Your Baby Can: Clean Up

Vibrant Wanderings: Your Baby Can Clean UpLast week, I wrote a little post about drinking glasses for Montessori babies and toddlers, and that really should have been the first in this series, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to commit to actually making it a series. I keep coming up with more post ideas, however, so here goes!

Our efforts to implement Montessori philosophy at home have led us to do quite a few things differently. I often get surprised comments from other parents who who aren’t used to seeing small children do [insert skill here]. I’ve heard variations of, “I can’t believe he’s doing _______! My baby would just throw that across the room/dump that out!” many times. Naturally, I think my kids are extraordinary – the best children there have ever been, probably. I am their mom after all. I don’t think it’s anything unique to them, however, that makes them able to do things like drink from a glass or use utensils while eating. What I do think is that cultural norms surrounding parenting prevent children from learning to do many things they might both enjoy and excel at. We consistently underestimate what even the littlest ones among us are capable of. To highlight this reality, I’m going to do an open-ended series on some of the many things that, contrary to popular opinion, babies can do.

Obviously every child is different, and all develop on their own timelines, so this isn’t true across the board, but for the most part, our babies can surprise us if we just give them the tools they need to do for themselves. Recent research has shown us that even newborns are aware, and physically prepare themselves when they’re about to be picked up by an adult – they know what’s about to happen. The sooner we take their awareness into consideration and start including our babies in the daily routine, the sooner they can take charge and do for themselves. This is not about putting undue responsibility on the shoulders of babies, or about lightening the load for their parents – it’s about trusting our children, empowering them, and giving them appropriate tools. Most of the time, babies, toddlers, and preschoolers enjoy taking part in everyday activities around the house – particularly those that directly involve them.

For those who are looking to involve the youngest members of the household in cleaning up, I recommend these three things starting from infancy:

1. Talk to your baby

Cleaning up is something babies can be involved in from a very early age. Even newborns can be held and talked to by their parents while baby’s things are tidied up. “I’m going to put your dirty clothes in the hamper.” “This diaper goes in the pail now that you have a fresh, clean one.” It’s certainly more efficient to get all of the housework done without children underfoot, but when you involve them, not only do they start taking ownership of family routines early on, but you can also use some of the quiet time while they’re sleeping or otherwise occupied for recharging your own batteries instead of catching up on household tasks.

Vibrant Wanderings: Your Baby Can Clean Up

My baby, cleaning up the breakfast table and loving it.

2. Make things accessible

In order to be truly involved, children need tools that are both appropriately sized for them, and easy for them to access. In our house, each child has a small laundry basket1 on the floor that they can put their dirty clothes into. Everything in their closets is kept at their height, so they can help when it’s time to fold and put away, and a stool in the laundry room means they can even help with the wash if they want to.

For cleaning up after meals, snacks, and art projects, I keep a small stack of cleaning cloths2 (made by the lovely Amy) and a spray bottle3 at child height in our kitchen.

3. Model basic routines, and slowly let your child take over

Children are naturally interested in what the adults in their lives are doing, and they’re always watching. When it comes to routines involving them, it helps a great deal if we can slow down enough to give them an opportunity to see what we’re really doing. Wiping a table seems pretty straightforward, but if you break it down you’ll see that it actually involves a number of different actions.

With babies, the real fun of cleaning up begins when solid foods are introduced. After my baby’s very first meals, I did all of the clean up, but I took it slow and talked him through it, putting his plate away, spraying the table where he’d eaten, and then wiping it off, and I gave him tools from the very beginning – namely, a wipe.  While he didn’t really participate just then, having a cleaning cloth of his own made him an active participant. At some point, I’m not exactly sure when, he started helping me wipe the table, and now he spontaneously grabs the bottle and a towel during the day and cleans up just for fun. I usually need to wipe things down again later, so it’s not that the house is actually being thoroughly cleaned by my twelve month old, but he’s involved and he loves it. His older sister, now three, seldom needs someone to clean the table after her, and she still seems to enjoy wiping up most of the time.

