My apartment does not belong to me or to my wife. It’s actually our 3-year-old son’s. Jake just allows us to live there.
At least that’s the way it was for the first two years and 10 months of his life. Since Jake’s room is small, we made a section of the living room into his play area. We had no problem giving up part of the living room, but a few months ago we started making him clean up the mess before bedtime. Although he co-operated some times, more often than not he would flat out refuse. My wife Lori and I would end up cleaning after he went to bed.
We didn’t know what we were doing wrong. The mess in the living room got worse. One day, my mother — who happens to be an early childhood education specialist, noticed the lack of organization to his play area and gave us some cleaning suggestions that we foolishly didn’t take seriously at first.
Let me tell you something I have finally learned about my mom. She is always right.
The lack of organization in the play area gave Jake’s little brain fits when it came to the enormity of the job of putting things away. When we finally went to Bed, Bath and Beyond and bought seven or eight giant plastic storage drawer boxes, things began to change for the better.
We lined the boxes on the floor by his play area and we labeled each according to the type of toys that would be stored in it.
The majority of Jake’s toys are vehicles, so we labeled two giant boxes, “Vehicles.” Every toy that’s a car, truck, plane, train, boat, bus or rocket went into one of these. Vehicles too large to fit in the drawer go on top.
We labeled the third box, “People and Animals.” The fourth box is for Lego and Duplo pieces and the fifth box is for his wooden blocks. We even have a smaller plastic shoe box for the many magnetic plastic numbers and letters he plays with. There are a few other boxes but I’m sure you get the idea.
The great thing about labeling the boxes is that it does not just keep the room clear of toys. It also teaches Jake organization skills. I can sit with him on the floor and clean up with him and I ask, “What is this?”
He’ll say, “It’s a boat.”
Then I’ll ask, “So, where does it go?”
Jake learned to recognize the words on each box and now he can read and spell them. He not only knows that he is holding a boat, a car or a truck, but also that all of these are types of vehicles.
Jake still sometimes just refuses to co-operate, but cleaning time is less of a battle and I can often get him to do it two or three times a day. Best of all, the living room no longer looks like the Tasmanian Devil whirled through the apartment.