Bringing the Classroom Home – Part 1

Parents are often surprised to hear the many wonderful things their children do at school. “They cleaned up a whole tub of legos?” “Put on their own shoes and coat?” “Swept the floor when beans fell from the sensory table? My child??”

As much as I would like to pretend that I have the magic touch, I don’t. But, I do have a set of classroom management tips that can easily be applied to your home environment and daily rhythms.  Tips that will set you up for success and eliminate power struggles.

This month, I will share some ways that you can bring the classroom home. We’ll cover little changes you can make that will help your child pick up her toys, get dressed in the morning, and clean the house!


Part 1 – Banish Clean Up Power Struggles

It’s the middle of the night. My husband stumbles into the bathroom and lets out a scream that could have raised me from the dead. A million things run through my head. Turns out, he stepped on a small rubber shark. It’s a pretty common occurrence in our house. I can’t count the number of times I’ve stepped on a stray lego or train. I feel sure most parents around the country can totally relate. Every time the toys start to get out of control, I revisit these simple classroom management steps.

1) Get rid of the toys

 I’m not mean. I promise. This may seem counter-intuitive, but kids have an easier time finding an activity when there are fewer choices. So, trash the toys that are broken and donate the toys that have been forgotten or have missing pieces.

2) Limit and rotate available options

Next, put away most your remaining toys. I use big rubber tubs to hold my son’s toys in his closet. Then, he has access to 5 or 6 activities at a time. I try to balance the activities a bit (one puzzle, one or two building options, one set of pretend play characters, etc), but don’t stress about this too much. This cures boredom as well as the clean-up overwhelm. I switch-up tubs of toys about once per month. My son helps and gets to pick out the toys he wants available next.  This is a total game changer. I spend much less time and emotional energy switching out toys than I did when nagging my son to clean up his toys every single day.

3) Ditch the toy box

Catch-all toy boxes might seem like a fast clean up solution.  However, it ends up being overwhelming and makes it harder for your child to choose an activity.

You’re better off having a designated container for each material. In my classroom, every single activity has its own basket, box, or tray. The watercolor paints sit neatly on a tray with a brush and a water cup.  The play dough tools go into a tub along with the bag of play dough. In my son’s room, the dinosaurs have their own basket and the cars are in a small box under the train table. A place for everything and everything in its place.  Having designated spaces for every material will make clean-up much more manageable and will go a long way toward ending the tears, nagging, and tantrums.

4) Clean up often

Now that your toys are organized, it’s time to start implementing short, frequent clean-ups. We tidy at least twice per day at home. Once before nap and once before bed.  Of course, the classic “put it away before you get something else out” advice is solid and a constant rule in the classroom. But at home, it’s just not as practical and I don’t feel like following my son around constantly enforcing it.  You’ll have the most success when you are working clean up times into natural transitions. Time for lunch? Let’s clean up first. Time to go outside? Clean up first! Time for bath? Clean up!

Especially after a reorganization, your child will need your help cleaning up and getting everything in the right place.  For the first couple of weeks, clean up alongside your child every time. Then, as they begin to adjust to the new routine, you can start expecting them to clean up independently more and more often.  Most of all, make it consistent and a positive experience. Before long, the clean up power struggles will disappear!


Thanks for reading the first installment of the“Bringing the Classroom Home” series. Stay tuned for more tips on setting up your child for success at home!

1 thought on “Bringing the Classroom Home – Part 1”

  1. I love the way #4 differentiates between things that work at school vs. what you can do at home!! “School rules” of “one thing at a time” sometimes worked when the kids were little (2-4) but now that they’re older they like mixing everything up.

    My kids aren’t good cleaners before snack (by that point, they’re just hungry, not good helpers). But set a 10-min timer to clean an area so they can go ride bikes in the afternoon? VERY effective, they can get it done in 8. And now that they’re both (!) old enough to read, if we spent 5 min together making a checklist and I give them different-color pens for the actual checks, they can do a VERY good job competitively. (They like to build tents then swirl all the toys into a stew. Or build train tracks, roads, shipping centers, etc. Legos and dominos and marbles and multiple kinds of blocks — cleanup is not minor. I love the play, but I also want them to be able to unwind it back into the right bins.)

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