Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Guest Post: Kids' Pickup Routine

Tonight I am welcoming my first guest post from someone who likes to be known as "Cookie Monster." It's actually not going to be a huge secret once you start reading: someone with 3 kids, who thinks very logically (notice the many numbered lists below) and amazingly has the same toy organization bin system that was posted about here.
Ok, no use hiding it- it's my husband!  We thought it would be fun to share his perspective on the madness of getting the kids to pickup their toys.  I will admit the toy clutter was out of control and I couldn't get a handle on it, so I called in the forces of an engineering major (thankfully I happened to be married to one) to put his project management skills to work at home.  Thankfully he helped me out of this mess because this place would be even more chaotic (like scary chaotic) without his leadership here.
Without further ado...

Involving the 3 kids in a pickup routine
by "Cookie Monster" (Sally's hubby)

As you have probably personally experienced, 3 little kids can mess up a house very quickly. I see this as an engineering and management problem.  Here are my success criteria:

1.       The kids should pick up their own toys.
2.       The parent does not "beg". The kid is not doing mom or dad a favor when the kid picks up their own toys.
3.       There must be consequences if the kids don't pick up.
4.       The kids should know what is expected of them.
5.       This should be a standard operating procedure.

I think this makes sense and is reasonable. What were the problems to overcome?

1.       The kids currently do not perceive pickup as fun. They don't want to do it.
2.       The kids (3 of them) have much more energy than either mom or dad do, and will initiate delaying tactics.
3.       The kids didn't know how to properly pick up – there was too much bulky junk, they didn't know where to put it. Heck, mom and dad could barely squeeze everything into its shelf spot.
4.       Everyone's toys were mixed together (which boy picks up all the cars?)

These are all solvable problems. So what did we do?

1.       Massive de-clutter. Get rid of toys via goodwill, ebay, garage sale, or other such practical techniques. Make it a ceremony if you must. It must be easy for the toys to "fall into place" (Think of the "pit of success", where it's easy to do what's right and hard to do what's wrong).
The pit of success starts here

2.       Give each child two bins, without lids so the kids don't have to worry if the bins are heaping.  It's good if they get all their stuff into the bins.  Label the bins.
3.       For sets, use lids to prevent "heaping" piles that just spill back onto the floor. Create two "shared" family bins.(Ours are larger baskets in each main play area.) Any toy not in a bin is eligible to be thrown away (seriously).

4.       Train the kids. Establish that "we are doing pickup night tonight, this means you must fit your toys in your bin, if it's not in a bin, I will throw it out. If you can't fit all your toys in the bin, then you have too many toys".
5.       Work with the kids the first few times. Be in the trenches with them.
6.       Set a timer PER room (I use the oven timer in the kitchen). Perhaps 7 minutes per room. 20 minutes is too much – there's no fire under their seat. 3 minutes is probably too fast.  However calibrate for your child's pickup speed and room size. Consider recording measurements for historical analysis, if needed.
7.       When the timer is up, you come in with a big garbage bag (not some pretty looking bag from pottery barn) and start putting all toys on the floor in the bag. The children may cry hysterically. This is where you need a heart of stone (some sugar coat it as "tough love"). If your child can hold you hostage with tears, then it's over. The kids will scream bloody murder. Take this to mean that they will remember this, and will learn that actions have consequences.
8.       Leverage propaganda techniques: consider mantras like "if it's not in a bin, it's a sin", or give the routine a name like "pickup night" and a special song that makes it easy to remember. For us it's sung to the a Christmas-carol like song "It's the most wonderful time of the week…" (instead of year).
9.       Post the rules on a door where they can see them. "All toys must be in bin, etc…"
10.   Consider applying pickup night at least twice a week, possibly on the same schedule (like Wed and Sat) so the kids become resigned to it.
11.   Reward good behavior – that television show that you were going to let them watch anyway – use that as leverage as a "reward" for good pickup.

I can't guarantee that this will work for all families. But there is a much higher probability that the principles described above will lead to a cleaner house than the alternative.

So far, it's been working best for us. Although the kids still think it's unfair. Thank goodness we're the adults.

Be sure to say a quick "thank you" to "Cookie Monster" in the comments so he is sure to return for future posts.  
I have to confess; I have a hard time with some of his "tough love" tactics he described.  I also will admit (he knows this) that I have been known to "rescue" toys that I don't yet want to donate- I have stashed them in the basement so I can give an entire set of something a chance to be reunited before donation.  Occasionally a child, in a sweet endearing moment, will weasel his way into getting something back that was previously taken away.  I'm thinking of the 4-year old, specifically.  That kid sure is charming!

Wishing you smooth toy cleanups-
Sally and Cookie Monster

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