Supporting children to pack away
I get it! Pack away time can sometimes feel like an endless battle leaving you wondering whether it is worth the fight. Although it’s a tricky balance between having age appropriate and high expectations for children we advocate for choosing the battle, but going in armed with the strategies you need to set yourself and your children up for success!
Why? Because when children are supported to look after their environment they build their sense of belonging which increases dispositions for learning such as persistence, responsibility and being open to new challenges. (For the educators reading this - this links with the Early Years Learning Framework)
Spoiler alert - if you don't want to read the whole blog there is summary of the strategies at the end of the blog (scroll down, we wont be offended)
So where to start?
- PHOTO LABELS ON EVERYTHING
We have so many strategies to share but my number one tip for success, for both yourself and your children is photo labels. Photo labels with words is great to introduce the concept that print has purpose but also - children can not read so labelling without a photo or picture automatically sends the message - this is an adults responsibility.
Why labels? For children to take responsibility for their belongings in the classroom or playroom/space, they must first have an understanding of where things belong. Creating an environment that offers consistency, predictability and visual support allows children to enact agency over maintaining their environment.
We believe in this strategy so much that we have created these FREE DOWNLOADABLE LABELS to help provide visual cues to children of where things go.
1. ROLE MODELLING
Another important thing we should consider is role modelling and making sure we practice what we preach. It's similar to when I see adults forcing children to wear a hat in the sun while their own head is copping the bare brunt of the UV. Some questions to consider
- How do we set up play spaces, are they orderly and easy to pack away?
- Does the playroom have clear labels so children don't become overwhelmed
- How do we respond to cleaning up our own tasks, are the children hearing us complain about doing them?
- Are we helping children as we have most likely been playing with them and teamwork is important?
Warning !!! The problem with role modelling without intention
Educators and parents alike know the importance of role modelling. Everyday we have the golden opportunity of role modelling. As adults, we are constantly wiping benches, picking things up off the floor, tidying a shelf so that it is more aesthetically pleasing or returning items to a basket when scattered across the room. This is great until….its not.
- Problem - Often we can fall into the trap of doing it ourselves because it is a quicker and an easier process. Although in the moment it seems a lot easier, especially if we are about to serve lunch or need to head out for the day, children miss out on the sense of belonging that helping within a community space brings.
- Problem - Not involving children in the process robs them of feeling the satisfaction we ourselves feel when we accomplish a clean and inviting space. It is that natural reward that gives us the intrinsic motivation to do it again.
- Problem - It also robs children of the opportunity to build an awareness and responsibility for taking care of what is theirs. If we honestly added up the time we spend packing up and resetting tasks solo, we would quickly realise we just lost a good few years of our lives. I'm sure we have all heard ourselves say ”please come and pack up”, how many times have I asked you to pack away?... I wont say it again, pack up”. You will probably nod along with me when I say, this strategy just doesn't work!
Don’t worry we have more ideas…
2. POSITIVE MINDSET
If children hear us complaining about doing the dishes, what example are we setting? At some point I am sure we are all guilty of this one and although bound to happen, it's worth taking note of little people that might be listening. And also a good reminder to empathise with children who express protest over packing away! “I know, sometimes packing up my room feels boring too!”
3. START EARLY
Start early, don't wait until the child is 15 to give them responsibility, even infants will enjoy placing blocks into a basket that you are holding out to them.
“starting small, starting young and having fun!”
4. ROUTINES AND RITUALS
Use simple daily tasks and rituals to include young children in participating in pack up times. Start with responsibility over their own items such as putting away their drink bottle or bag in a designated spot. Adopt a practice of doing “with” children not “for” them. Young children will need direct and specific support with you close by. Using rituals such as incorporating a “reset” before morning tea can add to predictability and consistency which increases likelihood of co-operation.
5. WATCH YOUR LANGUAGE
Use open language to invite curiosity and participation rather than overly directive language such as “you need to pack up”. Children are biologically wired to feel a sense of control and handing over the lead to them can be highly effective
It is also a good idea to talk through your rationale behind packing up, for example “we need to tidy the blocks away so that someone doesn't trip and hurt themselves”
Keep your language encouraging and strength focused. “Thomas, I noticed when you made an effort to put away the blocks in correct spot, this is helpful for the next person, thank you” And remember, any attempt is an attempt, always acknowledge with positive verbal and non verbal language to show the child that their effort is appreciated and that they are valued in the room/ home. Be specific with the type of praise you choose to use- “good job” does not support intrinsic motivation, you may choose to focus on appreciation and acknowledgement as a reframe of praise or if you do say good job follow up with specific description on what it was that was “good” about it.
“I can see that you packed away 3 things today, that is helpful as now no one will trip, thank you”
“I saw you all working together, which made pack up time quicker than usual, now we get to have lunch a little earlier” (natural positive consequence over extrinsic rewards)
“I noticed you really didn't want to pack up today, but you still put your drink bottle in its place, thank you for helping even when you don't want to” (validating emotions within acknowledging effort and persistence)
6. AGE APPROPRIATE EXPECTATIONS
Lastly, but probably the most important is to ensure our expectations are realistic for the age of the child and how much opportunity they have had to practice the art of tidying up. Babies and toddlers can help pack away with specific 1 step instructions “can you put this block in the basket”, where as 3 and 4 year old's may be able to follow 2 to 3 steps in a row “can you put the blocks in this basket and then place them on the shelf before you sit on the mat?” (3 step instruction). Keep in mind that we all have “off days” there may be things that affect us in wanting to participate too, so be flexible.
Okay for those of you who are only here for the summary here it is !
Developmentally appropriate expectations
- Allow children to “save” special items they make so they feel respected ie - they don't need to pack away the car park that they just spent a half an hour building
- Provide children with agency, would you like to pack up inside or outside first?
- Be specific for children who struggle and for children who are under 3 for example “can you place these blocks in this basket” rather than “pack up time”
Being with our children as the main strategy to get started
- Make it fun- “can you find 2 blue things or 10 cars?”
- Celebrate any and all achievements with positive verbal and non verbal language
- Role model and engage alongside children (do with children not for them)
- Sing a favourite pack away song as an auditory cue
Environment to set you up for success
- Use visual aids such as cue cards.
- Clear organised spaces with picture labels for easy sorting
- Include packing up rituals to make packing up expected, consistent and predictable
- Use games such as timers to increase motivation through challenges such as predicting how long it takes
- Balance having a wide range of resources without it becoming a cluttered and overwhelming play environment
Good luck and we hope you enjoy our downloadable labels. If there are any other tips you have be sure to let us know!