Spring To-Do's

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Cleaning with Your Preschooler

How to make cleaning fun for your kids

Every so often we have the need to "freshen-up" our homes. And your preschooler can be a big help!

"Preschoolers love to help Mommy, so it's a good age to get them started with helping around the house," says Jen Singer, author of 14 Hours 'Til Bedtime: A Stay-at-Home Mom's Life in 27 Funny Little Stories. "The earlier they start cleaning, the less likely they will treat you like a maid when they get older."

What to Expect

"The goal here is to keep your child busy while you get some real cleaning done," Singer says. But the lessons learned by your preschooler can be many. Not only does "helping" build self-esteem and confidence, it can be a good time to bond with your child and reap the rewards of fitness also. "My boys have actually fought over the feather duster," Singer says. "They can't do much harm with it (well, don't ask our cat his opinion on that) and they might actually dust something with it. They can pick up toys and put them away, mop the floor, and they love to sweep and use the dustpan."

4 Kid-friendly Tasks

"As a preschool director and teacher, I clean with preschoolers all the time," says Susie Kohl, author of five parenting books, including The Best Things Parents Do. "My book contains suggestions about cleaning together and working chores out harmoniously. Making being helpful as a part of a child's routine literally establishes the child's self-view as a helpful person."

Kohl provides these ideas:

1. Use squirt bottles filled with diluted dish soap. Let the child "clean" his toys and play table.

2. Make a game of taking books off the shelf and sorting. Suggest she donate books she has outgrown to needy children. Work together to put the remaining books in order from small to large, another learning concept.

3. The same sorting and reorganizing can be adapted with toys, games, etc.

4. Make a game out of picking up toy pieces, scraps of paper, etc. Ask your child: "How many pieces of (whatever you're picking up) did you find?"

Helping and Fitness

Not only are you teaching your child to be helpful, they are learning the values of fitness also. "Cleaning is a perfect opportunity to engage children in physical activity," says Maureen Sweeney, exercise specialist at the Texas Children's Hospital in Houston. "According to the NASPE (National Association for Sport and Physical Education) toddlers and preschoolers should engage in at least 60 minutes, and up to several hours of daily, unstructured physical activity. Scrubbing, wiping, dusting and moving around to get more steps in a day will increase the child's total caloric expenditure, as well as help Mom and Dad out."

Always Safety First

"As the father of a preschooler, I can tell you that spring cleaning is a great opportunity to teach a child many lessons: the value of donating old items to charity, the joy of eliminating clutter and the importance of safety," says Chris Falk, media director for the American Association of Poison Control Centers. "Cleaning products rank high on the American Association of Poison Control Center's list of substances most frequently involved in children under six years poison exposures." The AAPCC recommends the following:

  • If the doorbell or telephone rings, take the cleaning product – or the child – with you.
  • Give the child a small bowl or spray bottle of water to use for cleaning. Buckets of water pose a drowning risk to small children and cleaning products can be harmful.
  • Keep all cleaning products locked away and out of reach of young children.
  • Read and follow the instructions on cleaning product labels.
  • Use only one product at a time. Mixing products can create toxic fumes.
  • Call the poison center IMMEDIATELY if you suspect a child has touched, breathed or swallowed a poison. Don't wait for symptoms to appear; be safe, not sorry.
  • Post the nationwide toll-free poison hotline number (1-800-222-1222) near all phones. "Calls to 1-800-222-1222 are automatically connected to nurses, pharmacists and doctors at the closest poison center for free, confidential advice. [People] also are invited to call the hotline with questions about poisoning prevention or to request free magnets or stickers bearing the hotline number," Falk says.

Make Cleaning Fun!

Stacy DeBroff, author of The Mom Book, 4,278 Tips for Moms!, interviewed more than 300 parents across the nation to gather their best and most creative suggestions. Here are several of her tips:

  • Teach your child to make her bed by lying under the covers, pulling the sheet and comforter over her head, and slide out the side.
  • Let children make a "fort" with bed linens before putting them in the wash.
  • Pretend to be soldiers or robots on a "cleaning" mission.
  • Try the Inspection Game: Announce a surprise inspection coming in a specific number of minutes.
  • Take pictures to send to grandparents to emphasize a job well done.

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