Wednesday, August 27, 2008

How we handle little Legos...A follow-up to the paper clutter conversation

Well my friends, if you have children that are old enough to play with little Legos, then you have probably experienced a phenomenon of a "Lego explosion" :) This phenomenon involves a central location where most of the little Legos are kept, probably a little boy's room or a playroom, but - and this is the part that has mothers everywhere shaking their heads in confusion - it also involves the entire scope of the rest of the house, including the baby's room, the kitchen, and every little nook and cranny of the family room. 

You may be thinking to yourself, "This is very unsafe! Don't they know that babies put everything in their mouths and could choke on little Legos? Why don't they just make a rule that the little Legos are not allowed to leave C's room?"

Well, this is in fact the rule in our house - the little Legos are not to leave C's room. What happens, though, is that C builds all sorts of lego "creations" in his room and then carries them out into the family room, the kitchen, the playroom, etc. to show to us, and then he proceeds to dismantle them and build them into something else. He really does try to keep the Legos off the floor - we're constantly reminding him that baby Maria could choke on them and that we can't have Legos all over the house - but inevitably, some Legos blend into the carpet and no one (except for the baby, who is crawling all over the carpet and sees every last morsel that is lying there) sees them. 

The other part of the problem is cleaning up the Legos that are in C's room, where they are supposed to be. By the end of the afternoon, it seems like his room is covered in little Legos, which is fine since I'm glad that he plays all day and uses his imagination to build. The problem is that the task of cleaning seems so insurmountable to C that he resists doing it at the end of the day. I've been trying to brainstorm creative ways to help him with his clean-up task, and I started to think about what things help ME when I feel that my household chores are insurmountable! Here's what I came up with:

1) It helps me immensely when I break my household tasks into smaller, separate pieces. If I have three "cleaning goals" for the week, then I can do one each day and feel like I've accomplished part of my goal, or I can do them all at once and feel really great about checking three things off of my list! In C's case, it helps him if I say, "Why don't you clean up the blocks first, then your cars, and then we can get to your Legos."

2) I am always encouraged when someone offers to help me with my tasks! When ET washes the dishes or does the vacuuming, boy does that make my week that much more manageable!! So, usually I sit with C and say, "Okay, let's have a race to see who can pick up the most Legos!" or "You clean up the cars and I'll do the Legos, and we'll see who wins."

3) If at all possible, it's nice to have some sort of a distraction while cleaning. In my more grace-filled moments I'll pray the rosary while cleaning, but more often I tend to chat on the phone while doing the dishes, or listen to music while I'm cleaning the bathrooms. This makes me think that maybe I'll start telling C a story or playing some kid's music for him while he cleans up.

At the end of it all, I want C to clean up because I want him to learn to be responsible for his toys, I want him to learn that having toys is a privilege, and I want him to learn the value of following a task through to completion (part of playing is cleaning up when you're done). But I also realize that when I'm completely authoritarian in enforcing the rules, I am not helping him to cope with the feeling of being overwhelmed by the huge (in his eyes) task before him. We'll just have to keep working on keeping Legos out of the other parts of our home - I'm sure that we'll be fighting that battle for years to come! - but for now, I hope that we can at least move towards a more pleasant cleaning up time at the end of the day.


Right Said Red said...

We have had this problem around here...but I haven't been quite as sweet about it as you ;-)

Recently, we started moving toys down to the basement (storage) that our children were regularly "unable" or refusing to clean up. They still have plenty of toys upstairs, but some of their most cherished toys (such as Legos and dress up clothes) were moved to the basement. Soon they will be able to "earn" these toys back by keeping the playroom clean.

Kat said...

The thing is that I am often not nice about cleaning up at all, and that's one of the reasons why I've been trying to brainstorm ways to make the process go more smoothly! I really dislike losing my cool with C, when I usually end up yelling, "Okay fine, C, if you can't clean up your Legos then you're not old enough to play with them, and we'll put them away." I don't think that there's anything wrong with putting toys away if kids consistently refuse to clean them up - we've done this several times with different toys. I also don't think there's anything wrong with reminding children that if they can't clean up their toys, then we'll give them away to some other children who will appreciate their toys. However, what I don't like is when I lose patience and raise my voice, which isn't productive for anyone! Hence, the brainstorming :)

Kate E. said...

Kat, I am not at all sure if this product still exists and/or works very well but I just had to share. Lego used to make an alligator with a handle on top and rotating wheel in it's mouth that you could roll over all the legos and they would get pushed inside the alligators body. It seemed like such a fun idea, if it doesn't still exist then someone should reinvent it!