So there you have it. There’s no need to wait for your children to reach a certain age or milestone – even your baby can join in and clean up right alongside you now.

  1. This is an affiliate link. It’s also where I bought our small laundry baskets.
  2. A good, inexpensive option for these is just thin, inexpensive washcloths, but a pretty fabric can brighten up your space, too.
  3. If you’re not sure where to find a small spray bottle, try looking in the area where travel cosmetics are sold in any store that sells that kind of thing.

14 thoughts on “Your Baby Can: Clean Up

  1. Annicles

    It is a strange thing that my three all did this as babies and yet now tell me it is their human right not to tidy up if they don’t want to! I keep on with the mantra of we all live together and work together and hope it will work out in the end! I make sure they are involved or in sole charge of the fun stuff like cooking a meal as often as possible! 8, 11 and 13 is very different to 1 and 3!

    1. melissa Post author

      Ah, yes, I can only imagine the difference between this stage of parenting and that! I hope we’re still in contact as mine get to that age, because I may need some of your wisdom! ;)

  2. Rach

    I’ve left this slip a bit in that I clean up after B a bit more than I should. I love thos cleaning cloths – where did you get them?

    1. melissa Post author

      Thanks so much for sharing this on your facebook page – I’m honored! Sometimes, once they get to spraying, they don’t want to stop, but mine have never thought to spray one another ;) I just put a simple, cheap, homemade solution inside, so they can spray to their hearts’ content.

  3. Amy G

    Wonderful series idea! I still have to force myself to get Q to do some things instead of instinctively doing it myself. But, even so, I think she still does more than many children. This post does make me think that I need to get her her own spray bottle- that’s one of the issues- I don’t like to share!

  4. Talia's Travel Blog

    I love this post because even as I was cleaning up yesterday I knew that the kids would really enjoy helping. But then again having cornstarch and gooey milk spread further around the kitchen might just have been too much even for me … but sure enough when I was distracted this morning Talia decided it was time to “mop.” She did a great job filling the broom dustpan with water and sweeping up the mess (apparently a dustpan is just about the right size for her to mop with ;-))

  5. Abigail

    Stumbled upon your blog while looking for “second child” articles…and so happy to get reassured about the things we’ve been doing with our (now) 18-month old! He loves to sweep up the kitchen (I mean, he’s not good at it, but it’s the thought) and we started with wiping our hands after eating, then moved to hands and face, and now he does “Wipe your hands, face, & clean your space” routine pretty well. Now, getting to the “hand it to Mama” as opposed to dropping it on the floor…thanks for a great post!

  6. candice

    I give my little man a glass shot glass to drink from. he loves it. The cloths are still just for washing my face with or his mouth. The broom, thats another story. he LOVES to sweep the floor, i need to get a small broom and dustpan for him this weekend.

  7. Charise @ I Thought I Knew Mama

    I completely agree that parents often underestimate how children can participate in household tasks! I often hear friends say that they are so happy that their children finally learn to throw things out in the trash and put stuff away when they go to preschool, and I find it kind of mindblowing. My children seem to love helping out whenever they can, and my 3 year old has taken it upon himself to help with many tasks for a long time. I love it!

    I will be featuring your post today at The Tuesday Baby Link Up!
    Charise @ I Thought I Knew Mama recently posted..Wordless Wednesday: {Almost} Preschooler Art #LinkyMy Profile

    1. melissa Post author

      Thank you so much for featuring my post, Charise! I’m honored that you chose it. Glad to know you see what I see in children, too :)

  8. Jenna

    Yes! Our boys always had their own laundry basket that they had to put dirty clothes into at the end of the day. They always helped in clean up. And now I have boys who do twice daily chores around the house (well, twice in the summer, once during the school year) without (much) complaint. They are, after all, human children.


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