Good, Clean Fun For the Whole Family!
When I was young, I used to make up all sorts of games to coerce my younger siblings into cleaning up, usually when I was babysitting them. My favorite (and most ingenious) one was “Don’t wake mom.” I played mom, asleep on the couch, and the other kids had to clean up as quietly as they could without waking me up. My younger siblings soon got wise to the fact that I was essentially just getting out of work, and we had to take turns being the mom.
I've always loved cleaning games as a way to make drudgery fun. But as a mom, the extra bonus is that with games, cleaning time can double as quality time, instead of whiny, lying-on-the-floor-trying-to-get-out-of-work time. Sure it sometimes takes longer and requires more energy to play a game while you clean, but it can actually be more efficient, since you're combining work and play time.
Here are some of our favorite (often quite strange) cleaning games at my house, along with some great suggestions from other moms:
- Jackpot: A favorite for all of us, Jackpot is a great motivator for speedy and accurate cleanup. I pick several items that I see on the floor to be the jackpot items. Once a kid has put one of those items completely away, I say, "ding, ding, ding," and that kid gets a quarter or a small piece of candy. The key is waiting until they put it away to let them know they have picked the winning item. Otherwise, they'll run around the room picking things up and asking, "Is this it?" without actually cleaning anything.
- Dance Party Cleanup: There are many variations on this theme, but we all know cleaning is more fun with music. We typically play this game by trading off with each song--we clean like crazy for one song, then dance like crazy for the next. We have a specific playlist for cleaning, with upbeat favorites of each family member.
- Grid Cleaning: When there's a big overwhelming mess, usually in a bedroom, we like to chunk it up. We usually use a jumprope or two for this game, and we cordon off sections of the room to clean one at a time.
- Missions: Another way to chop big cleaning jobs into bite-sized pieces is to take turns being the spy master and sending other cleaners on missions. The cleaners say, for example, "Miles Archibald reporting for duty" and the master gives them a quick task. We usually set a specific number of missions and then change the spy master. This has a sneaky teaching element--getting them to recognize all the little steps that go into cleaning up a room.
- Inspector Gadget: A fun variation of the mission game was when one of my sons was obsessed with watching the old Inspector Gadget cartoons on Youtube. I'd write the missions on a piece of paper and write "This message will self-destruct." Then he'd wad up the paper and throw it at me and I'd pretend to explode before he completed the task.
- Role Playing: There are many other role-playing games besides missions. My sister and I used to dress up like Cinderella with bandanas over our heads and imagine that our wicked stepmother was coming to inspect. My sister has carried this on with her children. Most recently they assigned themselves the roles of Julie and Chicken, hired by the wealthy Clairette to clean her home.
- Party Day: I don't know why we started calling it this, but I often cut strips from two different colors of construction paper. On one color I'll write the chores that need to be done, or just rooms that need to be cleaned. On the other color I write fun activities such as playing a game, doing puzzles, dance parties, or eating treats. Then the kids take turns picking papers, alternating between the colors. Once I got wild and crazy and put the slips of paper into two different colored balloons and they had to pop them to see what we were going to do next. I saw a cool variation of this game at notimeforflashcards.com. You make a grid of chores and then cover them with homemade scratch-off paint, so kids get to uncover their chore like a lottery ticket!
- The Running Game: Once you pick up an item, you have to run as fast as you can to put it where it goes and run back. I actually used to play this game all by myself when my kids teeny, and counted it as my workout for the day. I wasn't allowed to pick up more than one thing that went downstairs--I had to do them one at a time to get more steps in.
- The Wall Game: Everyone starts in a different room, just walking along the walls and putting away anything in your path. You follow the wall to new rooms and see when you meet up with people. Seems weird and not very fun, but for some reason my kids like the methodical nature of this game.
- Neatfreak: When it comes to cleaning, I don't really have an obsessive bone in my body, and neither do my kids. So sometimes once we have cleaned up, we play Neatfreak. If someone drops something on our freshly cleaned floor, we pretend to totally freak out, and we scream and race to pick it up and put it away. Fake it 'til you make it?
- Speed Clean: My friend Amber had a great idea she takes a video of her kids cleaning and then plays it back to them in fast motion. They love seeing how fast they just cleaned the room!
- Cleaning Fairy: Rachel Beckstead's mom, Nan, used to dress up as cleaning fairies, complete with white gloves and swap houses to inspect each other's children's cleaning jobs. They'd get all nervous and excited for the inspection, and the moms would ham it up.
- Celebration Blitzes: When cleaning with her kids, Candi started doing celebration blitzes. She gets really excited about little accomplishments, jumping up with a fist pump and a hooray when her son throws a piece of trash away, or high fives when he sorts a shirt into the right laundry pile. He enjoys the validation so much he once asked to sort laundry when he was feeling down. Sometimes she even does it for herself when she does the dishes or laundry. You can hear Candi talk about celebration blitzes at 3in30podcast.com (How to Get Unmotivated Kids to Help)
I must admit, I often forget about these games and go for long stretches where cleaning just means I bark orders and my kids try to hide from me. But it really is possible to have fun and clean up at the same time. Give some of these games a try, or make up your own!