The Teacher is Talking
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The Teacher is Talking: De-junking Your Kid’s Space

By Leslie Lindsay

Last Tuesday, we tackled the junky room of the century (my daughter’s) and now we’re moving on to the basement playroom.  While I love the idea of this space, I have a hard time keeping it clean–or rather, teaching my daughters to keep it clean. 

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Together, we worked out some of the kinks.  That’s not to say it will continue to be clutter-free, but when I indicated the basement playroom is still part of the house (not just a dumping ground), and that we put things away after playing just like we would in a classroom, they began to “get it.” 

Here are some ideas that may work for you:

  • Locate several buckets/tubs and mark them: “Donate,”  “Resale,” “Repurpose”
  • Grab a trash bag.  Mark it “Trash.”  Then find a big paper shopping bag.  Mark is “recycle.”  That’s for all of the construction paper scraps and projects that are no longer.
  • Turn on some music that you and your kids like. 
  • You may even consider setting a timer, if your kiddos respond to that kind of challenge (for some, it just increases their anxiety).
  • Then go!  Start sorting toys, projects, stuff.  If it hasn’t been played with in a year–it’s gone.  If you can’t find all of the parts–gone.  If your child has more frustrating play time with it–toss.  (that would be my daughter’s Polly Pockets who have lost all of their ‘slick.’ and have begun to rip).  When you find yourself stepping on and cursing to the high heavens for every spare Lego part or tiny Littlest Pet Shop toy…give it away, give it away, give it away now…
  • You may have some tears.  Your’s, theirs, and ours.  If it gets to be too much, send your kiddos away for some movie time and snack while you do the rest. 

But I guarentee you, it will feel so much better when it’s all done.  To keep it working like a well-oiled machine, the space is going to need regular maintanence.  In Ruth the Sleuth and the Messy Room (Character Publishing, 2011), author Carol Gordon Ekster recommends having your child(ren) determine when the best scheduled cleaning should be.  Try this:

“When do you think we should do this [clean the basement, your room/playroom] again”

Your child may say “in a month.” In  your heart of hearts you know this is a bad idea.  Try not to let that influence your kiddo.  Instead say, “That’s a great idea.  I’ll mark the calendar for one month from today.” 

Chances are, a month will come and your child will be overwhelmed by the mess.  (Funny how one learns by experience).  You can also try scheduling a sooner cleaning time “just to check.”  (This is akin to checking your pizza after 10 minutes in the oven, instead of the recommended 14.) 

You can also work with your child to determine a clean-up routine.  Say, you spend 5 (or 10, or split the difference–7)minutes a day straightening the room.  Now, you may not get everything put away in those 5 minutes, but at least you did something.  Likewise, sometimes once you get started (5 minutes) you soon find that you have the strength and energy to continue till the job is done. 

Consider rewarding your child for a job well-done. You can do so by offering incentives (other than a tidy space–which really doesn’t seem to do much for kids, sorry to say).  We used a sticker chart at our house.  I’ve also promised playdates and project time with mom.  But the key here is the incentive needs to be something your child is excited about. 

For more tips and ideas, I highly recommend reading Ruth the Sleuth and the Messy Room by Carol Gordon Ekster.  We have the book and love it, especially helpful are the last couple of pages in which the author gives a “parent’s guide to growing organized kids.”  She even includes a recipe for chocolate chip cookies (another incentive?!)  Yum!  Product Details(image source: 1/22/13)


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