Ever wonder how your daycare provider does it? Somehow, they manage to wrangle 10 to 15 small children, get them out the door in coats and boots, and keep a tidy, educational play space—all while wiping noses, kissing boo-boos, and giving hugs. Our mind is boggled, too. So we asked them to share their super-star organizing tips for the messy moms and dads among us.
Shipshape and on the shelf
• Give warnings (perhaps at five minutes and again at three minutes) before you ask kids to start cleaning up. Then a verse or two of the “Tidy Up” song will (likely) get them on task.
• Store each child’s hat and mitts in the sleeve of his jacket—no more hat and mitt scavenger hunts!
• Give the kids their own dumping bin or basket at the bottom of the stairs or in the entrance hall, so each day they can return everything where it needs to go. Look for empty bins by bedtime.
• Don’t bother with the boxes that crayons and markers come in; instead, transfer them to a plastic box with a tight-fitting lid. This way, if the caps aren’t on securely, the markers won’t dry out. (If most of the crafts in your house happen in the kitchen, keep the supplies there in a storage tower in the corner. Everything can be cleaned up and stored away quickly—and the sink is close by in case of spills.)
• Missing board game pieces? No more! Label a lidded plastic box: Found Game Pieces. As errant bits show up, pop them into the box. When you open a game and find a piece is missing, chances are it’s in the Found box.
• Place a coloured dot on every puzzle piece in a set—mark the box the same way.
• An indoor clothesline works well for drying and displaying artwork. Use a piece of string and clothespins to hang it, well out of reach, in the family room—a great way to display your little one’s masterpieces!
• Try to limit the number of toy containers that are out at one time—it’s easier to tidy a small mess than put away every toy your child owns. Toys should invite play—a jumbled mess doesn’t stir the imagination.
• Group toys that kids play with on the same toy shelf—put the cars and play animals near the blocks.
Orderly and out the door
• Arrange a small chest of drawers for outdoor clothing or equipment. Each drawer can have a child’s name on it. The children can keep hats, mitts, sunglasses (whatever they need) in it. This teaches them to organize their belongings and makes leaving home less hectic.
• Place hooks on the wall to keep the floor and closet tidy.
• Use nap time to pack snacks and toys for outings. Each night, replace supplies in your travel pack, such as sunscreen, wipes and diapers, so you don’t have to restock on the day of the trip. A travelling fanny pack is handy for taking emergency supplies, such as Band-Aids.
• Keep extra diapers, clothing, wipes, soothers and snacks in your car in case you forget to bring your usual bag or end up somewhere unexpected.
Kids in control (sort of)
• Give everything a home. Having a place for everything makes cleanup easy. When kids know where things belong, they’ll learn the cleanup routines, and tidy-up will be fast.
• Foster independence in kids by establishing a quick self-check at the door. Teach kids to ask themselves: “Do I have my hat on? Do I have mitts, and are my ski pants pulled over my boots?” (And, just for fun: “Do I have my teeth in?”)
• Praise is the best strategy. When your child does something that you wanted her to do, tell her how proud and happy you are. And then tell someone else what your child did! Make sure the child hears you passing on this good news—it will encourage her to do it again.
• Set out tomorrow’s clothing as part of the bedtime routine. If the clothing is out, preschoolers (and some toddlers) can work toward getting dressed by themselves.
• Use the “flip and go” method to help little ones learn to put on their own coats: Lay the coat, out side down, on the floor with the hood at the child’s feet; have the child put her arms in the arm holes first, then bring her arms up to flip the jacket over her head.
Tamara Byers, owner, Puddle Jumpers Home Daycare, Whitby, Ont.
Dyan Cheung, caregiver, Toronto
Kim Gunby, child care provider, Hamilton, Ont.
Carla Hitchcock and Amy Tanner, Fredericton Regional Family Resource Centre
Laurie McNelles, child development specialist and instructor, Toronto
Jen Newell-Power, owner, Summerside Circle Dayhome, Edmonton
Marcia Nickerson, director, Allegro Child Care Centre, Halifax
Debra Paufler, owner, Kinder Campus Child Development Centre, Edmonton
Charlotte Sam, child care manager, Harbourfront Child Care Centre, Toronto