Organizing With Preschoolers

Blocks. Maintaining order with toddlers and preschoolers
Image by bethL from Pixabay

With Mother’s Day around the corner, I’ve got parents and families on my mind. I remember the preschool days well, and although they were fun and precious, they were also exhausting and often frustrating. Maintaining order with toddlers and preschoolers around can be a challenge because…

  • many of the toys and supplies are large
  • new items arrive in the home daily (artwork from school, party favors, books, gifts from relatives….)
  • there is little “free” time for parents to organize and clear clutter without little ones underfoot (and perhaps resisting the process)
  • children can make a mess with impressive speed
  • playdates – while fun for both children and adults – can leave a swath of wreckage
  • children grow quickly in these years, necessitating frequent overhauls of their clothing and gear

I think it is important to acknowledge these facts so that no one feels badly about struggling to keep organized. Being a parent is a wonderful blessing, but it isn’t exactly the path to simple living.

Nonetheless, I do believe there are a few principles that are helpful to keep in mind if your home has young children. Remember, being organized does not mean having a perfectly neat home. Being organized means being able to find what you need, when you need it.  Establishing orderly systems provides peace of mind for parents and equips children with necessary skills for their increasingly complex lives.

5 Tips for Organizing With Preschoolers

1.    Keep the job at eye level.

It can be easy to forget that children are short! Most furniture is designed for adults, and thus difficult for little ones to use. Think of your kitchen drawer: you can easily see into it, but your child can’t. If we want our children to return items to their “proper place”, then the place needs to be one they can reach, such as a bin under the bed, or hooks hung low enough that they can reach.

Low hooks for children to reach

2.    Make it easier to put away than to take out.

This rule especially applies to “messy” toys:  play dough, paint, craft kits, liquids, etc. Keep toys like these in boxes on high shelves or in a locked cabinet. When your child wants to play with these, she’ll need to ask you to get it down. Once it is down at eye level, she can easily put the pieces back into the box on her own, and then you return the container to its home.

Also, bear in mind that you make the rules.

Lastly, remember that little hands struggle with things like tight-fitting lids and perilously stacked boxes. Eliminate obstacles wherever possible, and be on-hand to help so that putting things away doesn’t become an exercise in frustration.

3.   Make the container fit the toy

One tool that looks better than it functions is the giant toy chest. Small parts tend to fall to the bottom, leading children to crawl inside and toss items out. In addition, these often have hinged lids that can drop and crush little fingers. If you have a beloved family antique, consider using it for blankets, “one size up” clothing or keepsakes.

For toys, choose containers that are appropriately sized for their contents.

  • Clear shoeboxes are a great choice for any toy that has small pieces or parts (e.g. card games, action figures, toy cars, etc.)
  • Place medium-sized toys (e.g. dump truck, cash register, shape sorter, etc.) on low shelves or cubbies.
  • For large toys with associated parts – such as a toy kitchen with food or a workbench with tools – place a container near the stationary object to hold the smaller pieces, or use an adhesive hook to hang a bucket on the side.

A few other suggestions…

Arts and crafts supplies should be kept in their own area, like on a bookshelf or in a designated cabinet. Keep each type of supply in it’s own bin (e.g. one each for markers, crayons, pencils, pens, glue sticks, colored pencils, etc.) This is another category where clear shoeboxes are a great resource because your child can easily see what goes inside. If your space requires you to stack these containers, consider plastic drawers like these so you can access the contents without having to move all the boxes around.

Dress up clothes can be hung from hooks on the wall or tossed into a large, lightweight container (such as a pop-up bin.) You can also repurpose an old dresser by pulling out the top couple of drawers and putting hooks alone the back for the larger items. Place shoes, purses and jewelry in the bottom drawer, and place hats up on top.

Storage solution for dress-up clothes

Stuffed animals – because they can be large but are lightweight – can go in a large bin, basket, or bucket. You can also suspend a net and toss them inside (as long as little ones don’t try and climb up to get them.) The best way to keep stuffed animals under control is to consistently cull through them and let go of any that aren’t of particular sentimental value.

Duplos™, Magnatiles™ and blocks can go into large boxes or baskets that sit on a shelf or even in the corner of the room.

