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Cleaning up with Loose Parts: 11 Tips!
Play residue, evidence of play, Play aftermath, Play debris
Strategies for Cleaning Up with Loose Parts
- Start small.
Carol Hume--I started small. I only introduced about 4 different things. I added to it slowly once they got used to the idea of loose parts and the change of play (using more imagination rather than rely on a house being a house)
Angela Jerzyk Rauch--Start with small amounts and increase
Crystal Harrison--It’s no different than cleaning up anything else. I suggest limiting the number of items to a manageable amount for you and your kids. You can also add loose parts slowly if that makes you feel more comfortable. When it’s time to clean up, I prompt my friends to “find the matches”.
Stephanie Mannering--I have started with larger play loose parts first....big cotton reels, poles, drain pipes, bamboo sticks and large fabric materials...sheets, nettings and large cardboard boxes. Haven't started with stones yet and smaller parts but can't wait and will do it slowly x
2.Make it fun.
Angie Morrison--Vanderland We make sure to have only oneclean up a day! I have few different strategies I use for cleanup, designate kids to certain areas to clean, bring them to the carpet and play eye spy things that need to be cleaned, sweep all loose parts all together and bring out the bins to help organize. It can be very painful somedays😣 We have 2 educators and 27 children!
Clara Meyer--Stuff that can get thrown into the bin it belongs in makes clean-up more fun.
Cara Ruffo--I love my dad's tactic... magic scrap. He picks a magic scrap or two and has the kids clean up. Whoever pickedup the magic scrap can win a prize or a shot at his basketball hoop. I use it, but I have to be careful with some of the younger ones who didn't manage. Maybe next time? Also, if I notice someone doing a great job, I usually add on another magic scrap that I noticed that friend picking up.
Dee Ann Perea--I prefer focusing on the transition and then ask if all of the “fun” is back in it’s place and ready for more exploring tomorrow!
3. Use defined spaces.
Lisa Cauthers--You could try having a defined space like a rug, a large pan or like the table shown above. Some things I leave in the backyard because I don’t care if it’s messy out there. 😄
Shelli Patt--Besides using larger loose parts, and fewer of them, think about your space, where the children play, and how to present them. In addition to some that can be used on the floor, consider presenting them on a table, or another high surface (like the top of a cubby or shelf). And I'd suggest using trays, either on a table or a floor. The trays can help naturally contain objects, and also for young children can give a sense of security by defining their space for them.
Jo Burns--We have a loose parts rug. Our children are two years old so putting parts in their mouths is always a risk. We always have an adult playing on the rug beside or with the children.
4.Use tools to help with clean up.
Amanda Shroyer--I have preschoolers. I got them a kid sized dust mop and a kid size broom with a dustpan (the kind with a tall handle). That has helped SO MUCH. They just sweep everything into a pile and sort.
Lyndsey McCallion--We have an array of containers for ours and the children know to sort them but it doesn’t matter which container they end up back in for us, we tend to have a staff member support tidying in this area to model but they children are slowly learning how to do it by themselves. It is time consuming but the learning that takes place is more than worth it xx
Others have mentioned using a small garden rake to pull things together or a shop vac with a sock over the top.
5.Clean up becomes parts of the process.
Explore Inspire EC—Shelli Patt--Instead of trying to control loose parts mess, make clean up a meaningful and part of the activity. The children were just as engaged with sweeping up the pompoms as they were with taking them out to begin with.
Exploring Inspire EC--What looked like a mess to my teacher eyes at the beginning was her process. Her organization, and her plan. If I used my adult power to stop her process, and put my process in its place, what would I be teaching? That my ideas and my plans are more important than hers? That her concepts and problem solving aren’t valued? Or maybe, that she shouldn’t even seek solutions in the first place, because a person in power will simply direct her. From Explore Inspire EC’s blog post. It wasn’t a mess. It was valuable work. It’s our job to learn to see the difference.
6.Be aware of phrasing and wording.
Nina Moench--"It looks like you want to move on to...” (whatever,snack,art area etc.) The blocks need to go back to their baskets before we move on. I will help you put the blocks in the baskets before you go to..."
Sherryl Allen--One term I've heard used is 'reset, As in we are resetting our space for tomorrow - allows children to keep what they are still playing with where it is. While putting other items back where they belong. Also providing signs to identify work in progress so others know not to touch.
