You know what the day is like with small kids: you just go from one disaster to the next, one mess to a bigger mess; they manage to undo in minutes what it takes me an hour to accomplish. It's enough to make you cry, tear your hair out, gnash your teeth, and beat your chest in frustration. Playdough to painting to splashing at the sink to requesting more food to pulling all the books off the shelf in search of the one perfect story...
It is sometimes hard to remember that PLAYING IS A CHILD'S WORK. They really aren't doing this to drive you crazy. It only feels that way. They are impulsive beings, children, and don't worry about the mess they leave behind...they just look ahead to the next fun thing they can get into.
It's taken me years to get to today...to a point where I feel like I have the energy, creativity, and desire to create some order in my house, after years of childbearing and exhaustion. Children ages 2-6 ARE capable of cleaning up after themselves. It works like magic in my classroom; I just start singing "Now it's time to tidy up, tidy up, tidy up, now it's time to tidy up and put our toys away!" (to the tune of London Bridge), and off they go, like little automatons, sorting toys into their appropriate baskets, putting things on shelves, sweeping up sand, carefully stacking blocks, cooperating. I'm amazed, every single day.
The neat thing about a Kindergarten classroom is that everything is at a child's level. They don't have to ask me if they can paint, because the paint is accessible to them at all times. I'm starting to apply the principles behind order in the Kindergarten classroom to my home, to great success (so far)!
I started out by putting all the materials necessary to paint into this yard sale find: a low wooden crate. When Margot asks to paint at 7:30 a.m., I pull out a dollar store palette (at right), fill each little space with a different colour, (naming them with her as I go), and pull a brush from the jar at the left. When she's done, I cover the palette with plastic wrap, and when she inevitably asks to paint AGAIN, I'm all ready to go. This has made an activity that used to make me groan into something quick and painless. Please note that this is NOT at her level; at this point I still want some control over the paint mess! Once the day is over, I clean the palette, and stow it back in the crate, all ready for the next morning's creativity.
Another problem area is the living/play room. A large basket was what we used to store everything, all jumbled together. I'd half-heartedly sort stuff now and then, only to find it all jumbled up in the big basket again. Children do not play well with toys that are a)too numerous and b)too messed up. Since Jude mostly plays at his desk with Lego now, I made up these two baskets (purchased at Giant Tiger!), using white craft paint. One holds all the doll clothes, and small dolls. The other is for play food, dishes, etc. The girls are old enough to sort their toys, and tend to play MORE now that there are LESS toys.
Gratuitous close-up of my dream house...
Another GREAT idea (and one that I used when Jude was two and in speech therapy) was to photograph certain types of toys (e.g. cars, animals, people, blocks), laminate the photos, and stick them onto bins. At two, though non-verbal, Jude was able to find the toys he wanted, and could help put them back in their own place. Sorting is an important skill for early learning, and being able to "help" is so very empowering for little ones.
Playdough is right at my kids' level, so that if they want to play with it, they can grab it. Yes, I bought playdough. Yes, I have a recipe for homemade...I just don't have time to make it, am always out of cream of tartar, and noticed that the storebought kind costs less than two dollars for four colours. Just in case you were going to offer me your recipe...ha!
Workbooks and colouring books are also at my children's level, as are blank paper, markers, and crayons. Scissors and glitter are kept out of their reach.
It takes a bit of time and effort to organise your house for little ones. But once they feel a sense of ownership for their toys and learning tools, they are likely to take more pride in them, which will hopefully lead to more responsibility. I remind my children about how nice it is to know where their things are. I feel that children are capable of reaching a target, as long as they know what that target looks like. If for you it looks like your kids tidying up after themselves, well...they can do it.
They really can...I've seen it with my own eyes. I haven't seen it in my own house yet, but I have hope that by taking little steps like the ones above, my children will start helping me accomplish that of which I dream: a somewhat tidy house at the end of the day.
You need not spend piles of money on fancy storage systems. All of my baskets come from yard sales and Value Village, or Giant Tiger if I find them on sale. Baskets are a pretty way to contain any mess! Be creative, and remember: LESS is always MORE when it comes to toys for your kids. Think quality, not quantity (unless it's playdough...then think cheap and easy!...heehee!)