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How to Get Your Kids to Pick Up Their Toys

Every night found me nagging my kids for 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 37!

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 don't appreciate the abundance of toys that they have. So, I figured that I'd teach them what it's like to appreciate them or they wouldn't get to have any!

One day I told them 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 other kids came over.

And it still didn't solve the problem of not appreciating what they had.

They didn't even have time to miss the toys - they didn't have to. It was only a short while before the next birthday or holiday brought in a new batch of them.

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 tube.

And, it didn't work to just give stickers at bedtime. They had no motivation to pick up during the day, and it became a nightmare divvying out all the stickers when bedtime already dragged on 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 Judi 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 hold the toys; and a big box that held some community toys.

Unfortunately all that changed was that I now had empty containers in the kids room with toys on the floor.

So, one day, I finally asked Judi, "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," Judi continued, "is that they can still see the toys all week. That way they know what they're missing - that solved our 'out-of-sight-out-of-mind' problem."

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

So, back to Walmart. :-)

I got each kid a container with three drawers to keep 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!

If you still have problems with toys being scattered everyone and nothing has worked for you, give the "Saturday Box" a try today!

About the Author

Laura Bankston is author of homeschool 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 http://www.homeschoolcookbook.com

Laura Bankston