Clean Up Time: The Importance of Completing the Work Cycle

If your playroom, basement, or family room looks like a toy shop exploded in it, that’s okay! In this post we’re talking about the importance of completing the work cycle in a Montessori classroom and offering tips to help you get a little more clean-up cooperation at home. 

The Montessori philosophy emphasizes order, simplicity, and purpose. We do things in an organized manner, with a streamlined process, and with intention. Everything — from how the children serve themselves a snack to how they wash their paint cups at the easel — operates under the same framework.

Montessori children are taught (from the beginning) that cleaning up is just part of the lesson.  With a few simple adjustments, you can use this framework at home to make clean-up time less stressful and more fun.

Setting the Expectation from Day One

From their very first day in the classroom, Montessori kids help clean up! They are joining a community of teachers and children who are active participants in maintaining order in the classroom environment. The expectation, from the beginning, is that they, too, will help keep the classroom clean and tidy. The space is for everyone, and, therefore, so is the responsibility.

They learn early on to:

  • push their chair in after they get up from the table
  • return their work to the shelf where they first found it
  • roll their work rug up and put it away in the rug container
  • fold or roll their apron or paint smock

In a busy classroom with so many children working on a variety of different lessons, there’s a constant flow of activity. It takes time, practice, and patience, but after a few weeks, the children are fairly self-sufficient when it comes to cleaning up. 

It’s not unusual to peek inside a Montessori classroom and see children cleaning up a spill on the table or floor with a sponge, mop, or broom. You might spy someone washing their paint containers at the sink, making sure the easel, cups, and brushes are clean and ready for the next person. And you’re sure to see a child bringing their paper scraps to the recycling bin, returning a tray to the shelf, and rolling up their rug. 

Teach the Full Sequence

If a child is invited to a lesson and the teacher has already brought the work to the table, the child won’t know where to put it back when the time comes. If a child gets up and walks away at the end of the lesson and the teacher puts the work away, that child will repeat that sequence again the next time.

When introducing a new lesson, the teacher will take the child to the shelf to see where the work belongs. The child will take the work to the table or rug, receive the lesson, and return the work to the shelf, under the direction of the teacher. This way, he knows where to find it the next time he wants to do it, and how to clean it up and leave it ready for the next person.

When children first join the classroom, their lessons are shorter and more concise. As they get more confident with the materials and the lay of the land, lessons get longer, more involved, and require multiple steps. Montessori teachers are trained to know how much is too much and when to add those extra steps and challenges. The children learn, from the very beginning, that cleaning up is part of the lesson.

At Home: Hitting the Reset Button

If your kids (and you!) have gotten into some poor habits when it comes to cleaning up, don’t despair! It might not be Day One, but it’s never too late to start implementing some new expectations around picking up toys and helping out at home. 

Keep the Montessori framework in mind: order, simplicity, and purpose. Address one area at a time, get it under control, and move on to another area. 

For Example: If the bookshelf is overflowing and books are shoved in every which way or piling up on the floor around the bookshelf, deal with the bookshelf. The rest of the toys can wait.

Order: Organize the bookshelf.  Clear out older books your child has outgrown and sort out what’s left.

Simplicity: Bring in a basket and keep 10 or 12 books out for them to have easy access to. If they’re not yet able to properly return books to a (possibly) still-crowded bookshelf, take that element of stress out of the situation and make it easier for them to be successful. A basket just might be the answer!

Purpose: “This is our new book basket! We are going to start taking better care of our books. Books are special and we want to make sure we can enjoy them for a long time. We can choose books from the basket to read and when we’re done, they go back in the basket.”

Practice that today, tomorrow, and again until the books and the bookshelf are no longer an issue. Set the expectation that “this is how we treat books now in our family” and stick with it. If you give up too soon, you’re teaching a totally different lesson! Don’t give up!

Use Language that Includes Everyone

Use inclusive language that sets the expectation that EVERYONE in the family participates in cleaning up and EVERYONE benefits. Children want to be recognized as valued members of the family; they don’t want to be singled out as the reason the room is a mess! 

Instead of 

  • “This room is a disaster!”
  • “You need to clean up”
  • “I already cleaned the kitchen, this is your job!”
  • “Where are you going? You’re not done!”

(Can you feel your blood pressure rising yet?)

Try 

  • “It’s clean up time! We sure had a lot of fun in here!”
  • “In this family, we all work together — everyone helps!”
  • “Everyone had fun playing, and now everyone can help put things away” 
  • “This room looks so nice! Now we can see where everything goes!” 
  • “When the bookshelf is tidy, it makes it so much easier to find the books we want to read”

Remember that children behave differently at school than they do at home. Home is their safe space and where they will be the most relaxed and laid back. Chances are, you’re already dealing with a lot more whining and complaining about cleaning up than your child’s teachers do! Be patient, but persistent! It took three, four, or more years for your current habits to set in — it will take a while to undo them. 

  • Keep it simple by addressing one thing at a time.
  • Create order and make it easy for your child to know what’s expected.
  • Be purposeful in your language and actions.

And then do it all over again tomorrow. 🙂 

Additional Resources:

You Might Also Like These Posts from Children’s House Montessori School of Reston:

Like this post? Pin it!

Leave a Reply