How do you encourage your children to pack away independently?

Have you heard the saying: “Having kids is like continually cleaning up after a party you didn’t attend?” For busy mums and dads, the struggle to get children to pack away after themselves, is a real and constant daily battle.

The good news is that the struggle doesn’t have to be endless. By implementing Montessori-inspired habits at home, children of all ages can contribute to keeping their environment clean, tidy, and ordered.

According to Montessori theory, children are in the sensitive period for order between the ages of two and four years. This means that children in this stage of development are highly attuned to, and crave, a sense of order, routine, and consistency within their environment. This applies both in the Montessori classroom, and at home.

To encourage your child to implement a sense of order at home, introduce helpful habits that encourage tidiness, routine, accessibility and role modelling in accordance with their stage of development.

For infants, who have limited fine motor skills, implementing a sense of order may begin with something as simple as showing them how to return an item they removed from the toy box.

For toddlers and preschoolers, who have greater control of movement, you can encourage them to actively participate in cleaning up, packing away, and caring for their environment in accordance with their stage of development.

So how can you utilise Montessori habits at home to encourage your children to pack away independently?

1. Limit the Mess

Do you find that the clean-up process is hampered by the sheer number of toys your child has? To be able to pack away independently, children need to know where every toy belongs, as this allows them to find a sense of order amidst the chaos.

A simple solution is to limit the number of toys available. You can do this by holding a sorting day, where you sort toys into ‘keep’ and ‘give away’ to allow your child to make the decision about what they really value.

An alternative is to rotate the toys and activities that are accessible to children on a monthly, seasonal, or interest basis. This will allow you to manage the mess and assist your child with developing an understanding of the order and structure of their toys.

To set up a Montessori inspired home shelf, select a small number of toys, and arrange them in subject or topic area, and in order from easiest to hardest. This structure emulates the Montessori prepared environment, where every material and activity has a place. The trick here is to limit the number of activities available so that the mess doesn’t get out of control again!

2. Make it Accessible

In the Montessori classroom, all activities are stored on low, open shelves to invite the child to naturally engage in the activities. This structure provides children with the freedom to easily access materials, choose their activities, and pack away when they have finished.

How do you store your toys at home? It is worth considering whether your current toy storage solution provides the same level of accessibility to your child. If your child needs assistance with opening difficult lids, reaching high shelves, or moving a heavy toy box, they are likely to get demotivated based on the level of effort that is required to pack away.

To simplify the packing away process, try implementing some child-sized storage solutions such as easy to open cloth toy boxes, or low open shelves to encourage your child to be more independent when choosing their toys, and packing away.

3. Break it Down

Often the task of tidying up can feel overwhelming for children because they cannot clearly identify the tasks at hand. As adults, we sometimes need to make ‘to-do’ lists to map out our own work, so that we don’t get overwhelmed. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that children also need clear direction to feel confident about completing their tasks from beginning to end.

One strategy that may assist with an overwhelmed child, is to slow down, comfort them, and break the task of tidying up into smaller tasks. You may choose to create a list, and have your child assist with you writing, or dictating the activities that need to be done.

To get the ball rolling, start with a few easier tasks, such as ‘put away the blocks,’ and then progress to more challenging tasks such as ‘make the bed.’ Have your child pack away each item on the list entirely before moving on to the next clean up activity. This will assist them with staying on track, coping with complex pack away projects, and feeling a genuine sense of accomplishment when the work is done.

4. Model the Behaviour

During the first six years of life, children learn rapidly by absorbing information from their surroundings, in order to understand and participate in their world. This includes learning from the behaviour of others.

As parents, it is key to role model the behaviour that you expect of your children. If you are messy, you are going to have a difficult time encouraging your child to be tidy and clean, as they will mimic your actions unintentionally.

To start off small, role model a sense of order by packing away your shoes or bag when you get home. You can engage your child in this learning experience by talking them through the steps of how you pack away, and encourage them to pack away with you.

By showing your child how you pack away and care for your belongings, you are setting an excellent example that will encourage them to apply the same rules to their toys, clothes, shoes and other items.