Tips for Tidying Up with Children

Since my family and I are staying home for an indefinite amount of time this spring, we have been tackling some major spring cleaning projects. I figure if we are going to spend all of our time here, we might as well make the most of it and spruce up the place. However, with children around, this can be challenging. There are constant interruptions, and let’s face it, children have an uncanny ability to turn a tidy room upside down in minutes.

The only way we are able to semi-successfully clean our house is by involving our three children (ages 2 to 9) and making the cleaning fun! When possible, I turn cleaning tasks into games, and I also try to focus on jobs that match my children’s ages and abilities. With a little effort and creativity, the whole family can participate in the satisfying endeavor of spring cleaning.

Child cleaning

  1. Start small. Especially if your child is new to cleaning, start with a small job, like their bedroom. Breaking spring cleaning projects into manageable chunks makes everyone happier. The sense of accomplishment from completely cleaning one area of the home will motivate children to hit up other parts of the home, too.
  2. Make it fun. By turning cleaning into a game, your child is bound to want to participate in the fun. Have them put on some old socks and skate around the house to catch the dust bunnies. The one with the dirtiest socks or the largest dust pile wins! Be silly and take breaks as needed throughout your cleaning time.
  3. Be systematic. I like to use a whiteboard or a big piece of paper to write out our spring cleaning plan, or you can use a printable to-do list. We divide the house into rooms and list the tasks to be done in each room. Children love checking off to-do lists as much as we do! Show your child how to do each task step-by-step. My kids have received multiple sweeping lessons from me and my partner. We also remind them to clean from top to bottom, decluttering and wiping tables and counters before sweeping and mopping.
  4. Get your groove on. Blast some of your family’s favorite music as you clean! Who doesn’t like to dance while they’re dusting, or sing their favorite song while using a mop as a microphone? It lightens the mood and makes the task more enjoyable.
  5. Tackle it through teamwork. My partner and I like to form teams as we tackle certain areas of the house. A task is less daunting and goes faster when you are chipping away at it with a teammate. We often add a competitive component to the cleaning and see which team can finish their task first!
  6. Give your child agency. Involve your child in the process as much as possible. The more agency they have in the decision-making process, the more they will be invested in the cleaning project. Let them choose which room to clean. Ask them if they prefer to dust or mop. Label bins or baskets with categories such as “give away,” “put away in another spot,” “throw away,” and “keep.” Have your child sort their belongings into the different categories. Model how you sort your own belongings by thinking out loud: “Hmm, I haven’t used this bread maker in a long time. I like the idea of making my own bread, but I just don’t use it. I could give it to Aunt Lou, who has always wanted one.” It can be hard for a child to let go of a toy or t-shirt, but if you remind them that it could be used by another person who really needs it, they will be more likely to pass their stuff along.
  7. Rotate! Just because you have five bins of toys doesn’t mean all of them should be out at the same time. As part of spring cleaning, ask your child what toys they are playing with now. Keep those out and available, and put the rest away in storage. There’s tremendous value in putting some items away and switching them out periodically. Kids are always excited to play with some “new” toys.

Remember that your spring cleaning project will probably make your house messier before it gets neater. Streamlining your space takes time and effort. You really have to get everything out of a closet or cabinet if you want to thoroughly wipe down the surfaces and go through every item. As you put everything back, you’ll end up with the satisfaction of having a clean and decluttered place to hang out, which is especially nice during this strange and trying time in our lives.

By Sarah Zegarra (M.Ed), educator and teacher leader who taught K-5 bilingual education (Spanish-English). She is passionate about project-based, whole-child, culturally responsive teaching, and integrating the arts into learning.