For preschoolers, books pose a special challenge. Since this age generally isn’t reading yet, a traditional bookshelf may prove frustrating. Most children of this age like to see the picture on the front of the book when making a selection, and therefore pull all the books off of a shelf and spread them all over the floor. Instead, use a rectangular bin/basket with no handle and put it on the floor. This allows children to “flip” through their collection. One affordable tool that works well is a plastic dishwashing bin. Also, if you have a library nearby, a weekly visit can provide a lot of variety without taking up any space.

Balls and sports gear are ideally stored in a garage or shed, along with “outside toys” such as bubbles and sidewalk chalk. Again, keep like items together in plastic/weatherproof bins. Hang helmets where children can easily reach them.

For all containers, remember to use labels whenever possible. Since little children don’t read well, use pictures (with the word written beneath if you like.) You can download clip art or just draw a simple picture on a piece of paper. To adhere these to a container, use clear packing tape or maybe these neat adhesive label pockets.

4.   Create routine

Any task we want children to learn must be done consistently and in a predictable way. Set aside time(s) each day when playtime pauses and the space is “reset”… perhaps before lunch, before dinner preparation and before bedtime. Remember, it is okay for you as the parent to set limits on which toys can be taken out at each time of day. For example, if you tend to be tired at the end of the day, limit after dinner options to those that are easy to pick-up.  In addition, use audio or visual cues (e.g. a timer or a favorite song) to remind children that it is time to restore order. Small children almost always need supervision during this time – don’t expect a toddler to “go clean up the playroom” alone. Introduce routines for all the items children use, such as tossing dirty clothes into the hamper or putting trash in the trash can. Reward children when they respond well and follow the routine. You can use a star chart to show how good they are getting at being organized.

5.   Set the example

As with all aspects of life, we need to remember that children emulate what they see. If we toss our coat on the floor, children will as well. If we complain about having to clean up, we can expect to hear similar words coming from our kids. Instead, show your children that establishing and restoring order is a source of great satisfaction. Set your own “organizing” time and play YOUR favorite music while doing it. Avoid expressing negative emotions about putting items back where they belong.

*     *     *     *     *

Children are a blessing…and children are messy. Teaching them to care for their belongings will serve them well throughout their lives.

Is staying organized a challenge in your home? Which toys do you struggle with most?

35 thoughts on “Organizing With Preschoolers”

    1. I bet you have many fun little items with the princesses! Knowing you, things are in pretty good order i your household, but still fun to see some new ideas:)

    1. Love the “zoo” idea.. kids can really relate to that, and that helps them want to put the animals inside. I like the pop-up hampers for the same reason.. just fun to use!

  1. It’s like a trip down memory lane. I remember the pre-school days so well…and with such joy. Yes, there was more “stuff” to manage and coordinate. But there was also a full house filled with laughter and fun. Helping kids learn organizing skills and setting up systems that will be “right-sized” for them is a gift that they’ll have for life.

    Thank you for bringing me back to this stage of life and of course for the wonderful organizing tips!

    Happy Mother’s Day!
    Linda Samuels recently posted…How to Benefit from Letting Go Practice RunsMy Profile

    1. And a very Happy Mother’s Day to you, Linda! So many wonderful memories… and also an acknowledgement that few people’s houses look the way the staged magazine photos make you feel like yours should! The idea that kids will somehow develop good organizing skills on their own isn’t based in reality. Organizing is a skill that can be learned, and one that is worth teaching!

  2. As a parent educator and mother of three, I think making storage options easy-to-use and having a routine are key to keeping little ones involved in organizing. Pinning these ideas now.

    1. Appreciate the positive feedback from someone of your background, Susan! Routines are powerful things, for people of all ages. Sometimes, they are all that keeps me on track. The sooner you put helpful routines in place, the more powerful they will be in helping you live your best life.

    1. They work great at the foot of the bed for blankets and maybe stuffed animals, but not so much for toys. Everything ends up bashed together and broken, and the kids can’t see them. I like cubbies with removable bins the best. Children can pull out a bin and use the toys inside, and then it is easy to toss everything away. The Ikea KALLAX is a good product for this. For the cubbies for children, the DRONA is a nice, lightweight bin, and it can be collapsed if you don’t ned it.

