Teaching your little one that leaving her toys strewn about instead of putting them away herself is one thing. However, telling her that someone – an individual who just so happens to have Santa’s ear – might report it to the big guy himself if he catches her slacking is another story. Key word here – story.
The story in reference, as you’ve no doubt guessed, is about The Elf we first met in the book, The Elf on the Shelf: A Christmas Tradition, a children’s picture book that promotes a plausible – and, as it turns out very popular – theory about how Santa Claus learns which little girls and boys are naughty and which ones are nice.
Spoiler alert: They give away the secret in the book’s title.
Yep, the elf is a snitch. But wait, there’s more! And therein lies the secret to the book’s overwhelming success.
You see the story’s protagonist – an elf – is real. A real doll, that is. The elf-doll is brilliantly marketed as an accessory to the book when really, the opposite is true. The elf’s entrepreneurial creators clearly knew that an elf-doll with instructions wasn’t likely to catch on, BUT, if they disguised the directions as a children’s book, then parents (who don’t read directions in the first place) would read the book to their children and everyone would learn about the elf and his spying ways. It worked. These days, in addition to their ‘stockings all hung by the chimney with care,’ many homes now also sport an elf on the – (wait for it) – shelf.
And the elf isn’t just a decoration relegated to the shelf like the common Christmas candle or snow-globe. Nope. This elf moves about the house when nobody is looking, ready at any given moment to observe the daily happenings, which subsequently make their way back to Santa.
During the days and weeks before Christmas, kids lucky enough to have an elf living with them discover the little guy each morning in various (and often precarious) positions, peeking down from his perch atop the fridge, or watching the household happenings from a not-so-hidden hiding spot under the sofa. Elves have even been known to hang from a light fixture or curtain rod in the playroom where he can note whether or not the kids remember to put away all the toys without being reminded.
Originally marketed as a Christmas tradition, the elf’s powers over kids’ behavior were confined to the month of December, but the ambitious elf has now negotiated his way into the other 11 months of the year. That’s right, the little guy will now be holding kids accountable the whole year-round, thanks to Elf on the Shelf: A Birthday Tradition (Elf not included — which translates to “you still need to buy the original package deal”).
If we truly want to teach our children to pick up after themselves, shouldn’t we motivate them to do it because it is the right thing to do? If they made the mess in the first place, shouldn’t cleaning it up be their responsibility?
You would never catch Mary Poppins using an elf on a shelf (or even from her magic carpet-bag, for that matter) to spy on Jane and Michael, no siree! Aside from the fact that Mr. Banks would never have tolerated such nonsense (I can hear him now, telling that sneaky little elf to ‘go fly a kite’), the fact is that Mary Poppins had no need for Elfie – or Charlie, Buddy, or Jingle – whatever folks are calling him these days.
“Pish posh,” she would say, before imparting upon the children the important lesson that, “In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun. You find the fun, and – SNAP – the job’s a game!”
“That’s right,” say many parents and educators who use ideas like the ten listed here for getting kids to clean up, “Show them that the job is a game.”
- Play Cinderella: One child can don an apron while the others pretend to be the animals helping her clean up.
- Make it a competition: See who can pick up the most items in one minute. Kids can shout out their number as they go, “I’m on two” or “that was five things for me!”
- Teamwork: Set an egg timer and challenge the kids to clean up before it goes off. Set it for one minute and leave the room. Let them hear you saying (from outside the room) how far you think they’re coming along — make sure to “guess” on the low side and then be “amazed” when you go back into the room. Kids LOVE to surprise grownups!
- The “I spy” game: Describe the objects that need to be picked up — “I spy with my little eye a…” — and let them find the item and put it away.
- Super heroes: Keep a cape or two on hand to be worn when it’s time to clean up. You can all fly about “rescuing” the toys and delivering them safely to their shelves or boxes.
- Play for points: Have a chalkboard or whiteboard handy and let each child make a mark (or you draw a star/smiley face/etc.) for each toy that’s put away. Can be a group effort or a friendly competition
- Play “King” or “Queen”: Take turns wearing a crown and ordering your subjects to pick up and put away specific items.
- Race against a song: Put a fun tune on to play and challenge the kids to clean up all or part of a room before the song ends.
- Play “Shopping Basket”: Let the kids take turns shopping by filling a basket or bag with items to “take home” and put away.
- Play a sorting game: Shout out a color (It has the color blue on it!) or a shape (look for things that are round), or a feature (find something with wheels) and everyone has to find an item that has it and put it away.