We have really back slid in the past...um...year (DD is 3) She used to be better about putting toys back. She is good about cleaning messes etc but she takes out toys etc and doesn't put away and takes out more. I know this is more about me. So, I need to know some ideas how to help her get back into habit of putting things away, right away (rather than a big room clean up). Part of what is hard is 1) I am not always right there to remind her 2) I don't like to limit her creativity by limiting her to one thing out at a time.
When we're on top of cleaning up (which is admittedly less often than not) we try and be no more than 10 minutes away from being clean. The rule is to clean up before meals, so I give them a 10 minute warning and clean up happens then. My kids are older so they can clean independantly while I do food prep; at 3 they would've needed my help. We've also adjusted how we keep things so that it's easier to keep clean - we use labeled bins for storage, open shelves so things are visible, and try to keep our stuff to a minimum so it doesn't get too overwhelming (but we always have too much stuff anyways). Generally, I try and make things easier to put away than they are to take out. Im also very clear at the start of a cleaning session about what needs to be done for me to think of the room as cleaned.
I think at three, the best you can do is to get down with her and help her put away/organize her things. She might even refuse half the time, but I would just keep modeling and encouraging.
I honestly don't know anyone whose kids are capable of picking up a big mess independently at age three. It's pretty overwhelming to many kids.
We generally do a big clean up at the end of the day because she's got so many "projects" going on that it would disturb them to pick up during the day.
Also there is no such thing as "put the toy away when you're done" usually she starts playing with one toy and then adds another and another until she's got a whole elaborate set up involving every toy she owns.
She does clean up her toys independently at the end of the day on most days. She has 6 storage cubes to store her toys and she just puts the toys back in the bins. I think she does have her own way of organizing them, which is completely different from how I would do it but they're her toys so she gets to decide.
The way we started having her clean up was we implemented a "rule" that you can only have as many toys as you can put away. So the first night we gave her 15 minutes to clean and whatever toys were left over we put in away in a bag. The next night if she cleaned up her toys and still had time left over, she could pick toys out of the bag to put away. It took about a week before she could put them all away herself but now it's just a part of getting ready for bed.
This might not work for all kids. She thought it was a fun game, and she must have thought it was fair because she didn't throw any fits over it.
On nights where she has a hard time because she is very tired or emotional we help her out. Maybe once a week we have to help her.
She is now closer to 4 than 3 so that probably makes a difference.
My son is 3.75, and I get him to clean up his toys before bed and usually at least once throughout the day. Some strategies that have worked are:
- Making it a race. My son loves race cars and likes to pretend he is one sometimes, so we race to see who can put away toys the quickest.
- Turning it into a searching game..."Can you find a blue car? Great; put it in the bin! Now can you find a red one? Yay!"
- Reminding him that toys left out are likely to get lost or stepped on. He's started to get the concept of misplacing items when he asks me where such-and-such toy is and I say "Hmm, I'm not sure. Where did you put it last time you played with it?"
- As a last resort, if he chooses not to put them away, I tell him that I'll put them away for him. That means, however, that because I am much taller than him that they will go up on a tall shelf (that he can't reach) instead of in the floor-level cubbies assigned for his toys. After a few experiences with this consequence, he usually chooses to put them away in their proper places. If not, they stay up there until the next day.
In the context of having a good organizational system for different types of toys and being more consistent lately about expecting him to put away toys, we are seeing some progress and more cooperation from him.