Mom School

Teaching Toddlers to be CLEAN {Part 1: Scaffolding}


I must confess I have clean kids. Let me rephrase… I have messy kids who know how to clean up when they’re done. In fact, Cash prefers cleaning as part of his play time. Cash also hates to clean up sometimes… because he’s two. But, he knows the importance of it, he has the discipline to do it {tantrum free mostly} and knows the rules associated with play time.

 Cash brag story ahead….

We were out at a birthday party in December and there were 4-5 kids, and Cash, playing in a heap of toys in the middle of all us adults. The cake cutting was announced, we stop to pay attention, I am handed a piece of cake and Cash immediately begins throwing toys into the toy box, mad dash… he wants his cake.


He picks up all the toys he can see, even politely prying one out of another kids hands {we gave it back} so everything was picked up.


I ask him, “Did you check the whole room? I think you played over there
earlier.” Cash hustles to the corner where he picks up a ball and a piece of birthday confetti, brings it back and says, “Here mom you keep garbage.” Then he stands proudly in front of me wringing his little hands, mouth open ready for cake.


His mouth wasn’t the only one open… which is when I decided to write this blog post…

 Teaching Toddlers to be CLEAN

Allow me to also point out that this post is NOT titled, “Teaching kids HOW TO Clean” but about teaching them how to BE clean, through learned observation. Other moms in the room said, “Wow! He’s so good! Such a great little cleaner! I’m impressed.” Truth be told, he doesn’t come by it naturally. He was taught.

I actually have a Master’s Degree in Behavior Management from the University of Oregon, where I specialized in Teaching and Learning. I know, I know, you’re shocked. You thought I was just another crafty, DIY, “creative-playtime-found-on-Pinterest-Mom”. I am actually an educator turned homeschool preschooler.


{Spoiler alert: Many, if not most of those creative, crafty mom bloggers you stumble across on Pinterest whom you think just ‘play’ with their kids all day and blog about it ARE highly educated women teaching and learning with their kids.}


You can catch up on all of my personal pedagogy {Ooh! Buzz word! Expect to see a few more pop up since, Hey, this is a behavioral Approach} over on the Toddler School page. Enough about me! You’re here to learn about…TEACHING KIDS to be CLEAN. This post is PART 1 in the series. {Sorry folks, it doesn’t happen overnight} and it covers


Let me introduce you to Educational Scaffolding which is a term that describes a system of teaching and learning. Scaffolding is one of my FAVORITE words from college {nerd alert} and it refers to a variety of instructional techniques used to move students progressively toward stronger understanding and, ultimately, greater independence in the learning process. The term itself offers the relevant descriptive metaphor: teachers provide successive levels of temporary support that help students reach higher levels of comprehension and skill acquisition that they would not be able to achieve without assistance. Like physical scaffolding, the supportive strategies are incrementally removed when they are no longer needed, and the teacher gradually shifts more responsibility for the learning process to the student. [Source]

{hands up if you’re an Educator Mom who still uses all her college textbooks! Me! ME!}


How does this relate to CLEANING Kandice?
My kid’s a puppy digging a hole!

I’m getting there….


The point is we begin showing children the importance of cleaning and being clean, orderly, respectful of workspaces early in
development. I plan on teaching Wyatt The Clean Up Box {food dropping Behavioral Modifier} now that he is one, because I know his Scaffolding is built and he’s ready to move on to bigger concepts.


How do you Scaffold?


Cash is actually 2.5 and has been dealing with learning from me for quite some time. No matter the age of your child, you can
begin building your scaffold for cleanliness.


Here is my Scaffold Strategy:


For the past year {of Wyatt’s life} he has been watching me {and Cash} constantly put things into SQUARE, GREEN boxes. All around our house we have Socialized Learning {Oooh! Another Buzz Word!} and vicarious reinforcement as Wyatt watches us incessantly put things into green boxes. Some of our boxes are clear with green lids.

{Nerd Alert: LOVE my college Text Books! Snag your used copy of this one HERE}

I use the COLOR and SHAPE as scaffolding. Our Manipulative Baskets in the bedroom are green.


Our Discovery Boxes in the Creativity Corner are clear. {some have green lids}

Our Mess Mat, now that Wyatt is learning, is lined with green tape.{Note the awesome patch job}


The association to the color and shape are my scaffold. It is an observed behavior that develops into a learned ability by constant role modeling.


Cash and I clean up regularly in front of Wyatt. It is observed daily that:

“Mom puts things into green/clear boxes”
“Cash can’t play with another box until he puts everything
in this box”
“Dad is always tossing things into the bedroom baskets”
“On The Mess Mat, everything must stay inside the green lines”

These are observations that eventually become habits and learned skills. This scaffolding must be built and observed OVER TIME with your child before you can move on to the next step. Your child must be aware of the importance for cleaning by seeing how important it is to you. You also have to establish rules, which are tough.


Kids will cry but you have to hold firm. For Cash, when he was young, and understood more {maybe 1.5} we simply wouldn’t move on to the next activity until THIS one was cleaned up, back into its proper box. He didn’t want to do that every time. He would have meltdowns. Teaching kids is hard and frustrating for everyone involved, but look where he is now.

Where to START

Go get yourself some colored squares: baskets, boxes, etc. {man my pictures are bad}*Organizing Tip: There are actually no other colored boxes in my house other than GREEN. No red containers, or blue, etc. There are neutral colors like clear, white or black, but the only COLOR is GREEN, which I chose because it rhymes with CLEAN. That carries throughout the entire house on purpose. Everything looks coordinated. So even when things are a mess, it’s all the same color, and looks like less of a mess.

Introduce to your kiddo that “We’re going to start putting our things into these before we can do other things.” It will be FUN and NEW! They will LOVE dumping out baskets into big piles. They will also love helping you sort toys back into boxes. I’ll write more about the BEDROOM BASKET RULES {someday} to help with this…

You’ll know when they’re ready to move on. After awhile you can start removing scaffolding, like the color… We put things in boxes, they don’t have to be green. And the shape… We put things away in containers…


Now that Wyatt’s ready, we’re moving on to The Clean Up box, which is a GREEN, SQUARE of masking tape {my mom supply addiction} on the floor under his high chair.


When he’s done eating, I plop him down in front of it… and wouldn’t you know it… he starts picking stuff up and dropping it into the little GREEN, SQUARE box….

{….see, I’m actually not that cool Pinterest Mom… I’m actually that nerd, text book, psychology Mom…}


Watch Cash as he helps brother learn on the first day HERE


Part 2: The Clean Up Box Training is Coming Soon

Welcome to Mom School! This post is one of many Homeschool Preschool Lessons with #MySweetandSticky {Cash & Wyatt} As a former educator, I wanted to give them their best start before heading into public schools. (Which we LOVE!) On occasion, and throughout the summer, we continue our At-Home Learning. Cash is my Science Guy and Wyatt can’t get enough Sensory Play. Join us for every Sweet & Sticky moment.

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