Do you have young children? Have you ever struggled to get them to help clean up? If so, you are certainly not alone. First off, children must learn the skill of cleaning up as most of us are not born with it. Secondly, it can be challenging to motivate a child to clean up, especially when they want to keep playing.
To help you out, I’ve collected three cleanup strategies for toddlers and preschoolers as well as a handy list of tips.
3 Cleanup Strategies
1. Sing a Cleanup Song
- Using a cleanup song can be a great strategy for helping young children know it is time to switch gears from playing to cleaning up. There are many different cleanup songs you can find online. Feel free to spend some time searching for one you like.
- Here is a classic cleanup song you may already be familiar with. As far as I can tell, this song originally came from the Barney TV show. The words are simple and you can sing it as many times as needed.
- Clean up, clean up, everybody everywhere,
- Clean up, clean up, everybody do your share.
2. “Who Can Clean Up the Fastest?” Game
- Some children are competitive. This can be used to your advantage. Try making cleanup time a competition. The competition could be:
- Between two children: “Sam, you clean this side of the room, and, Jane, you clean that side and let’s see who can get their side cleaned up first.”
- Between a child and yourself: “Let’s see if you can clean up the cars before I finish cleaning up the paints.”
- Between a child and a timer: “I’m going to start the five minute timer. See if you can clean up this whole room before it goes off.”
- Between the child and themselves (for older children): “Last time you cleaned up all the blocks in 1.45 minutes. Let’s see if you can do it faster this time.”
- Here is a visual five minute clean up timer you could try using:
3. Find and Clean Game – I Spy
- Here’s another cleanup game you could try. This game may be especially effective for those last few toys that still have not been picked up.
- Invite your child to join you and tell them you have a challenge for them. Be direct and specific. “Tommy, I spy a blue car that needs to go in the white bin. Can you find it?” “Mary, I spy a purple doll dress hiding under the cupboard. See if you can figure out where it belongs.”
- Praise each child when they find the item you named and have put it in the correct place.
- For more advanced children, consider naming multiple items. “George, I spy seven triangle blocks that need putting away. Can you find them all?”
Tips for using Cleanup Strategies
- Follow through
- With all the tips I am about to share, it is important that you follow through. If you don’t do what you say you will do, your child may be tricked the first time or two, but it won’t take long for them to stop taking you seriously and soon it will be nearly impossible to get them to help clean up. They will ignore what you say, since past experience tells them that you don’t mean what you say, and they’ll keep right on playing.
- Give a warning
- Give your child a heads up at least two minutes before it is time to clean up. You could even set a two minute timer and explain that when the timer beeps, that means it is time to clean up the toys.
- Explain what’s next
- One of the biggest hesitations of children, when it comes to cleanup time, is not wanting to clean up because playing with toys is fun, and they don’t know if the next thing will be fun. Therefore, explain to your child what they will be doing next. When you give the two minute warning, it is a good time to briefly mention what’s next. “Two more minutes to play and then it’s snack time.”
- You don’t have to be super specific.
- If the next thing is something they don’t like. Try mentioning the next two things they will be doing. “Next we will go for a diaper change, and then we can play outside.”
- Give plenty of time
- Young children are not very fast at cleaning up, especially when it is a new skill they are just beginning to learn. If you want your child to be involved in helping clean up, be sure to give you and your child enough time to get everything cleaned up without being frantic and rushed.
- Afraid you will be done cleaning up too early? Find a few engaging books or learn some fun and simple preschool songs to sing with your child while you wait. Here are a few of my songs that are great for helping smooth over those waiting transition times.
- Be specific (which areas of the room need cleaning)
- Remember that your child is still learning how to clean up. It will take time and teaching for them to learn which things go where. Therefore, be patient. Take the time to explain how you want things put away. You may have to explain several times.
- Lead by example
- Young children learn best by watching your example. Do you want your child to be cleaning up? Then get down on their level and help them do the cleaning. (As an added bonus, cleanup time goes a lot faster when there is an adult helping!)
Well, there you have it. Three cleanup strategies for you and your toddlers or preschoolers. I hope these are helpful as you go about your day. Don’t forget to smile and enjoy the time you get with your youngsters. Cleaning up is more fun when you’re smiling.
While this article is specific to preschool field trips in Calgary, it may give you ideas of free field trips you could find in your area.
Not a preschool teacher, but want to take your child on a field trip? Consider going together with a handful of other moms with preschool-aged children.
