Cleaning games make clean up fun

(and get kids involved!)

Inventing a few handy cleaning games has really made a difference in our home. Has clean up time in your household turned into a battleground? A lot of people have struggled with how to motivate kids . I was tired of living with mess that I didn't create and tired of nagging with no results.

First, though, let's clarify what we're talking about here...A lot of people say " cleaning " when they really mean “clean up" or "tidying.”

If my kids would just automatically pick up their stuff and keep the common areas tidy, I would be the world's happiest woman. In a pinch, I'll take a tidy house over a clean one any day. I have my own routines and rubrics for cleaning, but right now we're going to focus on a basic clean up.

Oh well, necessity is indeed the mother of invention, so here are six cleaning games I've created to make clean up time fun (or at least not full of the grumpies).

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Six cleaning games to motivate your kids:

1. The I Spy Game:

kid binoculars

This is a great one for kids of any age, from preschool to pre-teen . When kids are in charge of a certain space, accountability becomes an issue, doesn't it? I used to get so irritated when one of my kids would say “mommmmm! I'm donnnnnne!” and I'd go look and I would be thinking “did you do anything?? I seriously can't tell.”

I think that's a big part of teaching kids how to clean up after themselves and to clean: kids really don't see the mess that we see! Cleaning games like "I Spy" encourage kids to look for the mess in a room on their own without me standing there saying the equivalent of “you missed a spot.”

So here is how you play “I Spy,” which is just like it sounds. We sit around the living room (or wherever) and look at the big huge mess and take turns identifying two or three problems, like “I spy with my little eye...a red shirt on the floor, some blocks and my backpack.”

Then after everyone identifies some mess, we say “ready, setty, GO!” and we all race to put away the items we ourselves identified and then race back to our spots.

Usually a room looking like a tornado hit it starts to look normal again in about three or four rounds. Cleaning games like this one mixed with some gentle competitiveness has been a great combo for our family.

2. "Go Get a Second Opinion..."


Getting a second opinion is just what it sounds like—after you clean up, you ask someone else in the family to assess your work before you come to me, Mom.

This has several benefits, I've noticed.

  • kids tend to do a better job if they know that they are soliciting the opinion of an older (or worse! younger) sibling
  • the junior inspector gets some practice honing their all too important observation skills
  • kids do not waste my time saying “mommmm, I'm donnnnne” when they're really not

3. Use Your “Tidy Eyeballs”


Sometimes a goofy family phrase can really catch on and make a chore silly and fun.

If no one is around to offer a second opinion, or if you have one child, I suggest the “tidy eyeballs” approach.

I explain that they need to look at the room as if they were me and see what more needs to be done. I make a dramatic display of pretending to take my eyeballs out and hand them over, and they give their eyeballs to me (really not as gross as it sounds).

They really get into the role of pretending they're Mom, and I've even heard more than once someone saying to himself in my voice “That's a great start, but it looks like you missed.....”

This is another great exercise in helping kids see the mess they create so that they can tidy up without your involvement.

4. “Team Brothers” (or sisters or siblings)

kids cleaning Team brothers (or sisters or siblings) is just a collaborative approach to whatever clean up job, where no one is done until everyone is done.

This strategy doesn't work in all families, because it can lead to resentment if not everyone is trying. It can, though, encourage a team approach, with the older(s) helping the younger(s).

5. Beat the Clock

A timer is a great housekeeping tool, and not just for kids. Some of these cleaning games can work with grown ups too. You yourself probably have certain household chores that you despise (for me it's sweeping and mopping the floor—UGH!) Take a guess at how long it would take to complete that job, and write it down. Seriously! Now put that time on the microwave timer and GO! I'll wait here...

When I try this, the dreaded chore is almost always significantly less time to complete than I had imagined. Kids are no different, and are further motivated to beat the clock.

I asked them how much time they think they need to complete their evening chores, for example, and they said fifteen minutes. That's fifteen minutes to do their after dinner clean-up jobs and their get-ready-for-bed chores (brush teeth, etc.). So now, I put fifteen minutes on the timer, and if they complete all their work before the beep, they get extra time to read in bed before lights out.


6. How Many Seconds?

A less formal way to play this is to simply ask, "how many seconds do you think you need to clean up?" It's a strategy I often use with my youngest, who tends to lolligag. When I ask him how many seconds, it doesn't really matter what he estimates, because I'm not really counting! He does snap into action, and that's the important thing.

Having a tidy house is possible with kids, but you have to get them on your team. Try these six cleaning games to have some family fun and clean up at the same time.

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