The Genius Teacher’s Cleaning Hack That Makes Kids Actually Want to Help Pick Up

published Feb 6, 2022
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Now more than ever, we appreciate what absolute heroes teachers are, and how much we rely on them to care for our children and lead them on the path of learning. Especially since my own children began school and I’ve had the opportunity to glean insight about those I love from a teacher’s experienced perspective, I’ve been more keen than ever to listen to what teachers can teach not only my kids, but caregivers!

One thing I’ll never forget is how my oldest two children’s kindergarten teacher could get twenty plus excited 5- and 6-year-olds to listen to her whisper-quiet voice. The quieter she talked the quieter they got, and, right before my eyes, the whole class was hushed in rapt attention. I vowed to try it at home, and while I can’t say I’ve even come close to succeeding, I remain inspired. 

The “Magic Trash” Strategy

Another teacher trick that has stayed with me through the years comes from my kids’ second grade teacher, who we were lucky enough to have for all three of our older kids. She had a special way to get her students to clean up her classroom: Focused and quickly, as if they were little worker ants. She called it “magic trash.”

Here’s how magic trash works: Before the children would begin cleaning up, she would pick one item that was out of place. That would be the magic trash. She didn’t tell anyone what it was, but she would watch to see who picked it up. Of course, the more a kid picked up, the greater the chance that they’d picked up the magic trash. Once cleanup was done, she’d reveal what the magic trash was and who picked it up. Whoever did would get a little prize, like a piece of candy. The technique is totally translatable to life at home.

Isn’t it genius? It completely eliminates the dawdling and the complaints of having to clean up messes that other kids made. Instead, the kids are almost fighting with each other to clean up as much as they can! Just like any time a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, the kids forget that they’re doing work and get the job done in a way that’s painless for them and for you.