Making the Case for NOT Packing Away

Childhood 101 - The Case for NOT Packing Away

I recently received an email from a reader asking about my stance as an Early Childhood Teacher on packing away. Not normal, everyday packing away of toys but packing away those super special constructions or creative projects that children have spent a lot of time making and refining. Here is Fiona’s question and my response…

Fiona’s question

Hi Christie!

Just recently discovered your blog! I have a question for you as an ex-Early Childhood teacher.

My son is now 5.5 years old. He’s a bit reluctant to pack up activities after himself and does so begrudgingly (but at least he does so). Not as co-operatively as I would like, but not too bad. He’s actually good about cleaning up his bedroom floor at night, which is a job he likes.

However, the real issue is those times when he invests a great deal of time and creativity into making something. Today, my son really spent a long time before school, building a railway. He tried so hard to figure out ways to get the tracks rising up and then down, supported on blocks etc. He was really chuffed when he worked it out the way he wanted. Then he went on to build block stations all around and etc. etc. He’s an only child and perhaps a little too used to having things set up “just so” with no interference.

However, he *never* wants to tear down his creations! He gets quite frustrated and upset if I ask him to pack up one of his super-special marvelous creations. So we tend to leave things out (moved neatly in a corner). Then he will come home from school and add to it. And so on.

What did you do in the Early Childhood setting with the ‘super special creations’? Do you think it is a good habit for kids to get used to accepting pack up and starting again the next day, no matter what? I sort of don’t want to stamp out his creativity and efforts by tearing things down once he’s worked on them, but on the other hand, I just get sick of the procrastination with pack up time.

Hope you don’t mind getting email requests! Love reading your blog!


My response:

Yes, in my early childhood setting we valued super special creations, our cleaners were used to vacuuming around interesting construction sites! There are a number of reasons why;

1. Children need time to see their ideas come to fruition and often this time is interrupted by other elements of the daily routine. By packing away for mealtimes or to go out, you child needs to start all over again each time and as well as being disheartening and frustrating, it often means children do not have the opportunity to make more detailed, involved constructions or creations.

2. By revisiting previous work, children usually engage in revising, extending and improving upon their previous ideas. This is an important part of the learning process.

In terms of managing the situation with your son, I suggest allocating a special space in his playroom (or your living room, if you are in the same situation as we are) to be his ‘project work’ space where he can keep projects in progress. This could be a shelf or a mat in the corner of the room. A lightweight piece of board to build on can make moving constructions around the room much easier.

I would, however, negotiate with him the number of ongoing projects that he can keep at any given time, this could just be one, if that is what you think will work best for you (I am unsure how tolerant you are, how much space you have or how large his projects are). Once he has reached the agreed number, he needs to choose which one/s will be kept and which will be packed away. This way he knows the limits ahead of time and he is responsible for making the choice of which to keep and which to pack away.

You could also involve your son in making a sign for his special space. For a small child they could make a picture representing ‘Don’t touch,’ similar to the photograph at the top of this post, older children can have a go at writing some words for their sign.

If you have a digital camera you may also suggest that your son take a photo of a project before he packs it away. These can be printed out and stuck into a scrapbook for him to revisit (and rebuild) at a later time.

I hope these ideas help Fiona and others facing similar difficulties. What are your strategies for managing super special creations? Please leave a comment below to share.

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  1. Zoey @ Good Goog says:

    I'm only just getting to the point of having to deal with this now with my toddler. Over the last few days she's created a tower using pretty much all of her lego blocks and was reluctant to take it down. And had also been refining her work.

    Luckily for me, it didn't really take up that much space and I was happy to leave it up until she decided this morning that it would be fun to demolish it.

    1. This seems like such a cool and special evidence of a developmental milestone…emotional, cognitive and fine-motor all in one!

  2. katepickle says:

    This was such a radical concept when I first encountered it as a preschool teacher. What? Allow kids to not pack up when they were done playing with something??? Unthinkable!!! But oh how it gives children such a sense of achievement and ownership over their environment and allows for so many learning experiences that would otherwise have been packed away.

