How to Teach Lean 5S to a 5 Year Old

My three young daughters (ages 1, 3 and 5) and I share an office and a playroom. I love to watch them play as I work. Most of the year (usually 45 weeks out of 52) , I am away from my family somewhere in the world on project work or teaching so I want to optimize our time together.

For those of you who have kids or have experience with kids, I’m sure you can imagine what the play room/office room looks like at the end of the day… It is as if a small twister touched down causing My Little Ponies, Barbies, Shopkins and Disney Princesses to be scattered everywhere.

When it is time to pick up the toys at night before bed, we get bombarded with pleas and negotiations to try to get out of it. To my daughters, it seems like an impossible task. To tell you the truth, it’s a daunting task for me too. Eventually, my wife or I do the lion share of the work as our daughters help and put things where we tell them.

As we were going through this process on a Sunday night, I thought to myself, I coach organizations to use tools to avoid this very dilemma. Why not teach it to a 5 and 3 year old? These thoughts led to a Lean 5S event in the play room!

My first order of business in our Lean 5s event was the 1st “S”, Sort. In this “S” we “got rid of what did not belong”. While my girls were at their Grandma’s, I sorted their toys by “My Little Ponies”, Barbies, Disney Toys, Shopkins and all other toys.

When my girls got home, they immediately went to their play room to play. They saw all of their toys in piles and asked why. I said we need to give the toys that we do not play with to other children who will love and appreciate them.

We went through all of the the toys and I was proud of how giving our girls were. By the time we were finished, we had reduced the toy inventory by about 50%.

It was time for the 2nd “S”, Set in Order. In Lean 5s the mantra for this “S” is: “Everything has a place and Everything in its place”. The dilemma with the previous unimproved process was that when the girls wanted a specific toy, they dumped out every bin. By the end of the day, the all of the bins were emptied on the playroom floor.

Lean 5s

My five year old is starting to read. My three year old is extremely intelligent but has yet to sit down with “War and Peace”. That being said, I decided to print out four different pictures on 8.5×11″ paper and laminate them. I let my girls pick the pictures. The pictures represented the four most popular toy categories: 1) My Little Ponies, 2) Barbies, 3) Disney Princesses, 4) Shopkins. I used white Duck Tape (not Duct Tape) to fasten each picture to a bin.

I showed the new process to my girls and they loved it. I quizzed them on where to put different toys and they would run excitedly to the correct bin.

Then it was time for a hybrid of the 3rd “S”, Shine; 4th “S”, Standardize and 5th “S”, Sustain. Let’s see if we can make this a habit… The time came for the first nights cleanup. Toys were spread everywhere. I set the bins out on the floor surrounding the mess. I set a timer on my computer screen that counts down from 10 minutes to zero.

I explained the rules to the girls. “You have ten minutes to clean up your mess”. “Any toy that has not been put back in its place after the timer buzzes will be donated”. I also added some friendly competition; “Whomever picks up the most toys wins”.

Lean 5s

The first night’s results were amazing! They finished with more than a minute to spare. All of the toys were in the correct bins. I had to coach them through the process when they put a toy in the wrong bin. By the seventh minute, they had become a well-oiled machine.

Once their toys were all properly in their place (in under 10 minutes), I rewarded them with hugs and high fives. They ran to get their Mom to show her their immaculate play room. She was blown away by the room and how happy the girls motivation.

Fast forward to four days later. The girls have consistently cleaned up their toys in under 10 minutes. In fact, the other day my 5 year old had the epiphany that “If we don’t take out all our toys, then we don’t have to put them all back.” She’s my future Master Black Belt!