Mads Ferris--“It’s time to refresh our environment”
Annie Hosking--I frame cleaning up as getting ready for the next thing eg clearing away stuff from a table because we need to get it ready for lunch. Finding the right home for an object so that we know where to find it next time. Clearing the floor so we have room to sit for a story.
If it's possible to leave something out to come back to then we do. Sometimes it's not, especially with large constructions. Then I will suggest that they might like to take a photograph of it which often reconciles them to dismantling their creation.
7. Does it really need to be all sorted out in individual baskets?
Carla Gull--Does it really need to all be sorted out in individual baskets? Have an “extras” box or bin. Having a big bin of things not sorted—allows for “hunt” of the perfect item they will need and exploring a variety of objects
Play It Up with Loose Parts—(summarized from section of the book) In elementary school, they put the loose parts back in any order in large rolling garbage pails. Allows children to optimize play time and have a quick clean up.
Julie Crouch--We always end up with a box of odds and ends that got missed as we have to tidy and pack away the pre-school each day, and it usually ends up being their most interesting box to look through the next morning.
Carla Gull--I know many kids enjoy the “hunt” of finding the loose part that works right for what they need. When it is all tidied they sometimes miss that.
8. Leave some to come back to.
Shelli Patt--There's also the process of teachers helping children figure out the difference between an ongoing work that they're coming back to, and something they aren't. Those conversations are all part of the process of children learning problem solving and planning skills.
Works in Progress—use signs, a shelf, designated area, etc.
Carla Gull-- We often have complex “forts” that take many days to make. If we didn’t allow leaving out at times all the play that happens in the secret spaces might never happen. I agree on having some spaces as leave out if possible.
9. Remember schemas in early childhood.
Sheila Schaffer--For those that have dumpers, dumping is a developmental schema and although you find it messy it is part of how they are learning. We provide lots of empty baskets and other containers so the children have something to dump into. Also, loose parts is more than just providing a lot of miscellaneous stuff, it is also provocating and thinking about how the children might use a specific item. Observe your group. Are they into things that spin? Provide items with wheels or lazy Susan's etc that provide a spinning action then sit with the children and ask the questions "why " "how" "what if", ignite their curiosity so they see something more than just the item. It's amazing when you take the time to build on the philosophy of loose parts and not just think you have to put out a tonne of stuff.
Crystal Black--Not sure if this will help but maybe when a dumper dumps a basket of loose parts, provide them with a cardboard tube or piece of gutter and encourage them to slide the pieces back into the basket. Making the clean up as fun as the dumping might help.
Carla Gull-- Sensory bins can be good for dumping too.
Breezy Stevens--This has been a constant struggle. I have found it also depends on the ages of kids. I just read an article talking about why kids dump. For younger children that's how they discover what's in a basket. If they can see everything in the basket from the top they r less likely to dump. But a deep basket full of blocks will be dumped so they can explore. I have found that editing down to a minimal amount of baskets and rotating to be the best answer. Also, I'm trying to instill a "clean up before bedtime" thing but usually I'm just too tired🙄. If there's an ongoing project, like the fort or a small world I would let that stay out for awhile.
Amy Muir--Oh yes. Sometimes it’s a tornado in here too. It depends on where the play takes us, really. Sometimes my kids like to set up amazing creations and then a “storm” comes. Destruction. Everywhere. But that’s just part of it 🙂
Wendy Baker--My house is actually tidyer using loose parts then before! We use glass jars to tidy things away and the children spend a lot of time moving things from 1 jar to another.
10.Use spaces to your advantage.
Sue Gray--Also have a look at the layout of your environment, see what seems to gravitate to where, a few tweaks in room layout really helps. We have a construction area, next to the den, they often build walls to enclose themselves. A lot of our small loose parts are under/next to a ridged table, so the children tend to use this for creative mandalas and pictures and natural items are close to sand and water. They are free to move things around, but seem to have organised themselves.
Megan Burrows--Definitely need to make it achievable otherwise the job is too big. Everything needs a place maybe with photo label. I definitely think you need to be doing it a couple of times thru the day- maybe before lunch & at end of day because too much clutter and mess is overwhelming and creates chaos. We delegate areas and put on a song which gets everyone going. Praise & incentives work miracles & wee signs that children can put out saying "work in progress" means no one can pack up their work which they would like to continue working on after mat time or eating.
