While all settings recognise the importance of getting children to tidy up, many encounter problems engaging all those in their care. However, practitioners should not give up trying, as tidying is an important skill for children to learn and one that they will take with them into adulthood.
Taking part in tidy-up time:
- helps to develop children’s self-regulation (see page opposite)
- gives a sense of ownership of their setting
- teaches them about teamwork
- provides opportunities to do some practical mathematics
- encourages interaction and develops vocabulary.
Keeping a setting tidy prevents resources from getting broken or lost and children or staff from tripping but, says early years consultant and author Penny Tassoni, it also improves children’s play opportunities.
‘If an area is messy and jumbled after use, a child going to the space may not see the play opportunities,’ she explains. ‘However, if the area is tidy and tidied throughout the day, children will have better play opportunities and the activity is more likely to hold their attention.’
What good practice looks like
Ms Tassoni recommends settings tidy up throughout the day, so children don’t become overwhelmed by lots of toys that need to be put away, and to avoid tidy-up time at the end of the day when children are likely to be tired and less willing – you don’t want the task to become a battle.
Settings should also ensure children understand why it is important to tidy up. Some children may not be used to tidying up at home or may be new to the setting and unaware of what is expected of them. For example, you could ask, ‘Why is it important to put things away after we use them?’ and ‘How could we keep the home corner tidy?’
As well as focusing on the process of tidying, it is also important to make it fun and find ways to create learning opportunities.
Practitioners should refrain from rewarding children with stickers or similar after tidy-up time, as children may come to expect rewards, and this approach fails to send the message that tidying is a normal and expected part of everyday life. Instead, children should be praised for taking part and completing the task.
Creating a play and learning opportunity
There are many ways to make tidying fun. This can be achieved by introducing a song or a rhyme or turning it into a game. One nursery plays a song called the ‘Tidy-up Rhumba’ (see More information), and on days when children are struggling to tidy, they put on the Mission Impossibletheme tune to boost their productivity.
Practitioners could challenge children to see who can put the toys away the fastest or create ‘tidying-up teams’ – small groups of children led by an adult. This method can prove particularly handy with children who are reluctant tidiers or who are masters at dodging tidying, for instance always needing the toilet during tidy-up time, says Ms Tassoni.
In settings where children of different ages share a space, getting the older children to lead by example could prove successful. Three- and four-year-olds enjoy taking the lead and being able to take on a ‘teacher role’.
Adults can also make tidying interesting by counting items as they put them away or encouraging children to estimate how many items they can pick up at once. Games such as ‘I am thinking about…’, where adults describe items that need to go away, can also support children’s vocabulary.
How one setting organises tidy-up time
At London Early Years Foundation (LEYF)’s Angel Pre-school in Pimlico, children are given a five-minute warning. The open-plan setting tidies up after each morning and afternoon session and encourages children to put away anything they have finished with throughout the day.
To help with the transition from play to tidying, particularly for the setting’s high number of children with special educational needs and disabilities, staff turn off the lights, ask children to freeze and count to ten before turning the lights back on and singing their tidy-up song. Manager Irina Dmitrieva says the children love the song, and it really encourages them to get involved.
The setting also encourages the three- and four-year-olds to take the lead and show the two-year-olds what to do and where resources are stored. All items are stored in boxes with pictures on them so children can identify easily what goes where, and everything is at child’s height.
The nursery also encourages parents to get their children to tidy up at home if they are not already doing so. Parents are given the lyrics to the setting’s tidy-up song and advised to praise their child when they carry out the task.
- Time to Tidy Up by Penny Tassoni and Mel Four – a picturebook for children with practical advice for practitioners and parents.
- Kiki & Jax: The Life-Changing Magic of Friendshipby Marie Kondo – a picturebook exploring the importance of tidying.
- How Do Dinosaurs Clean Their Rooms?by Jane Yolen and Mark Teague – a funny and instructive picturebook.
- Tidy Up Song from Little Baby Bum, https://bit.ly/2Q4fYKg
- Tidy-up Rhumba, https://bit.ly/2vSW1iE