5 Fun Ways to Get Your Kids to Clean Up

The house is an overwhelming mess and Mom is left with the arduous task of tackling what has become an unnatural disaster.

Not only that, but she must also somehow motivate the children to help clean up – children who have anything but cleaning in mind for the day.

How will Mom round up the kids and keep them focused on their chores? How will she motivate herself, for that matter?

5 Fun Ways to Get Your Kids to Clean Up

Can you relate?

I can. This is me at 4:30 pm, almost every school day. It also happens at other times, of course, but there’s something about the after-school-snack-time-and-get-rid-of-energy-messiness-and-make-supper-too time of the day that I dread.

So, what’s the solution?

Well, there isn’t one. There are five!

But first – before I uncover 5 fun ways to motivate your family – I need to make a confession:

Sometimes, I yell.

No. In all honesty, it’s more than sometimes. Can you relate?

I’m not talking about mean-spirited yelling. I don’t call them names or purposely belittle them. What I am talking about is an exasperated, frustrated, why-doesn’t-anybody-hear-me kind of a burst.

So, when the munchkins aren’t listening, I involuntarily transform into an army drill sergeant. Often, the kids end up laughing at me in the middle of my tantrum and then run all over the house, giggling, as if we’re playing tag.

I don’t know why they think it’s funny when I’m mad. Maybe my face turns red. Maybe they can see steam pouf from my ears.

What I do know (and we can probably all agree on this one whether you’re a yell-y mom or not) is that yelling doesn’t work. Not really.

And that’s why, over the years, I have tried to improve my parenting methods by using things like:

Chore charts.

(Sooooo many of them.)

Weekly incentive charts offering rewards for obedience.

(Tried and failed.)

Daily routine lists.

(May I just say, these are so fun to create — and equally impossible for me to stick to.)

Then, I tried each system again, thinking I must have done something wrong the first time.

And again. And again.

Why!?! Why do I keep going back?

I blame the “free printables” and cute designs readily available online. They lure me in with their attractiveness and delude my thinking: “I’m sure I would stick to THIS chore chart,” I tell myself, “because it’s so much cuter than the one I printed last month.”

Are you about ready for some good news? Here it is:

I finally realized that the key to success is accepting who I am and what works (or doesn’t work) for my family!

Without further delay, here are 5 cleanup methods we use in our home that are fun and (often) keep me from yelling!

  1. Pick jobs from a hat.

This is my daughter’s personal favorite.

Pick jobs from a hat

(We use a bowl instead of a hat. Not that it matters, but I feel I should explain the picture.)

Simply write the items from your mental list onto separate scraps of paper, fold them up and pop them into a hat. Or bowl.

Examples of items I include are:

  1. Clear the table.
  2. Do 20 jumping jacks.
  3. Tidy the living room.
  4. Give Mom a high-five.
  5. Prep supper.
  6. You’ve been working hard! Keep it up!
  7. Tidy your room.
  8. Take a gummy pack break!
  9. Put away the clean dishes.

See how I mixed in a few fun things?

Of course, there’s the risk that you’ll pick, “You’ve been working hard! Keep it up!” on the first draw. This happened to us just the other day. It made Julie giggle hysterically, setting a cheerful mood for the rest of our work, which was kind of great.

Now, the idea here is not to divide up the jobs. This system is all about teamwork and accomplishing each task quickly. Everyone works together to complete the first job before the second slip of paper is picked from the bowl. My kids like to take turns because, let’s face it, picking papers out of a bowl is fun.

An added bonus: it’s visual. The kids – especially little ones – can see how many folds of paper are still left in the bowl, and that means the end is always in sight!

  1. Implement Family Supper-Hour Cleanup.

I dread supper cleanup. Or, I did, until I read about a fabulous idea in Real Simplicity: Making Room for Life, by Rozanne and Randy Frazee. The beauty of their plan is that it transforms after-supper cleanup into a fun family event.

This is a new concept for me.

Growing up, supper dishes was a job left for the children. Mom and Dad would sip their post-dinner coffee while we cleared the table, washed dishes, dried dishes, swept and put away the leftovers. With their offspring distracted, my parents would finally get a chance to connect with each other whilst their children reaped the endless benefits of manual labor.

For all the good memories I have of singing with my sister over sudsy sinks, however, I can’t seem to get this system to work in my own home.

Thus, we implemented the family cleanup event in which the kids and I work together. It’s quick, it’s teamwork, and we often chat along the way. Dad gets a free pass at our house, although he often willingly pitches in, anyhow.

If you have a wide range of ages in your home, here are some practical ideas for divvying up the jobs:

Practical Ways to Delegate Supper Cleanup
  1. Make a Paper Fortune-Teller.

If your conscience is searing right about now, let me set you at ease: we will not be telling fortunes. “Paper fortune-teller” is simply its most common name, but you can call it whatever you want. Personally, I think this little contraption kind of looks like a frog face.



Mr. Cleanup Frog!

If you’ve never made a paper fortune-teller before, Vintage Toys Blog has easy instructions here.

Then, check out my post about how our family recently used this fun tool to get our butts off the couch after the holidays.

  1. Allow them to pick from a list.

Where’s the fun in that, you ask?

I see your point. Perhaps this method is less about having more fun and more about having less fights. Which, in my books, makes working more fun.

For example, if I know one child is already in a bad mood, then I also know that independent jobs are the best option for that day’s work. When that one child is done their work, they have free time. The time length of their work is not dependent upon another sibling’s slower work pace.

Ergo, less fighting = less yelling = better.

Also, when children feel they have some control over the type of job they get “stuck” with, they’re less likely to buck. A wise mother is willing, on occasion, to provide this illusion of control – especially for their preteen or teen child.

For young children who can’t read, feel free to use these very simple chore cards for them to pick from (or, draw your own):

toddler chore cards with picture
Toddler Chore Cards
  1. Offer A Reward When the Work is Done

Nothing gets my kids moving like the promise of screen time.

I think it’s funny to watch them run around frantically, trying to get their jobs done as fast as they can.

Things do get a little frenzied, however, with:

  • Julie jumping onto, and then off of, the couch repeatedly while barking like a dog (I don’t know why she thinks this is cleaning);
  • Thales finding reasons to bring toys or dirty towels to the basement so that he can get “distracted” by his skateboard; and
  • Tyson reprimanding both Julie and Thales for not staying on task.

Maybe the chaos should bother me, but the jobs are getting done and I’m not yelling.


So, there you have it. Five fun ways to get the family motivated to clean up the house.

For more clean up ideas, check out Meaningful Mama’s 10 Ways to Make Clean-Up Fun For Kids or the article 8 Ways to Make Cleaning Fun For Your Kids at She Knows.

Remember: YOUR FAMILY IS UNIQUE, so keep trying new things until you find something that suits you. Don’t give up on training your kids to work. It’s good for them and it’s REALLY good for you.

If you tried one of the ideas mentioned above, I’d love to hear how it worked for your family (or didn’t work). Leave a comment below!

With love,

Sara Jan Kehler

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