At one of Ian's toddler classes, I noticed something phenomenal. At the end of every class, the teacher sang a song, with the children and their parents joining in once they recognized its tune.
Clean up, clean up,
Clean up, clean up,
Everybody do their share.
Some of the older children actually began picking up the toys! Wow, I thought, toddlers cleaning up after themselves, I have to do this. Beginning that very night, we (we meaning Paul and I) began to sing that very same song and picking up all the toys throughout the house. At that stage of the game, Ian was about 14 months old. He would follow us around and pretty much watch us clean up. His idea of helping was to pick up a toy and play with it.
I knew consistency was key. We kept going through the same motions and it wasn't long before Ian caught on to the rules of the game. At first, he would bring us objects we asked for. "Ian, get the ball, please." He would toddle over to the ball, pick it up, toddle back to us, of course dropping the ball along the way, pick it up again, and finally toddle it over to us and successfully hand it over.
Then Ian started bringing us objects without being told. Enormous amounts of clapping and cheering ensured this continued. He happily kept bringing more and more toys just for the attention. At some point, we also started giving Ian a five minute warning as to when clean up would begin. It helped him mentally prepare to end play time and get ready for the transition.
Now, when Ian hears the Clean Up song, he sings what he can, and races to the living room where his huge collection of vehicles resides. Without even Paul or I being in the same room, he begins to put his toys away. Of course this thrills us to no end, but what really makes us smile is when he sweetly states, "Night, night, train. Night, night, bulldozer. Night, night, __________," as he puts each vehicle into the trundle. How cute is that! Each toy gets to be put in "bed" by its loving owner.