Preschool Cleanup Strategies

Jun 1, 2017

Supporting Preschool Cleanup

We have all been there. Young children have been actively engaged in play, and as a result there is a large collection of toys strewn all over the playroom or classroom. We look at this mess and at times feel a sense of dread for the impending cleanup job. Over my years in the classroom, I have developed some strategies which help my preschool students achieve success in this important endeavor. Here is how we support preschool cleanup in our Moorestown preschool.

Support the Transition from Work to Cleanup

Imagine if you are engaged reading a book, and then suddenly somebody tells you to stop and to immediately do something different. Perhaps you would be frustrated, wanting to finish the page or the chapter. This is the emotion that children feel when adults suddenly tell them to stop working and to help with preschool clean up. Reminders about the upcoming transition help lend predictability. In addition, I call the children to a meeting between our play and cleanup. Having a meeting (we do our literacy lesson, but it really can be anything) allows a break between work time and cleaning up. This helps the children start on the cleanup job with fresh energy.

Do you always have to clean up?

Our days are full of transitions and responsibilities, during which we ask children to pause the work with which they are engaged. At home, this might mean a stop for nap or lunch. In the classroom this could be a break for one of our Specials – such as Coding or Music – or a trip to the playground. Traditionally in Early Childhood classrooms such a transition would necessitate cleaning up before moving to the next activity. I resist this idea in my classroom, and do not ask for preschool cleanup until the end of our day. This means that we leave materials out on tables and the floor while we are outside, and clean up at the end of our day together. This accomplishes two things: we do not spend more time than necessary cleaning up the classroom, and the children can build upon their ideas from one work time to another.

I also support children when they ask to leave their work standing – or “in progress” from one day to the next. There is great satisfaction in building upon ideas from day to day, and I have found that this can add to complexity in the work. Leaving work in progress happens at the children’s request and when logistics allow.

Finding responsibilities for everyone

At our planning meeting between work and cleanup, we assign jobs. Each person, including adults, has a job to do. It is important for the jobs to be specific, especially for young children. Remember that the mess looks overwhelming to them too, so instead of saying “Can you clean up the block area?” say “How about you clean up the small blocks, and I will clean up the long ones.” This makes the job more manageable. This strategy also means that people may not be cleaning up the toys that they specifically used. To me this is not problematic, so long as everyone is contributing to the job. We are all responsible for our environment, and can share in its care, even if we did not play with a specific toy. It is important that adults help as well, for they are also citizens of the preschool classroom.

Disconnect your emotion

There are days when cleanup goes slowly, the job is overwhelming, or the schedule is tight. Disconnect your emotion. If you are tense, as an adult, the cleanup will feel burdensome. Rushing children in preschool cleanup is rarely productive, and often leads to frustration for both the child and adult. Keep the expectations manageable; if it is a huge job, you are not going to finish it in two minutes, no matter how hard you work. Also, give yourself permission to change the narrative in order to get the job done. Perhaps part of the job can wait until later. Perhaps everyone needs a minute before cleaning to get geared up for the big job. Perhaps you can help by cheerfully getting the process started, or by working as a team with your preschooler.

I have found that working together and sharing in the responsibility of preschool cleanup supports children and adults as they cultivate their shared citizenship of a classroom. I bet that this can be true at home, too.

Stay tuned next week for some examples and strategies about early childhood education from our Moorestown Preschool program.

Beginnings at MFS is the Moorestown Friends School Early Childhood Program (Preschool, Prekindergarten, and Kindergarten). The Beginnings Blog is intended as a helpful tool for parents and guardians of young children, examining important ways in which children find meaning, in their lives and in their education.

Author Garrett McVaugh is the Beginnings at MFS Half-Day Preschool Teacher. Along with his Teaching Assistant Pauline Williams, he guides some of the youngest MFS students through their first year of school. A graduate of Haverford College, Garrett has been an early childhood educator for over a decade. Prior to MFS, he was a teacher at Preschool of the Arts in Madison, WI. Prior to living in Wisconsin, Garrett spent eight years teaching at St. John’s Episcopal Preschool in Washington, DC.

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