Everybody do your share.
When it’s clean-up time for the older kids, we sing (to the tune of “Heigh Ho” from the movie Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs):
Put everything away
Into the place in which it stays.
Put everything away . . .
We start our preschool days with Discovery Time (e.g., free play, choice time) and when I beat the drum and start singing it is our first transition of the day. We expect the children to pitch-in. It’s often a huge project with blocks to put away, a sensory table to empty out, puzzles to reassemble, paint-covered tables to wash off, play dough to store in air tight containers. And while for reasons of health and safety we need to count on the adults to handle real cleaning and sanitizing, the children – if the grown-ups remember to stay out of the way – can handle much of the rest of it themselves.
It’s their classroom after all, and there’s no better way to claim ownership of a place than to be responsible for keeping it tidy. Naturally, they aren’t going to do things as efficiently as adults, but that’s fine with me. I consider this time to be the real centerpiece of our curriculum, so if it takes 15, 20 or even 30 minutes to get it done, so be it.
This is an important transition. We’re moving from free, independent play, with little direction, into group activities that are going to require more cooperation, and the process of working together on cleaning up is a great way to get their little minds shifted into the new paradigm.
There are few things I love more than the days that we put away the “big blocks.” These are large wooden unit blocks, some of which are too heavy for any but the oldest kids to carry on their own. Not only that, but we store them in the hallway which means the children must lug them through a doorway and up two steps to get them where they belong. I position myself in the hallway, singing, while the children navigate the challenges. Some of the kids like to show off their muscles by bringing me 2 or 3 small blocks at once. Other blocks arrive on the palms of a dozen hands. Some children drag the blocks, while others carry them on their heads. There’s a lot of negotiation around the bottleneck of the doorway and getting up and down the stairs. It’s not unusual for as many as 15 of the 22 kids to take part in this amazing team building exercise. There are often a few tears and lots of laughter.
We have some cherry wood logs that we normally keep in the playground, but several times a year I drag them indoors to play “camping.” When it’s time to clean up, the logs need to be moved back outside. Some are quite heavy, even for an adult, and being logs, the threat of splinters is an ever-present possibility. It usually takes 5-6 children to move them. Last year, our two-year-olds, lead by my friend Dennis, maneuvered the biggest log across the classroom and out the door. I had my hands on it to make sure it didn’t get dropped on any toes, but I bore none of the weight. It took 10 of them working together for almost 5 minutes to manage it.
Often I’ve tipped a table or two on their sides or moved them into the hallway to make room for art or drama projects that need floor space. When it’s time to return them to their proper places, I call the children to help me wrestle these large pieces of furniture back to where they belong, finishing with a big team “push” to get it back on its legs.
Two summers ago Willie and Mikey’s family donated a nice set of shelves and cabinets that gave us a lot more in-class storage space. One of the things I was excited about was that this would allow us to finally store the “big blocks” in the classroom. I cleared out a space along the wall, but as parents came in to help me set up, several expressed sadness that the kids would no longer bring the blocks to me in the hallway while I sang.
So they stayed in the hallway. Hey, it’s their classroom too.