11. Consider your educational philosophies.
Natasha Kocher--Let go of the idea that the space needs to be tidy all the time :)
Shelli Patt--There's a lot of different issues here. First is philosophical - the aspects of the Montessori approach that focus on children using materials certain ways isn't necessarily compatible with using loose parts as open ended materials. I'd suggest first suggesting what it is that draws you to use loose parts with children, and what your intent is that the children will do with them. As you can see from the variety of comments, what is considered a "mess" is related to educational philosophy and framework, and perspectives about teacher and child's roles in the environment.
Cynthia Nahia--I stick to Montessori method on this. Work in a designated area... when they are done they put it back.
Amy Muir--I am also really working on letting go of my ideals of where things should go. I think if I ask one or two children to be in charge of the kitchen area, they do a wonderful job putting things where they think they should go. They seem to be working on sorting things in different ways. And whatever system of organization they use, everyone is able to find everything next time. So I try not to be particular in this kind of thing.
The loose parts shelf where I store everything we don’t have “out right now” is still in reach, and the children can take what they need and use it wherever they want. I do try and help sort out that area because I want it to look inviting and appealing and I want everyone to see what’s there and feel welcome to use it. It hasn’t really been a big deal thought.
Yesterday we had a camp site set up. The children had a small cooler for their food, and they went around gathering loose parts to dump in. They love dumping. But the loose parts seemed to stay either in the cooler or the little wooden bowls when they were eating, at about 2:30 we grabbed all the empty containers where the loose parts came from and did a big sort. It didn’t take very long, and it was a great opportunity to group like objects together and put them back. The children had fun.
Cathy Chalklin--Just like anything in life ... Cleanup needs to be balanced between necessity and respect. Every environment is different in terms of "factors" that limit or control what needs to happen. Shared space, inclement weather (if outdoors), multi age settings, need to space to be cleaned (carpet or floors) etc. Whenever meaningful or possible to the child or children if a "structure" or "work in progress" can be stayed then why not ?. With cleanup being a part of the process of play make it as simple as possible. Bins or bags (cloth) that they can easily handle make things much easier and supporting teamwork tidy up is the route I follow. Children often avoid "tidy up" simply cause the task is overwhelming. We need to guide and support them in the same way we do their play .... Choice, time, opportunity and with developmentally appropriate expectations.
Curiosity Approach—putting things where they belong
Sue Gray—I look on the tidying away as part of the learning process and also an area in which the staff can interact with the children, developing all aspects of learning. Sorting, separating, counting, noticing and discussing as you do so, always allow extra time for this aspect.
Emma Crawley--I truly believe leaving stuff out is key. Maybe have Friday as a "tidy-day" when everyone joins in. Leaving projects out make the learning and thinking process visible in a different way and the kids can come back to the same play-theme from day to day. Maybe one area can be the leave-out area and other areas tidy-areas...
Carla Gull--I love how the children (older) just know it's part of the routine in this video. –Scrapstore Playpod
Playwork Perspective—Playwork Principles
Marc Armitage--The Playwork answer to this would be, just tidy up as you go! We don’t ask children to tidy up after themselves, for various reasons - we see it as our job and therefore we tidy as we go.
Marc Armitage--Perhaps the solution is here is to start with random piles.
Marc Armitage--You don’t. As a methodology there are some uncomfortable bits to reconcile between a Montessori approach and a number of play related issues ... neatness and tidiness are the enemies of self-directed play and therefore this is always going to be tricky!
Mel Staff--It often comes down to what suits an individual group too- you have to find what is the best for your group. From year to year I find a difference in what I can make available for each group. Good luck with your journey 😀
Carla Gull--Rotate, take pictures of the creations, clean up songs, etc. No "right" way to do it just what the particular interest is, what is going on in life, and how much you can tolerate the creativity.
Izumi-Taylor, S., Ito, Y., Lin, C., & Akita, K. (2017). A comparative study of American, Japanese, and Taiwanese early childhood teachers’ perceptions of clean-up time. Research in Comparative and International Education, 12(2), 231-242. doi:10.1177/1745499917712610
Cleaning up with children around is like shoveling during a blizzard. –Margaret Banning
Cleaning with kids in the house is like brushing your teeth while eating Oreos.
Sign: Excuse the mess. The children are making memories.
Clean Up, Up, Up! A dad and his toddler put things away before dinner while enjoying math play, using words such as up, down, inside, outside, etc.
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