Do you remember clean up time as a joyous part of the day...?
I don't think most of us do.
I recall our nursery teacher playing a few notes on the big old piano which sat in the corner of the room...that was our cue. We all went as fast as we could; flinging barbie dolls back into the big dollhouse, throwing blocks back into a big crate. It was loud and frantic and the job got done.
At the day care I used to work at, clean up time was always a struggle. I got so tired of saying over and over again, "clean up time!! Let's go!" It was drudgery as there were so many toys to put away. The task seemed never ending.
Fast forward to about one year ago during my very first observation in a Waldorf nursery room. The teacher sang a song and started cleaning up herself. There was no verbal instruction....just doing. The teacher and assistant both helped throughout the entire process bringing joy to the task...the children imitated them, naturally, and began cleaning up themselves. While observing in other nursery classrooms, I also noticed that it seemed like the teacher and assistant were really doing the bulk of the job.....I can't imagine this happening in another setting. I was always used to the children completing the job solely and not being able to move on to the next activity until the task at hand was done. It was the cause of many power struggles. It was refreshing to observe the adults joyfully participating in the task...and watching the children follow. Again, we teach young children teach by imitation, the most powerful tool.
During playschool, clean up time arrives just before we begin to prepare our snack table together. I sing a simple song and the children meet me at our sofa. We chat for a few moments and I then assign "jobs"....each child has a task, such as wiping the table, putting the knitted animals back in the barn, sweeping the floor, etc. I begin our clean up song and everyone is off, including me. I take part in each aspect of cleaning up; helping along the way and sometimes doing my own part which is usually sweeping the floor with my "big broom". Each toy has a specific space where it "lives" and this is consistent. I feel that this coupled with the small amount of toys which we have makes for a smooth tidy up time.
For W, now 30 months, I take a different approach. The one area which always needs tidying is his beloved car/truck/bus basket. This happens before mealtimes, bath and bed, and before we leave the house.
I began setting up 2 long wood blocks as a ramp to the basket. I sat down and started rolling the cars up the ramp and into the basket. It caught his attention right away and this is how we tidy the cars each and every time now. The playschool children also love this and start building it straight away during clean up time.
This brings joy to our task at hand which is my goal in all that we do. Any time we see something as drudgery, the children will indeed pick up on this emotion. A song to accompany emptying the dishwasher or scrubbing the sink can transform something not all that enjoyable into a task which you may even begin to like.
washing the dishes....a sensory experience!
I invite you to let go of the notion that young children must be responsible solely for cleaning up their things....happily join in on the task a few times and see what a difference it makes. That's not to say that a child won't start to see you as someone they can turn to and say "You do it!" (as W sometimes like to remark)....I make sure to involve him; such as we both walk to the garbage can to throw away the food on the floor, etc.
Thanks everyone for your words of encouragement during these past few weeks. I feel like W has been non-stop ill and our sleep has been terrible. I did take him to the physician on Friday and it turns out he has a double ear infection. The poor boy. That would explain a lot. Hopefully we are on the road to recovery and reconnection. I can feel it already. I'm looking forward to the upcoming season of Lent as we experience the death and rebirth of all that surrounds us.
I do have a bit of unfortunate news to add in closing. W's dear fish, Tuna, which we received for Christmas has passed away and it was entirely my fault. He slipped out of the net while I was cleaning his bowl and fell down the drain. I couldn't catch him. It was horrible; like something straight from a corny family channel movie.
We've gotten another fish straight away, but I'll never forget what happened today. And I'll be sure to be more careful. W saw the whole ordeal as he helps me clean the bowl. All he kept saying was "Tuna went down the drain! He's going!" in a happy voice.
Rest in Peace, Tuna.