How to encourage children to pack up at kindergarten

How to encourage children to pack up at kindergarten

Encouraging Reluctant Preschoolers to Pack Up: Understanding and Supporting Spatial Awareness

Packing up after playtime can be a challenging task for many preschoolers, especially those who are reluctant or struggle with spatial awareness and executive functioning skills. Here are several strategies that early childhood educators can use to support these children in becoming more engaged and effective during clean-up time.

1. Assess and Teach Spatial Awareness and Spatial Relations

Before expecting children to effectively pack up, it's crucial to ensure they understand and can navigate the space around them. Spatial awareness—the ability to be aware of oneself in space—and spatial relations—the ability to understand how objects relate to each other and to oneself—are foundational skills for tasks like organizing and packing away toys.

How to Teach Spatial Awareness:

  • Guided Movement Games: Use simple games like "Simon Says" to encourage children to become aware of their bodies in relation to the space and objects around them.
  • Puzzle Assembly: Activities that involve fitting pieces together, such as puzzles or block building, can enhance a child's ability to judge spatial relationships.

2. Use Visual Supports: Social Stories for Packing Up

Visual supports can be incredibly helpful for children who need clear, concrete instructions. A visual social story about packing up can guide children through the process, showing them step-by-step how to clean up their play area.

Creating a Pack Up Social Story:

  • Photos and Illustrations: Include images of each step in the cleanup process, such as putting blocks in a bin or books on a shelf.
  • Simple, Direct Language: Use clear and concise sentences to describe each step, reinforcing the images.

3. Modify the Environmental Cues

Loud, high-intensity music, often used to signal clean-up time, can be overwhelming for some children, particularly those sensitive to auditory input or those who struggle with executive functioning.

Alternative Strategies:

  • Use a Bell Instead of Loud Music: A gentle bell can be a less intrusive auditory cue, signaling that it’s time to start packing up without causing sensory overload.
  • Lower the Volume and Tempo: If music is preferred, opt for softer, slower music to help maintain a calm atmosphere that enables children to focus on instructions.

4. Provide Clear, Manageable Instructions

For children who find the broad instruction of "clean up" too daunting, breaking the task into small, specific steps can help.

How to Implement This Strategy:

  • Numbered Instructions: Tell children to pick up a specific number of items, like "please put five dinosaurs in the basket."
  • Use Visual Labels: Place pictures of items on the bins where they belong (e.g., a photo of dinosaurs on the bin where dinosaurs are stored) to help children match items to their correct places.

5. Choose Human Singing Over Recorded Music

Replacing recorded pack-up music with singing can also make a big difference. The human voice is less mechanical and more engaging for children, making it easier for them to follow along.

Benefits of Singing:

  • Natural Pacing: A teacher can adjust the pace and volume of the song in real-time, responding to the children’s needs.
  • Interactive: Singing can be interactive, encouraging children to join in, which can make packing up feel more like a continuation of play.


For children, particularly those who are reluctant or have developmental challenges, mastering the skill of packing up requires patience and tailored strategies. By assessing and supporting spatial awareness, using visual aids, modifying environmental cues, providing clear instructions, and engaging children with human voices, educators can transform clean-up time into an opportunity for learning and growth. This approach not only aids in daily transitions but also helps develop essential life skills in organization and following directions.

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