Free Preschool Field Trips
1. Pisces Pet Emporium
- This pet store is among my favourite field trips for preschoolers as they offer guided tours for free.
- Think of Pisces as a preschooler-sized zoo! They even have little monkeys!
- Tip: Even though you booked it a while ago, call Pieces a day or two before your field trip to remind them.
- get to see various animals including small monkeys, fish, cats, dogs, bunnies, birds, etc.
- It’s harder to lose kids because the store is not crowded and only has one exit.
- The tour guide may allow the children to feed the fish and will likely pull out a couple of animals for the children to see up close or even to pet.
- Typically only about an hour long – a good length for many preschoolers.
- Only one class can go at a time.
- The aisles can get crowded, especially if you have lots of adults along. Consider limiting the number of volunteers you take.
2. Fire Station
- See the fire trucks up close and personal. Maybe even get to climb inside one.
- Children love firefighters! Getting to be inside the fire station is thrilling for them.
- Encourages a positive attitude toward community helpers.
- The firefighters giving the tour are on-call. Therefore, if a call comes in, off they go. This means your tour may be cut short.
- It’s my understanding that a lot of Calgary kindergartens visit the fire station as their field trip.
- The minimum age for fire station tours in Calgary is 4 years old.
3. Fish Creek Provincial Park / Inglewood Bird Sanctuary / Prairie Winds Park
- There are many lovely parks in Calgary. Some, like the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary, are wildlife areas, while others, like Prairie Winds, are more cultivated including playgrounds.
- Outside – Many children these days don’t spend enough time outside. A field trip to the park gets them out of doors and in the sunshine.
- You are in charge of this field trip, not dependent on a tour guide who may or may not be good with preschoolers.
- Weather dependent – being outside means you have to adjust your plan based on the weather.
- You have to plan it. Because there is no tour guide, it is up to you to plan activities, games, etc. that will engage your children.
- The Calgary Public Library system has been adding play areas to several of their libraries.
- Also, some of their branches can be booked for storytime where a librarian will read books and sing songs with your class for 30 minutes. (I do not know whether this is a paid or free event.)
- Encourages early literacy and interest in reading.
- Some librarians are excellent at storytime, or you could find a corner and read stories to your own class in which case you have control of the quality of storytime.
- Need to keep the children relatively quiet and have to watch them closely as there are many aisles to hide in.
- Some librarians are used to doing storytime for elementary children and may not adjust well to the preschool age.
Regardless of whether you live in Calgary or not, I hope this article has given you some great free preschool field trip ideas to enjoy with your children.
What are your favourite free preschool field trips?
I’ve heard many people asking about curriculums to use with their preschooler(s). While there are preschool curriculum options available for sale, it may be easier than you think to create your own curriculum customized for your children and your schedule.
While there is no one way to create a curriculum for your children, here is the process I typically follow as a preschool teacher.
Step 1: Overall Learning Goals
- Determine what overall learning goals you want your children to reach.
- Academic suggestions include topics such as:
- It often works well to focus on teaching one letter per week, though they will need lots of review along the way.
- Here are some fun ways to teach the letters: Teaching the ABCs
- Numbers 1-20 (counting and recognition)
- This article has some advice about teaching numbers: Ready for Kindergarten
- Shapes and colours
- Focusing on one colour or one shape per week could work. Alternatively, you could have “Shapes” as your fun theme for a week.
- Here is a post that explores how most preschools teach the calendar: 5 Things to Teach When Homeschooling Your Preschooler
- Some people love integrating science into various themes. If that’s you, here are some ideas for simple science experiments to do with children: Preschool Science Ideas Board
- Sight words
- Wait until your child has a very good comprehension of the alphabet sounds before introducing sight words.
Step 2: Fun Themes
Choose fun themes and make a schedule of them.
- Here’s a great list of preschool theme ideas to get you started: Exciting Preschool Themes
- Decide how often you want to change up your theme.
- Depending on how often and how deep you dig into each theme, you may want to change it up frequently.
- I typically lean toward having a new theme every week, but I know others who change their theme once a month.
- For some themes, such as Under the Sea, there are so many songs, crafts, and activities that can be done that I often extend it to cover two weeks.
Step 3: Weekly Goals
Decide how much curriculum you want to do per week or per theme.
- Do you want to have a letter and/or a number per week?
- Do you want to have a specific learning goal per week?
- Weekly learning goals could include:
- Identifying patterns
- Taking turns
- Weekly learning goals could include:
- How many organized crafts do you want your children to make per week?
