enough time –
Young children become frustrated when they are rushed through something.  Allow plenty of time to do pick up tasks and/or cleaning jobs if you want cheerful helpers.  If it will only take *you* five minutes, allow at least ten minutes when your preschoolers are assisting.  Give the children a verbal reminder about 60 – 90 seconds before the timer goes off, signaling the end of cleanup time.

Give them assistance when needed –
If you see one child trying to carry too many objects, ask another student to help.  Be sure to commend the child who came to help (and both of them for working well together).  When a preschooler who is very detail-oriented takes too much time to finish their work, show them how (and why) it can be done a bit faster.

Give them encouragement and affirmation –
Everyone needs affirmation and encouragement. “The books are so neat on the shelf.  You’re almost finished, Table three!”  or, “I’m so glad the Yellow Team cleaned our art tables.  Look how shiny clean they are!”  Children who work hard need to hear the’ve done a good job.

Cleanup in the classroom is necessary, and working as a team makes the task go faster. Teach the children the old saying, “Many hands make light work,” or try updating it a bit: “When we all help, the work is much easier!”  When preschoolers help with cleanup, they learn to appreciate the classroom as a very special place to learn and grow.