    Of course there are some tricky things that need to be worked out and we struggle with similar things at home. A lack of space in our little house often leads to creative ideas of how to move and store things, or drawing pictures/plans so they can be re-created. Other kids – toddlers are much harder to deal with than other preschool aged kids and there has been many tears on this count. But it is worth it to give it a go… even if only every now and then

  3. Busy Brissy Mum says:

    Recently a friend took me through her house she has renovated as we are in the process of renovating ourselves. She had plenty of great ideas but one I particularly liked was how she had the Ikea cube shelving (2 x 2 cubes high) in the children's rooms for that exact purpose…allowing the kids to display their special projects on the top. A great way to value their creativity!

  4. We do a similar thing with artwork. I have a set amount of wall space for each of my children. They may keep anything they bring home from school, as long as it fits. If it doesn't fit they have to take down an older piece. With large walls and only two kids they can each keep 10-12 pieces up. We've had some tears but for the most part it works well. I also like the "take a picture before you throw it away" idea.

    A word about Legos. Whenever we have tears associated with Lego creations I say, "What do we remember about Legos?" And they say, "Legos always come apart and we can always build it again." I've heard my kids say that to each other while they're playing without me. It seems to help them to have a set response to a potential crisis.

  5. PlanningQueen says:

    Chipping in late on this one! I am a fan of leaving out creations for a while for the kids, like when they have set up intricate train tracks, constructions out of the big blocks etc. The challenge for us at the moment though is preventing the baby from creating a trail of destruction as he crawls his way around the house!

    So far we have eaten at only one end of the dining table, so we could continue working on a 300 piece puzzle and built barriers by turning a little table upside down to protect a block city.

    I try to see it from their perspective – if I had spend hours working on something then I wouldn't want it taken apart straight away either.

  6. I am chipping in very late on this one (we have just moved house and have been without internet or phone since this post!)

    Thanks so much for your suggestions. The idea of having a lightweight piece of board was wonderful. We pulled out the old train-table which has a plywood top – used it on the floor for "creations" and we can pull it sideways to vacuum, access cupboards etc. A real time-saver for me and best of all, no more arguments. He's happy and I'm happy! Thanks 😉

  7. I realise that this is a year late but here are two thoughts that come to mind when reading this.
    1. As a nanny who was required to pack up the immense train track we had spent the day making and playing with only to have to do it again the next day was frustrating and disheartening for me – I can only imagine what it does to a young child’s feelings of self worth and achievement.
    2. If your child came into your space and demanded that you pack away your craft project, cooking or other important activity that you had spent time on how would you feel. Although I believe that children need to be children and not little adults I also feel that we need to understand that they have the same feelings and rights as anyone else in a household. That is they need to be valued as a person, their efforts need to be rewarded and they need to be allowed to have a space in their home that is their own.
    If space is an issue invest in a trundle bed – DO NOT get a mattress for the bottom but use it to store the toys/projects that need to be kept. If it is not high enough talk about laying things on their side until the morning (having a sleep). This is what we have done for my three year old and while it is a pain to pull it out each morning, the play that has developed on that small space is amazing. We glued a piece of road map vinyl to the base and have had lots of fun driving cars and trains over it, building garages and buildings and rescuing cars from the hole in the edge.
    I think if you can respect the effort of a project then you will be less inclined to break up a project at the end of the day.

  8. I fully agree with negotiating with your child for personal display space for the same reasons. I would also add that cleaning up comes with the growth of self-regulation as your child matures. Working together to tidy up the big projects is a must do strategy because he will trust that you will help so he won’t shy away from messy and big creations, you have an opportunity to model the right attitude and make it a fun activity (sing or count while you tidy up together). In time he will clean up quickly, plan to use the display space. Even in our busy kindergarten classroom we all work together to clean up and it is done under 1 minutes (yes there is always someone who wants to time us). Sometimes I help tidy up if kinders want to move to a new centre but have a large clean up and we always have display spaces for block play and smaller creations like lego.

  9. Excellent advice, a case well fought 🙂

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