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"The teacher shows the children how to clean out the little corners where dust has accumulated and shows them how to use the various objects necessary in cleaning a room - dust cloths, dust brushes, little brooms, etc."
—Maria Montessori, The Montessori Method

Let's do some spring cleaning with our children!

In "those good old days, " spring cleaning meant organizing and cleaning the house from top to bottom. These days, we can apply the concept to organizing and preparing the home for our children's next stage of growth.

If you're like most busy parents, it's often easier to do it all by yourself. But, with a bit of preparation, your toddler and preschooler can do more than you ever imagined.

A Sense of Order

Open shelves help organize playthings, which in turn supports your child's developing sense of order. The toy box is a wonderful storage place for big items such as stuffed animals, pull toys, or big trucks. But little items get lost in the bottom, making it necessary to dump out the box from time to time. You know the routine! Children can help with this reorganization and learn "a place for everything." Start by sorting out the items your child has outgrown - a three-year-old or older child can help with the decisions to store or pass on an outgrown toy.

  • Open shelves in the playroom and your child's room are recommended. Bookcases or shelving from the hardware store are easy to adapt. You might assign a drawer or shelf in the kitchen, study, or living room for your child, as well.
  • Find baskets, trays, or other containers for the activities that have several pieces or for items that belong together. Cover a box with fabric or paper to hold all the small cars and trucks, the doll's clothes, or all the art supplies. Put all the musical instruments in a basket that fits the shelf. Puzzles or stacking toys can sit on the shelf in plain sight.
  • You might put away some of the toys or puzzles and rotate them onto the shelves from time to time. When a child (or adult for that matter) has too many choices, it is often overwhelming.
The Closets

Children outgrow their clothes with amazing speed. Spring is a good time to empty closets of not only the winter wear but also the outgrown items. Again, let's organize so that children can become more independent and take care of their belongings themselves. Involve your child in this process. For the youngest toddler, that might mean showing him how to hang his bag on a hook, put his dirty clothes in the laundry basket, or fold the outgrown clothes. The older child can tell you which clothes no longer fit and help decide where to put what.

  • A low-hanging rod allows children to hang their own clothes. Hardware and variety stores carry adaptations that make the rods easy to install.
  • Stacking baskets or temporary shelves set on the floor can accommodate caps and mittens, or socks and underwear.
  • Low hooks are good for backpacks, pajamas, jackets, and sweaters.
  • Shoes also need a place of their own, whether lined up in the mud room or in the closet.
House Cleaning

Now the really fun part begins. Children love to help clean, sweep, wash, and polish. With a little preparation, children can do it themselves, freeing you to work alongside them on your own spring cleaning project.

  • Identify the task, whether dusting, window washing, or scrubbing.
  • Gather the needed items, perhaps in a small bucket or basket with handles. For example, for window washing: a small spray bottle with water, small squeegee, and cloth for shining.
  • Limit the task to an area suited to the child's size and ability. For example, use painter's tape to outline an area of window glass or floor that your child can work on. If dusting, designate one shelf or corner.
  • Demonstrate the task step by step. Go through the whole process with as few words as possible. Ask your child to wait and watch until you are finished. Then hand it over so your child can do it. Try not to interrupt or comment, so your child can experience a sense of accomplishment. It may not be perfect in your eyes, but that's not as important as children being satisfied with their efforts. If another lesson is needed, do it at a later time.

Whatever the activity, it's good to work alongside your children. You are supporting their independence and modeling with your behavior. By showing children how to accomplish one small task at a time, they will eventually have the skills to clean the whole room.

"It is important to notice, in passing, that these are real, not make-believe activities and that they are carried out in a real and not make-believe environment."
—E.M. Standing, Maria Montessori: Her Life and Work

—by Jane M. Jacobs, M.A., Montessori Educational Consultant at Montessori Services. She is a trained primary Montessori directress and also a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. She has taught children aged 2 to 7 years in Montessori schools, Headstart, and also in a preschool for children with developmental challenges. In her counseling practice, she helps individuals, couples, and families.

—Originally Published 2012