  3. I love that you reiterate throughout the blog posts, that the parents set the rules. If you want some kind containment of toys, limit the amount that come through your front door. We were always quite minimalist when it came to ours son’s toys, we bought a few different things for variety, but as his tastes stopped at cars, lego and books, we were pretty lucky.
    Some great tips on storage, like you said big boxes are not always the best option, we used a drawer system for our sons lego.
    Happy Mothers’ Day Seana!
    Jill Robson recently posted…Organizing ……….an Olympic event?My Profile

    1. Happy Mother’s Day to you too, Jill! Sometimes we just need someone to tell us it is “ok” to do something. I remember someone giving me permission to tell my daughter, “Mommy doesn’t play pretend. Let’s do a puzzle or a game or something else instead” when I was frustrated with not playing pretend “the right way.” Good news was, when we played games I could also enjoy, we had more fun together:)

    1. I agree… we get to step back into that phase of life, without having to carry all of the responsibility of day-to-day care. Playrooms are always a fun project:)

  4. I remember well the days of frustration with the kids toys ! You have shared some excellent tips that I wish I had read a long time ago. Thank you Seana for sharing your tips with us at Brag About It! Pinning and sharing!

    1. Some great posts at Brag About It! this week.. I always get some great ideas. Sometimes we are so tired when have preschoolers that we can’t even think about what the best strategies might be. Hopefully will help the wonderful Moms out there:)

  5. As a former Kindergarten teacher being organized means great systems and routines. As a parent it can be hard to implement at home. These tips make it easy to get started at home.

    1. I didn’t know you were a Kindergarten teacher in your previous life – I’m sure you were VERY good at that:) Yes, it is amazing how well children respond to systems and routines. They just take the “argument” out of the equation, so they really are worth the effort. Harder at home because you aren’t making a fresh “start” as you do when you enter a new classroom. But even a few routines really help!

  6. This is a great post! I love the idea for the plastic dishwashing bin to hold preschoolers’ books. Putting items at eye level is also a good tip. I agree with you about the big toy chests not being practical. I’ve had this discussion about toy chests with families during organizing sessions over and over again, everything just seems to get lost inside!
    Nancy Haworth recently posted…How to Organize for a New BabyMy Profile

    1. It is easy to forget how little children are, and how much of a deterrent storing things up high or in difficult containers can be. Make it easy, and then routine, routine, routine…

    1. Ah, your daughter is in the “thick” of it. I hope she finds this helpful. If she’s on FB, I’d love to have her follow my business page. Many of clients are at your daughter’s stage, so I try and post encouraging and helpful tips over there!

    1. I hope so, Liana. I hear Moms complain about having to put stuff away and the mess all the time. I remember feeling this way myself when the children were little. But a positive attitude can really turn things around – children can learn to enjoy almost anything!

  7. I, too, love the parts about parents making rules, setting limits, creating routines, and setting examples. Also, “Being a parent is a wonderful blessing, but it isn’t exactly the path to simple living.” Ha ha, I should say not! (I’m not a parent. Too hard. Don’t wanna!) May I add this post to my Organizing Kids Resource Roundup?
    Hazel Thornton recently posted…Gifts I Got from MomMy Profile

    1. It really can be hard, Hazel. I always assure my parent clients that there is no judgment here… I’ve been there and know the challenges! Feel free to include any post of mine in any roundup of yours:)

  8. This is my life currently, Seana! My little munchkin challenges my organizational systems daily, but I wouldn’t have it any other way! I find your last point about setting an example is so true in our household. Our little guy has gotten so much better about putting away one toy before taking out another and doing a final tidy before bedtime. Modeling behavior goes a long way!

  9. Pingback: Brag About It Link Party | VMG206 - VMG206

  10. These are fantastic tips! All of these seem relatively easy to do with little ones. It’s so important to teach them organization skills early; this is definitely something they will carry with them throughout their future. Great post! Thank you so much for sharing!

    1. Thanks for the comment, Morgan. If the children learn to establish homes and put things away at a young age, it won’t seem like a burdensome chore when they are adults. It will just be part of the routine, like brushing teeth. A few small habits, formed early, can prove powerful advantages in life!

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