The Clean Up Conundrum — We Know That Self-Reg Is The Answer, But What Can We Do?

Usually when I contribute a post to The MEHRIT Centre blog, I do so as a way to share reflections, celebrate a success, and discuss some possible next steps. My posts are always about what I know to be trueThis doesn’t mean that I don’t make mistakes along the way, and I even share some of these mistakes in my blogsbut in the end, there always seems to be a positive outlook.

This post is different though. That’s not because it’s about something negative, but instead, about something where I still don’t have all of the answers. My teaching partner Paula and I, are certain though that these answers must lie in Self-Reg.

I love my job, and always look forward to my time in the classroom. It’s honestly where I’m happiest! There’s really only one moment of the day where I consistently struggle, and that’s when it’s time to tidy-up. We always have a big block of uninterrupted play (usually about 3 1/2-4 hours worth of time), and as you can imagine, the mess at the end of this playtime is HUGE! In the past, we’ve tried some different ways to conquer this mess, including:

  • cleaning up one area of the room at a time.
  • tackling the biggest messes before calling for a full class “tidy.”
  • using a Dance Tidy, as a way to feel calmer as we also clean.

In theory, all of these ways should still work, but they don’t. Our kids are different this year, and the tidy-up time seems to be more stressful than it has been in the past. We have a younger group of students — more than half of our JKs were three until November or December — and while we’ve tried to clean up zones of the room first, as soon as we turn around, these students are back in these areas playing again. It’s like a constant battle of mess making and cleaning up, and by the end of the process, Paula and I feel as though we need a nap. 🙂 We’ve tried the Dance Tidy as a way to make us also feel calmer during clean up time, but when we put on the music, all of the kids seem to stop what they’re doing and dance. Even those students that used to tidy, have stopped doing so. This just leads to Paula and I feeling frustrated because the cleaning has stopped, the music continues, but the work has not. Now what?

Paula and I have spent a lot of time discussing this problem, and we truly believe that dysregulation is at the heart of the issue. Here is what we know:

  • It doesn’t help that the lack of cleaning up is making us feel stressed. Are the students responding to our stress, and is this just increasing the issue?
  • When we’re trying to clean up, the class next door to us (with no full wall in between us) is often getting ready for home. This means that it’s really loud, and the noise carries into our room. Does the additional noise, also create additional stress, additional distractions, and a decrease in productive cleaning?
  • Even our students that know how to organize materials well, and can clean up messes with limited instructions, are not doing so. They’re wandering around the room, and as they wander, the other children follow. Soon we have a lot of walking, but not a lot of cleaning, which just increases our stress level, creating a vicious circle of problems.
  • We’re also trying to clean up at the end of a busy day. Our kids have not been outside since 10:30 in the morning, and while they had a big block of time outside then, it’s now four hours since that play happened. They’re tired. They need fresh air and movement. This is not the ideal time to tackle a challenging task, such as cleaning up. If we try to clean up earlier in the day though, we lose the value of the deeper learning, critical thinking, and increased math and literacy skills, that come with this bigger block of play. What’s the answer? 

We’ve tried a few different solutions that seem to be a little more successful. This first option has students cleaning up some areas of the room and then moving to the carpet to read together. Paula and I can then work with a handful of children to finish the tidy-up process, while kids also support each other on the carpet in both literacy and math.

The other solution again involves cleaning up some areas of the room first, but then moving with the kids to a new space. This helps ensure that what children just tidied up doesn’t get messy again. It took us over an hour to clean up the other day using this method, but the clean up process was less stressful than usual. Maybe a slow clean up with some good conversations along the way, is beneficial! Relationships are at the heart of Self-Reg, so is it these connections during tidying up, which helps decrease the stress for everyone involved? (That said, listening to my voice in the song below makes me think that there was still some stress involved, but singing certainly helped. Was it this singing that calmed me, and ultimately, made a difference for the kids? Possibly.)

It was as I continued to think about this cleaning up conundrum that I read Susan Hopkins’ latest post on The MEHRIT Centre blog. Maybe the biggest area of frustration that Paula and I have here is that we know that these kids can clean up, and can do so well. Every single child seems to need support during tidy-up time though, and while we know some of the stressors at play that are likely leading to this need, we’re constantly discussing why our “best cleaners” are wandering instead of cleaning.

Could the problem be that they need us to “lend them our calm,” so that they can respond differently? I wonder, how do you find this calm in yourself, when you’re feeling anything but calm? The huge mess, the knowledge that the minutes are ticking by and the day is almost through, the awareness that parents will be here soon, and the knowledge that we have to tackle the snowsuit catastrophe next, does not lend itself to that “calm” feeling. We try to stop everyone, take a deep breath together, find a little silence, and begin cleaning on a happy note, but I think that we need more than that. A great day ending in a stressful tidy makes for a very different feeling when it’s time to get ready for home.

Every day, Paula and I spend close to an hour discussing Self-Reg, cleaning up, and what we can do to change the atmosphere and the results. There has to be something. What do you do to help with these tidying up stressors? What impact might this more positive clean up routine have on your overall view of the day? While we know that stress behaviour is at play, and we’re trying to see the kids (and ourselves) through “soft eyes,” we wonder if there’s more that we could do. This experience has been a good reminder for me that as much as we may know and have already learned about Self-Reg, the learning process doesn’t end. Nobody is perfect. Can you help us as we continue to help our kids?

Aviva Dunsiger has been the Portal Plus Moderator for close to a year now and just finished the Foundations Certification Program. She has taught everything from Kindergarten to Grade 6 and enjoys blogging about her teaching and learning experiences. She blogs professionally on her blog, Living Avivaloca. Aviva is excited to contribute a monthly post on The MEHRIT Centre Blog.
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