- Do you want to do crafts related to each letter or number as you teach them? Or will your crafts be more connected to the fun theme?
- How many songs do you sing each day?
- I recommend trying to find at least one new song per theme while continuing to sing familiar songs.
- Here are some unique and easy song ideas: Preschool Songs
- Do you have organized gym times each day?
- If so, consider finding a new game or a new variation of a familiar game per theme.
- Here’s a versatile gym game that can be adapted to nearly any theme and adjusted for different spaces whether indoor or outdoor, at a school or at home. 4 Sides – Gym Game
Step 4: Brainstorm and Research
- Now that you have your overall topics, your fun themes, and you know how many crafts, songs, and activities you’re looking for, it’s time to start filling in the blanks. Use your theme and overall learning goals as a springboard for your creativity. At the same time, remember that not every activity needs to connect to the theme.
- Your planning might look something like this:
- Fun themes could inspire:
- Stories (public libraries are a great resource)
- Field Trips (I might do 1-3 field trips per year)
- Snacks (if you’re ambitious)
- Google and Pinterest have loads of ideas if you need help.
- Art can also be open-ended like most of the ideas in this post: Beyond the Paintbrush
- To browse more of my blog posts, including songs, games, activities and tips, follow this link: S. J. Little’s Posts
- Take a peek at my Pinterest boards to see what ideas I’ve collected: S. J. Little’s Pinterest Boards
Need a Lesson Plan Template like the one above to organize your ideas? You can print this one for free when you join my email list.
Step 5: Collect Supplies and Implement the Plan
Have fun and don’t be afraid to be flexible with your preschool curriculum. Sometimes new topics or opportunities pop up that are worth switching to. Other weeks the plan simply doesn’t happen. That’s okay. Try again next week.
Remember that the preschool curriculum is meant to serve you and your children. You do not need to serve the curriculum.
How do preschool teachers do it? How do they keep a group of 2-4 year olds listening and engaged at circle time?
If you’ve ever asked these questions, then you are in the right place. As a preschool teacher for over 9 years, here are some of the tricks I use for keeping preschoolers engaged at circle time.
Young children do better when they know what to expect. Having a regular routine helps children feel secure and confident. Building a routine for your day as well as a routine for your circle time will help this. It doesn’t need to be precisely to the minute. Focus more on the order of events. For example, nap time always follows lunchtime, or we always start our morning with five minutes of circle time and then it’s craft time.
- Tips for building routine:
- Think about when your children will have high or low energy. For some children, doing a high-energy activity immediately followed by a quieter sitting activity can help improve focus.
- Use transition songs:
- For sitting down (after standing songs or activities during circle time)
- For the beginning and end of circle time
- For clean-up time
- For transitions to or from regular activities such as nap time
2. Change It Up
Once you’ve established a regular routine, consider changing minor elements of that routine to add variety. Children are naturally curious and desire to explore. Adding variety within routine helps keep preschoolers engaged and attentive. Try to balance and interchange new and challenging with familiar and comfortable.
- You could do this by:
- Always beginning your circle time with the same hello song, but then change up the next song every few days to keep it new and engaging.
- If you teach about a letter every day, introduce it the same way each time, but then use a variety of ways to teach it. Here are some of the ways I like teaching the ABCs: Teaching the ABCs at Circle Time.
- Introducing new songs. Children who attend several days a week can sing the same song every day for a few days, but then benefit from something new. Depending on your class and the time of year (children get wiggly in spring), you may find it helpful to introduce new songs more or less frequently. After a week or two, you can sprinkle in older songs every so often.
- Using a fun theme, such as one listed in this article: Exciting Preschool Themes, can help you find inspiration for new songs, crafts, activities, and stories. Once you’ve decided what your theme is, try searching Pinterest or Google for great ideas that go with your theme.
- Find new picture books to read with your class. Your local library can help with this. I like to search for books based on the fun theme I’m using. With my two or three year old class, I might occasionally re-read a book at circle time. With a four or five year old class, I almost never re-read a book since new books tend to capture their attention better. (Yes, that means I am regularly visiting the library and returning with armloads of picture books.)
- Tweak familiar games, activities, or crafts by changing the theme. This could be as simple as finger painting on an apple-shaped piece of paper rather than a regular paper. As for games, here is a simple game that can easily be adapted to various themes: 4 Sides.
3. Interaction: It Shouldn’t Just Be The Teacher Talking
Try to add interactive elements to your circle time so that your preschoolers can actively participate.
