WITH PINT-SIZED TOOLS, TINY HANDS CAN TIDY UP Mimicking grownups,kids will learn to keep things neat


Tiny white packing chips tumbled onto the floor from the gift box that Gregory ripped open, but the 4-year-old knew exactly what to do. Without coaching, he grabbed the small broom and dust pan that was nearby and swept up the mess.

If it sounds too good to be true, guess again. Gregory and his good deed are as real as the cleanup supplies that line part of the wall of his bedroom.

Most small children love to mimic parental behavior by playing house. They love to "cook" on a pretend stove or "iron" on a pint-size ironing board. Encourage them early on, and they'll learn to clean up, too, provided you supply scaled-down tools and a good example.

First and foremost, having a cleanup center fosters good cleaning habits. The center serves as a regular reminder to be tidy, and underscores the message that each member of the family should be responsible for his or her own room's upkeep.

Accidental spills are another reason it's good to assign an area for cleanup materials. If "wet play" is allowed, it makes sense to keep rags nearby as well as a plastic dishpan or bucket.

The cleanup center is a good place for a hamper or similar container.

All it takes are a few dollars to create a special cleanup center for a child. Begin by donating some household goods to the cause, including a whisk broom, clean rags and a spare bucket.

Supermarkets, hardware stores and toy shops usually stock a variety of inexpensive cleanup tools. For starters, get a child-sized broom, mop and dustpan and a wastebasket. Other options include the following: sponges, a feather duster, rubber gloves, dust brushes and a dust- or dishrag.

If the budget allows, buy a lightweight hand-held mini vacuum. Its ability to make dirt disappear in seconds creates the notion that cleanup can be a magical experience. Before allowing this gadget to be turned on, however, be sure to remind a child to pick up stray puzzle pieces or game parts.

Allow your child to accompany you when you shop for cleanup tools. Once you choose the appropriate product, let him or her pick the color.

The simplest way to corral your child's cleanup materials is to put them on individual plastic hooks secured to the lower half of a wall or the back of a door. Adhesive-backed hooks are the easiest to find and the least expensive; however, they won't carry as much weight as the screw-in kind nor will they stay up as long.

Don't be surprised if the hooks you find are larger than the pre-drilled holes on some clean-up tools. You still can make it work by hanging the tools with yarn, ribbon or pipe cleaners.

If there is not enough space in your child's room for a cleanup center, encourage tidiness another way. Store a few scaled-down tools in the family utility closet and hang them low enough for a child to reach.

A wastebasket belongs somewhere in a child's room. Line it with a shopping bag to make it easier for your child to remove trash when the container is full.

It's important to clean your child's cleanup tools regularly. Encourage your child to let you know when belongings get dirty so you can wash them in sudsy water.

Regardless of how grown-up a child acts, never store cleaning products in his or her room or within reach. Cleansers and toxic materials should be off-limits to the young. Cleaning supplies can be dangerous when inhaled, mixed or used improperly.

It's never too late to encourage neatness. Remember, good habits learned at home filter into other parts of life including school and work. Perhaps by the time your child has his or her first home, upkeep will be second nature.

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