Other then that I can't give too much concrete advice. Our guys is 2.5 and our general plan is we tidy up before nap and before bed or before a playdate. We sing the "tidy up" song which is pleasantly reinforced at his preschool (tidy up time, tidy up time, put your "blank" away, now we finish play...or my personal favorite "i know a little dusty gnome who says it's time to clean our home").

We tend to do things that you are already doing...give him a specific item to pick up, give him the bin to put it in. He likes to pick up "numbers" of things while we shout encouragement. Like pick up 6 books and put them on the shelf, ok 5 to go, 4 to go, etc.

Kate E. said...

What can I say, I'm a librarian and find it impossible to avoid research.

The item I mentioned is called a
"Block-o-dile" it is no longer available in the US (but try your local independent toy store, because I know my old store had them for a while)...and a bunch are for sale on ebay.

They come with Duplo blocks but will pick up regular lego blocks.

Again, don't know how well it works, but it looks like so much fun.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know what the environmental impact is for Legos? I've always avoided them for my kids because I'd assumed they weren't environmentally friendly. And, I remember from my younger siblings, they are incredibly painful when you don't notice them in the carpet!!! But I remember how much fun they were and I feel bad depriving them of the joy of Legos...can anyone assuage my guilt???

Kat said...

Wow Kate, what a great product, thanks for the tip!

Anonymous, I don't have an answer for you on the environmental impact of Legos - I'm assuming that you're talking about the impact of manufacturing them? I tend to think of them as environmentally friendly in the sense that they usually get passed down from generation to generation since they are unbreakable, and their appeal crosses generational boundaries! Any thoughts?

Mary Alice said...

Kat, you have come up with some great strategies! I too have noticed lately that helping the kids really makes them more cheerful and gets the job done very quickly, and I just have to keep telling myself that it will only take 5 minutes, even though I feel like I "don't have time" to clean up their rooms with them.

Speaking of time, and since you mentioned racing, a timer might help, it is fun to have a time to beat and also to see that the huge job really did only take five minutes.

For distraction, music really helps! Laurie Berkner has a great clean up song and there are others, and so if we have a huge job we will put on the song but if not we will often just sing it ourselves. I think promoting the "whistle while you work" mentality is good for them, and me!

Oh, and I have not had Legos until now because I was scared of the little kids choking, but hearing how much fun C has makes me think I should get some. Also, I always struggle with the mess they make when they play, we are having a no-TV week, and there are alot more toys to pick up!

I have taken Red's approach before and I do find that having too many toys can be part of the problem -- if 1000 legos are dumped all over the floor they are hard to clean up and you might have just as much creative fun (or more) with just 100? This is hard because when a kid is into something you do want to encourage it and so they seem to multiply quickly.

On that note, I have just determined that we have too many picture books! Seems impossible, and the thing is that they are all good, so it is really hard to cull, but the shelf is over flowing and they don't get put away. I was going to move some up to the playroom but I am thinking of just moving them to the basement for now, and then if we don't miss them in six months giving them away. One problem is that we now have so many different age groups, we have board books for baby, short picture books for preschoolers and longer picture and chapter books for the oldest kids, if we keep having babies then the books and toys on the young spectrum never go into storage, but the older kids keep developing, so workmen who come to our house actually ask if I am running a day care! We have bouncy chairs to knock hockey and everything in between!

4ddintx said...

I have found a way to deal with the picture books that may help someone else. I bought cat litter boxes that are about the width of most of the picture books. I can fit three of the litter boxes across one shelf in my playroom. Instead of putting the books with the spines out, like in a library, I put the books in the litter boxes (or whatever other cardboard or plastic box fits your space) facing out so the kids can thumb through the books and see the covers. I fit more books per shelf this way, and the youngest children are better at putting them away. I was really tired of the bookshelves being a wreck because the kids just stacked the books haphazardly on top of the books and that would crash, etc, etc.

I did this several months ago and it has taken very little maintenance.

Hope this helps someone!

Mary Alice said...

Great tip, thanks!

FrugalMomLA said...

Aaahh, the great Lego clean up conundrum! My need to figure out how to clean up Legos, in fact, led me to this blog posting. I also found a site called Box4Blox designed specifically for Legos and other Lego-type toy pieces. It's ingenious--it sorts by size, largest on the bottom with sorting sieves in between the four boxes. In any event, I know what it's like to be merrily moving through the house barefoot only to step on the smallest, most pointed Lego piece. However, I too, am thankful that my son is interested in Legos to work with them for hours at a time, so I will endure the mishaps due to the inexplicable proliferation throughout our house.