- Interactive elements could include:
- Singing action songs. These songs provide a level of interaction to circle time but don’t stop there.
- Asking questions. Ideally, ask questions that every child gets an opportunity to answer. With a large group, open-ended questions may take far too long to allow the children to answer. Instead, for example, when your theme is pets, try asking each child a simple question such as, “What is your favourite type of pet?”
- Encouraging participation. Watch how you react when a child attempts to add a comment or answers a question with the wrong answer. Your tone of voice and body language will tell the whole class whether their participation and attempts to answer even when they don’t know the correct answer are welcomed or not.
- Using visuals. Including an activity with visuals the children can hold and touch helps keep them interested at circle time.
- Matching – Make some matching visuals, such as my free Zoo Animal Skin Matching set. Secure one of each match on the wall or bulletin board. With the matching visuals, invite each child to come up one at a time. Hand them a visual and have them match it to the visual on the wall. Be sure that you have enough visuals for each child to have a turn. If you don’t, consider reusing some of the matches until every child has had a turn.
- Sorting – Similar to “matching” above, have some visuals the children can hold and a background to sort them on. Invite them to come to the front one at a time. Give them a visual and encourage them to place it on the appropriate part of the background. This can work well for sorting colours, or dividing vehicles into land, air, and water vehicles.
- Singing – I have a set of Old McDonald puppets I made from colouring pages. On days when I have enough time for every child to have a turn, I invite one child at a time to come stand with me at the front and choose one animal. They get to hold the animal while we sing that verse and then return to their spot on the carpet.
4. Keep It Short
When beginning a circle time routine, start short. Only do circle time for a few minutes at a time the first few days. Gradually, as the children get used to having circle time, you will be able to make it longer. However, be careful not to go too long. Otherwise the children will begin losing interest and you’ll have a harder time keeping them engaged.
- A good rule of thumb is that a child will have as much attention span as their age. For example, a 3 year old will likely be able to pay attention for 3 minutes. Therefore, for 3 year olds, keep the pace of circle time fast. Don’t spend more than 3 minutes on each song, story, or most activities.
5. Alternate Between Quiet Listening, Singing While Sitting, and Standing With Big Actions
Especially if you have a wiggly class, finding excuses to have the children stand up or do full-body actions will help them be able to sit attentively for other parts of circle time. Using transition songs can be helpful when it is time to sit back down.
- Ways to get your children standing up include:
- Stand-up songs, such as this one: The Flamingo Song.
- Rather than simply counting something, such as the days on the calendar, invite the children to stand up and stomp the number you are counting – one stomp for each number you say.
- Do stretches.
6. Pay Attention: Are Your Preschoolers Engaged or Distracted or Bored?
Your children will give you cues. Each day, take time to reflect on how circle time went and how you might be able to improve it next time.
- Are you struggling to get the children to stay sitting? You might need to find something new and exciting for circle time. Alternatively, if it is the younger children who aren’t engaged, you may need to find something simpler and more interactive for circle time.
- Are your children goofing off when you read a book? Perhaps it’s time for a shorter and more engaging book such as one of these: 7 Fantastic Animal Guessing Books or try one of the methods in my article about Ways to Engage Preschoolers with Stories.
- If there is another adult in the room, reflect with them on which part of circle time you seem to be losing the children’s attention. Sometimes an adult watching from the back of the room will be able to pick up on signals you might not be able to see while you are leading circle time.
7. Be Engaged
- If you (and any other adults in the room) are interested in circle time, your children are far more likely to be interested and engaged as well.
- Make eye contact with the children while you lead circle time.
8. Pick Your Battles
Choose carefully which behaviours you allow or disallow during circle time, especially when you are the teacher leading circle time. Every time you interrupt what you are teaching to correct a child’s behaviour, you are in danger of losing the attention of the other children.
- Do your children really need to sit cross-legged at circle time? In some situations, yes, but in other situations, allowing them to sit with their legs stretched out in front may be just fine.
- Is a child speaking out of turn? Glance around to see if they are distracting the other children. If not, you may be able to ignore their comments for the time being.
Mastering the art of keeping preschoolers engaged and listening at circle time is a skill that takes time to be learned. Even a teacher, who has led successful and engaging circle times for years, may find him or herself needing to step back and re-evaluate when a new class isn’t responding as expected.
So what is my final piece of advice? Take time to pause and reflect about how circle time went each day and try to think of one thing you could improve the next time around. In this way, you will develop the skill of keeping preschoolers engaged during circle time.