Thursday, December 09, 2022

How to Get Kids to Pick Up Toys

Every night it seemed like I was doing the same thing, "You guys, look at your room. Get your toys picked up right now!"

I didn't understand it. They would have their room picked up, but a few hours later, it would be messy again. Toys all over the floor, blankets on the floor. Toys in the hallway; toys downstairs.

I definitely was getting tired of looking at the mess, tired of stepping on Legos, but it was more than that. I was aggravated that they didn't appreciate what they had!

When I was growing up, we had only a few toys. I took good care of those toys - I still have my Tinker Toys in the original metal can with the included instruction book - and I'm 36!

My parents didn't have to nag me all the time - I don't think - to pick up my toys. I know that I appreciated them because they were so few and far between.

My kids have been less fortunate in that respect - tons of toys from Grandparents and relatives for Christmas.

Toys that move, make noises, and you name it.

They definitely didn't appreciate the abundance of toys that they have.

So, I figured that I'd teach them what it's like to appreciate or not have them!

I let them know that every time I stepped on a toy, or had to pick up pieces of a set, or had to pick up something that was left out, it was going in the trash.

And that's what I did. But it didn't work.

You see, they ended up having ALL their toys in the trash. It was annoying because there wasn't anything left to play with when kids came over.

And it still didn't solve the problem of not appreciating what they had. They didn't miss it - they didn't have to. It was only a short while before the next birthday or holiday brought in a new batch of toys.

So, with my thinking cap on, I came up with my next plan of attack - a sticker and reward chart system.

They were excited, thrilled, and motivated. When they got up in the morning, they'd do all the things on their chart, anxious to have the boxes filled up with stickers.

But, stickers and reward charts only work once a day! When the "my toys are picked up" box has a sticker, the rest of the day went down the tubes.

And, it didn't work to only give stickers at bedtime. They had no motivation to pick up during the day, and it became a nightmare divvying out all the stickers at a bedtime that already dragged out longer than it should!

So, I gave up for awhile. The lecture method didn't work, the "tossing toys" method didn't work, and the reward chart didn't work the way I wanted it too.

My kids were messy and unappreciative, and I needed to do something about it - fast.

My friend Judy Frey didn't have that problem. Her kids got out one toy at a time - even when company was over - and put up that toy before getting out the next. When it was time to leave their house, it was a snap to clean up with just one toy per child.

She had all these little boxes and containers for their toys with little pieces, so I thought that maybe that was the secret.

On my next trip to Walmart, I bought some containers to put the toys; and a big box that held some community toys.

Now, I just had empty containers with toys on the floor.

So, one day, I finally asked, "How do you get your kids to keep their toys picked up?"

"Well, you know," she said, "I used to go crazy with all the toys everywhere that never got put up - hurting my feet from stepping on them...until we started to use the 'Saturday box'."

"What's a Saturday box?" I asked.

"It's just a container that we have, and every time a toy is left out, it goes into the Saturday box. Then they have to wait until Saturday to get their toys back."

"Ohhhh..." I said. A new concept that hadn't occurred to me before!

"And, the great thing about it," Judy continued, "is that they can still see the toys all week. That way they know what they are missing - because we had that 'out-of-sight-out-of-mind' problem."

I just nodded my agreement and understanding - I was totally following her.

So, back to Walmart. :-)

I got each kid a container with three drawers to put in their small toys. I explained to each of them that they could only play with one toy or set at a time. I made it very clear that if anything was left out, it would go into the Saturday box.

Their eyes were wide with amazement.

They knew Mommy was serious.

So, the first day went without incident. Then, on the 2nd, there was the first infraction.

"Maegan," I told her, "you left out a Polly Pockets. It needs to go into the Saturday box."

Now, she is only three years old; but she understood. We put the toy in the Saturday box - a clear plastic container on the kitchen counter.

EVERY day she was asking me if it was "Saturday". Fortunately for her, we had started mid-week so she only had 2 days to wait.

The boys ended up with a few toys in there too.

It's amazing how a simple box called a Saturday box can solve a lot of problems and teach "appreciation" at the same time!

Laura Bankston is author of Internationally selling Cooking with Kids Curriculum: Homeschool Cooking in a Box and the Homeschool Cookbook. She currently home schools her three children, maintains home school support websites, and manages their family-owned service business. For information on her curriculum and free home school support services, please visit

Copyright 2004, Abundant Learning Publications. All Rights Reserved.

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