Let’s face it, clean-up time can be a real challenge in the classroom. In our preschool classrooms, we have lots of learning materials, and every center seems to be filled with all kinds of pieces.
Part of teaching preschoolers is helping them learn responsibility and helpfulness as part of the classroom community. Here are some of my best teaching tips to help your kids be successful during clean-up time.
Clean Up Tips for Preschool
A successful clean up begins with a successful setup. Label the tubs or containers that hold materials in your centers. I use sticky pockets that were purchased at the Target Dollar Spot. I cut a small notch to make it easier when inserting and removing labels. Make labels that include a picture and words in a simple clear font. Attach labels on both ends of each tub and on the shelf. Kids will know where each tub belongs and will be successful whichever way they replace the tub. The clear pockets are great, but I’ve found that clear packing tape works just as well to attach labels to the shelves.
You don’t even have to make the labels yourself, I’ve done all the hard work for you already with this editable set of done-for-you labels!
Labeling tubs and shelves is the very first step in setting the stage for a successful clean up.
Less Is More
Another tip for setting the stage for success is putting fewer materials out on the shelves, especially at the beginning of the year. When fewer things are out, kids have less to clean up. If a child sees so many materials out on the floor, the task becomes overwhelming. Fewer resources increase the speed for cleaning up.
Select materials wisely, just enough to keep kids engaged. For example, at the beginning of the school year, I would have a couple of dolls (with no clothes!), a few plates, and a few pieces of plastic fruit. Enough to encourage play but not so much that clean up is an issue.
Choose items that are easy to use, that are intuitive, so children will know what to do without a lot of coaching. (Of course, I introduce the materials to the children before they use them. See below for more about that.) For example, in the ABC Center, I would have three tubs of activities at the beginning of the year:
High Interest Centers
Open the high interest centers first. What are high interest centers? The centers that children are really eager to use–dramatic play, blocks, play dough, and sensory. On the first days of school, introduce these centers and invite children to use them. These centers are the ones that typically take longer to clean up. Introducing them early (with only a few items) allows children to practice cleaning them efficiently. Then, when more centers are open, the kids will already be experts at cleaning these centers.
Model gradual release (I do, We do together, You do) when you open centers or add center activities. Gather children together in a center that you are going to model. Tell them you will show the materials to them and they will be able to practice using the materials. Wait until every child is ready to listen.
Show a tub and point out its label. Remove the items from the tub and talk about them. “This is a bowl. Who would use a bowl like this? Look at this dog. What does he have on the end of his nose? It’s a magnet. I have lots of letters in the tub, too. See what happens when I touch the dog’s nose to a letter? The magnets stick together!”
Explain how to use the materials in the tub. “The dog is hungry. I will put some of these letters in his bowl. He reaches into the bowl. Look! What did he eat? He ate the B. Now what will he eat? It’s an H!”
Choose a couple of kids to do the activity, repeating what you did. Invite the other kids to observe what they are doing to see if they are doing it correctly.
Allow other children to try while you and the group observe.
Introduce the other tubs in the center in the same manner.
Place all the tubs from that center on the floor. Allow all the kids play with the materials while you observe and coach as needed.
Lead kids to clean up. Place the tubs in the center in the appropriate places on the shelf. Move onto your next activity in the schedule.
The next day, review the centers and what to do. Practice, practice, practice. Guide children as they are using the centers and cleaning up the centers each day. These early days will establish habits. Set yourself and the kids up for success during clean-up time all year long.
Gradually open other centers over the next days and weeks.
Signals for Clean Up
Signal the beginning and end of clean-up time. Give a warning five minutes before clean-up time. Use a visual timer or some other indicator so children can finish what they are doing and begin to clean up. Signal clean-up time with music, a song or chant, a chime or train whistle, or whatever signal works for you. Avoid flickering the lights (unless you are teaching children who have hearing impairments); flickering the lights can be frightening to young children.
Another way to signal clean-up time is to use a picture schedule. (Editable picture schedule cards are available in the Pre-K Pages store.) Place a clothespin or clip on the part of the current schedule step (Centers). When clean-up time approaches, move to the picture schedule. Sing something like: “Na-na-na-na, Na-na-na-na, Hey, hey, hey, Recess time.” Move the clip to the next item on the schedule. Then use your other clean-up signal. Using the schedule and moving the clip helps children know what’s coming next and can motivate them to clean up in an efficient manner.
Watch the Video
Discover more details about these ideas by watching the video.
You can find more about gradual release and introducing centers in my book A Fabulous First Year and Beyond: A Practical Guide for Pre-K and Kindergarten Teachers.
Also check out my printable clean up visual routine kit to help your kids learn the clean up routine in your classroom!
The Teaching Tribe
Of course, cleaning up is only a small part of your preschool day, the best place to discuss good teaching practice and get advice is in the Teaching Tribe. We have many printable lessons and on-demand video trainings to help you be the best teacher you can be! If you want to get on the waiting list for the Teaching Tribe, do it soon so you don’t miss the next open enrollment period!
More Teaching Tips