Tips on How to Clean Up After a Creative Session with Kids

I’ve been asking my newsletter friends to share a creative hurdle that they face when it comes to hands-on making and creativity at home or school. One of the questions that comes up time and time again relates to cleaning up after creating. 

Is this a challenge that you face too? If so, you’re definitely not alone!

We all know that mess-making is part of the creative process, but it’s often difficult to reconcile the mess with the real flow of our lives.

How to clean up after a creative session

Today I’m sharing a question from Tinkerlab friend, Danielle. I posted her question to the Tinkerlab Facebook Page, and I’ll share all the responses here because I think that this is a question that a lot of us can relate to.

As one reader (Elizabeth) shared, “Clean up is an ESSENTIAL part of the creative process. Don’t let it slide! Don’t start a project unless there is time for all the steps , including clean up- do something un-messy if you only have a short window.”

Without further ado, here’s Danielle’s question, and the answers follow:

“My biggest hurdle is cleaning up after the creativity – often evidence of our fun lingers for days (or weeks…). This is often because I don’t plan “clean up time” into the schedule. Ooh – we have an hour before (….activity, church, dinner, bedtime/…) who wants to….? Well an hour is really more like 30 mins when I need to get 4 kids out the door & I don’t like to “interrupt” them in the middle of a project so we end up rushing around. Then, I’m reluctant to pull out stuff for another project because I’m weary of how long it will be before it all gets cleaned up.”

Note: Some of these responses have been moderately edited for clarity or grammar.

Clean Up Idea #1: Use Music

Use a piece of music like Flight of the Bumblebee to signal clean up time. Use it every time so they get to know it means stop and tidy up. -Fiona

We sing a tidy up song (simple lyrics follow). So cue, tidy up, move onto next thing.
It is very simple but effective.” when we’ve had a tidy up we’ll sing some songs (or your own activity) , repeat, when we’ve had a tidy up well sing some songs today…pause…when we’ve had a tidy up well sing some songs. x -Geraldine

clean up after art project

Clean Up Idea #2: Involve Children in the Process

Before starting a creative activity, read your child a book like Clean-Up Time (the books in this series are a personal favorite). This will help set expectations for when it’s time to put things away.

As a childcare provider I think it is one of my responsibilities to teach children self-help skills. We have a clean up time before lunch and then at the end of the day with wipes and little brooms. During activities I try to remind them to take what they need and put it away when they are done so they will have room to play and work. -Aurora

Break clean up into five parts and let each child and you do your parts, one child gets all the keeper supplies, one child sweeps, one child wipes the counter down, etc. -Anna

Get a child-size broom and dustpan set so that he or she is empowered to join you with tidying up. Or, for a laugh, check out these awesome Slipper Genies (don’t laugh too hard…they get great reviews!)

How to clean up art supplies | Tinkerlab

Clean Up Idea #3: Organize Your Supplies

We had the same problem…in fact it’s always been a problem with me:) I’m much better at being creative than cleaning. But being a home childcare provider I’ve had to learn to have a special area set up for crafts: where can easily put up the materials: a place for drying work and the beauty of enlisting my kids to clean up:) J put up the glue & crayons, D vaccum, E wipe tables, clean brushes, etc.. We’ve no time for arguing about who did what so it is easier to assign jobs.

Oh also..if you have a special room or area..u can say leave it & leave for church & have the kids finish up the next morning before doing anything else. -Kristen

Use a cookie sheet or tray for projects. When you want to put them up they can be stacked by turning every other one to the side. Then projects can dry or the kids can come back to them. Also, the mess is contained in the washable trays. Also, I use a nail or screw organizer for small stuff. It can be mounted on the wall if you want. All the small clear drawers can be labeled and hold things like scissors, glue sticks, beads, pre-cut yarn, stickers, popsicle sticks, etc. they cost about $20. I have one for art stuff and one for math/science stuff. -Becca

Being organized makes the clean up fast and easy. I have one tote with paper, scissors, glue (basically paper crafts), and then one tote for sewing crafts. -Olivia

Bins or baskets for each type of item. Organized and then it is easy for the kids to see where the things go and help cleaning up. I have one cabinet in our kitchen that is loaded with craft supplies. One tub filled with crayons and markers. One with paints and a large ziplock bag for the brushes and sponges for painting. One small container with glitters, sequin, and ribbons. Another small container with glue bottles, glue sticks and the refills for my hot glue gun (the gun is put up though because i dont want the kiddos plugging it in). They don’t have to be expensive, you can get some pretty decent containers at the dollar store- then if the paint gets spilled on them, its no big deal. I like the stuff in the kitchen because then I do not have the kids carrying glitter from one side of the house to the other. You could also (if you have the room) set up a card table in your garage and make a little “station” with the supplies organized next to it so that you do crafts in the garage. Then if things are left out- nobody sees it when they come into your home and you are not tracking on top of it all the time either. -April

Clean Up Idea #4: Set a Timer

Try doing 10 minute clean ups through out the day like every couple of hours set the timer for ten minutes and get the kids involved. I just started doing this and My oldest son told me he love this idea. -Daisy

organize art materials

Clean Up Idea #5: Set Aside Space for Working Projects

I run a childcare business from my home so I totally understand what you mean. I do two different things small quick surface tidies throughout the day just to ensure there is space to walk around but i also have a small area where half-finished projects can wait until the children go back to them. That way you don’t need to totally clear away every time, and the children can get on with the project without having to ask anyone else, so its more child led. -Kim

Do you want more Clean-Up Ideas?

We love this post with 24 Tips for Cleaning up Art Messes with Children, and this simple tip to keep a clear table.

What’s YOUR Clean Up Tip?

If you have any tips or ideas to share, please add them to the comments at the end of this post so that we can learn from your expertise, insights, and experiences!

Note: This post may contain affiliate links.


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  1. One of the things I have found when teaching a group of kids is that there are some kids who like to clean and others who don’t and its fine most of the time. Of course, if you are only cleaning at home then I guess thats not an option.

    • Hi Faigie, That’s a good insight. I wonder if it relates to what the expectation is from kids at home. Of course, clean up has to happen one way or another, and I’m all for helping children take pride in tidying up after themselves.

  2. My first day posted class rules.
    1. Safety First
    2. Common Sense
    3. Respect
    4. Clean Up While Working
    (5. – 7. are left blank and filled in as needed by students or teacher)
    Before I say anything to students, I walk around cleaning up to serve as a model. Then I point to a student and point to a mess. If a students says, “I didn’t make that mess!” I whisper to that student,”There are people who clean up after you. You can clean up after someone unless you know who made this mess and want to go ask them to clean it up.” This works grades K-12. I’ve had custodians say, “How do you keep your room so clean? Will you teach the other teachers?”

    • Thanks for sharing your class rules and the example of how you get your room cleaned up, Rich. I have so much respect for teachers who include children in the process of writing class rules, as you’ve done. Children take so much pride and ownership of their own self-made rules, don’t they?

  3. Of course, clean up has to happen one way or another, and I’m all for helping children take pride in tidying up after themselves.

  4. 1. Organise: We need to have a place for everything.
    2. Make the children do it: i request my daughter to help me out…thankfully she’s almost always willing!
    3. Make it fun
    4. Make it essential: we do not go to the next activity (eating, going out etc) unless we clean up first.

  5. Great suggestions! All of which have been tried in my house! I have a very determined 4 year old who just refuses to help to tidy up. She just doesnt go in for the singing, the tidy up games, none of it. Complains that it is too hard, it’s boring, the list is endless. Tried the timer, she decides she is going to sit next to the timer and guard it! I know she cooperates at school. Just not at home. Any tips??

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