Stick to a routine. Preschoolers learn that toys are picked up after playtime or that mats must be stored away after naps. At home, you can do the same: "Before I start dinner, we'll put your books back on the shelf" or "After you get into pajamas, you put your clothes in the hamper."
Give advance warning. Jane Lannak, Ph.D., who directs Boston University's Early Childhood Learning Lab, gives a two-minute warning to help students make the mental transition from playtime to pickup. Or tell them what they have time to do -- "Three more puzzle pieces before cleanup!"
Think small chunks. Leeds says a room full of toys is very interesting and distracting, and preschoolers are not good picker-uppers. Let children pick up for five minutes, take a break, then come back to the task. Or just focus on one thing: the stuffed animals, the crayons, etc.
Work some magic. Say "I heard about a family who had some wonderful cleanup magic in their house," advises Connie Gillies, a former preschool teacher in Nissequogue, NY. "You can walk by and say 'I wish our house had some of that.' Later, when a few toys are put away, say "Oh, we are so lucky. The magic is in our house!'" The classic motivator for the preschool set, she says, is reverse psychology.
Show them how it's done. Younger toddlers can get confused with commands like "Clean up your toys." That's a concept that doesn't come naturally. Hall advises parents to show young children what they mean: "Now it's time to put the blocks in their container" or "Watch how I'm placing the cars on the shelf. Would you please help me?"