Toy Rotation: Step-by-Step Guide

TOYS

A step-by-step guide explaining why and how to establish a toy rotation system in your home, written for every parent who has ever wondered what to do with their kid’s toys or why their kids seem bored at home (even though toys abound).

*** This Article has been updated and revised.  For the most recent edition, click here.  For those of you who reference this article online, you will want to repost/repin with the new link/URL, as the old URL will be deleted soon.***

Why take the time and energy to rotate toys?

The simple answer is that young children learn best from new experiences.  They learn as they discover a new way to play with an old toy or as they engage with a new toy.  Children’s brains are programmed to absorb everything they hear, see, taste, touch, etc…  However, if they keep touching the same textures and seeing the same toys, in the same place and container, they loose interest and stop attempting to interact with their toys because they are too predictable.  While a little boredom can promote creative and self-directed play, too much boredom in young children can cause unnecessary negative behavior (which can lead to over-scheduling of the family calendar to help avoid the meltdowns).

Early childhood educators around the world implement toy rotation systems in their classrooms.  Why not implement a similar system at home?  It is inexpensive and can count as an “educational activity” in place of a expensive class.  Toy rotation systems also promote higher level thinking during play and result in children playing for increased increments of time.  You may spend 30 minutes rotating toys, but you will find your child playing independently for up to an hour afterwards and more frequently throughout the week.

Young children will not become spoiled from being offered different toys each week.   Providing a variety of toys that speak to a child’s developmental needs and having her help clean up, care for, and arrange her toys each week is very different than continuously buying toys for a collection (ex. Thomas the Tank Engine trains or American Girl dolls).  Toy collections seek to entertain and can lead to spoiling, while toy variety seeks stimulate and leads to enriched development.

The value of rotating toys during early childhood (up to 5 or 6 years of age) is pronounced because of the unique stage of development of young children which equips them with a different learning style than adults and older children, as well as a host of limitations due to their lack of introspection,  short attention spans, limited physical abilities and need for familiarity, yet fascination with the unknown.

For more information on why rotating toys is important and why the idea of a “playroom” is a bit old fashioned, read my article called “Rethinking the Playroom”.

How to Establish a Toy Rotation System?

Step 1:  Choose the Location

Begin by assessing where your child plays the most.  (You may have one or several areas that would benefit from toy rotation.  For the purpose of simplicity, this article will teach to rotating in one primary play area.  You can extrapolate the principles to rotate toys throughout several play areas if you choose.)  If you are choosing one primary play-area, select one that is central to the most frequented rooms in the house and that offers plenty of floor space for toy display.  I like using rugs to designate play-spaces.  For those of you rotating in several areas, choose locations in each of the most frequented rooms in your home.  Tables, corners, nooks and rugs make great locations.

And who will clean up this mess?

Step 2:  Collect all the Toys

Find every toy in your home that is a good candidate for toy rotation and toss it into a pile.  Perhaps you want to leave your play food in the play kitchen or the elaborate puzzles in their boxes in the closet.  A good rule of thumb is if you don’t mind seeing the toy scattered out on the floor, put it in the toy pile.  If you want to rotate toys with several small pieces, use containers with lids (that children can remove) or plastic-slider baggies to keep the toy together as unit while in storage or on display.

Toss or donate toys that are missing most of their pieces as well as toys that are too bulky without offering opportunities for higher level thinking during play.  If you are not sure how to tell if a toy offers the potential for critical thinking, see my article “How to Buy Toys that Kids Actually Use”.

Step 3: Divide and Conquer

Sort your toy pile into several smaller piles according to the primary educational functions listed below.  It sounds worse than it is!  A primary educational function of a toy is simply what the toy is used for most of the time.  Here are some realistic examples from the toys that we have out this week.  Some toys have multiple functions and service many categories (don’t over think it, just choose a category).  I also keep a bin of random toys and parts that can be fun for creative, constructive play.  Feel free to make a pile of random toys too!

Active play: (push, ride, jump, spin, roll, climb)
Art: (paint, draw, cut, paste, tape)
IMG_6341
 
Building: (wooden blocks, Legos/Duplos, Lincoln Logs, Bristle Blocks)
Dramatic play: (dress-up, kitchen, doctor, princess, baby, fairies, construction)
Science: (color mixing, gears, rain stick, cause and effect, simple machines, natural wonder toys)
Math: (counting/quantity, shapes, sorting, nesting toys, greater to/less than in size)
Manipulatives: (a manipulative is a collection of small, similar items that are “fiddled” with and focus on fine motor coordination and logical thinking)
Literacy: (books, pictures, letters, phonics)
IMG_6343
 
Music: (piano, shakers, wind instruments, clappers, rhythm makers)
Logic: (puzzles, games, if/then, brain teasers)
Vehicles: (all varieties, shapes, sizes, materials… anything with wheels!  Girls like to play cars and trucks too!)
Socio-emotional: (stuffed animals, dolls- boys like to play “baby” too!)
Imaginative Play Themes: (trains, airport, doll house, baby animals, farm, space, robots, Disney characters, cars)
Little People Barn

Step 4:  One Toy Per Category, Per Rotation 

Select at least one toy to display from each primary educational function per rotation.  Use one of following systems of toy selection:

#1- No Fuss, No Muss

P. Large Storage Bin

A) Buy 4 to 5 large bins for toy storage (see photo above).  Plan to display the contents of one bin per week so that you have one month’s supply of bins/toys.  The remainder of the toy bins will need to be stored while not in use.

B) Separate your toys into the bins, adding at least one toy from each category. Aim to put 7 to 12 toys in each bin. Double up on the categories that have extras and don’t worry if you don’t have a toy from every category for each bin (make a mental gift list and let it go).  If bulky toys will not fit in the bins, make a separate storage area for your bulky toys and rotate these along with the bins.

C) Some parents like to number the bins to create an order of rotation or keep a list of bulky items to avoid skipping toys or bins.

D) On toy rotation day, simply select the new toy bin, dump and display its contents and put the old toys away in the bin.

#2 Control Freak (my category of choice so you are not alone)

IMG_6126

 

A) If you would like to have more control from week to week as to which toys are chosen, then find a spacious place to store most of your toys.  If you need to spread out your toy collection into multiple locations, then keep all the toys from one category in one closet.  For example, all the imaginative play toys are in your son’s closet and all the gross-motor toys are in the playroom closet, etc…  This makes it easy to select one toy from each category, every week.

B) Go to each of your toy storage locations and pick one toy per category.  Throw it into a basket (as seen above).

C) Display the toys in your basket in your playareas and put the old toys in your basket to be returned to the storage closets.

D) It can be helpful to post a list of themes on the closet wall or storage containers as it can be hard to remember which toys have been used recently.  I recommend that clients rotate toys using themes based upon your imaginative play toys (ex. farm, kitchen, doll, construction, etc…).  This way,  you can still have control over which toys are displayed, while ensuring that most toys make it to the floor every month or two.  It can be fun to try and find toys from each category that match your theme.  For an example, see my toys pictured in the primary educational functions list above as they are examples from my construction-themed week.

Step 5: Display your toys in an attractive and accessible way

Aim to display 7-12 toys at a time.  Lump all the imaginative play pieces together.  Instead of putting all the toys in a clump in the corner, line them up against a wall and keep toys from stacking on top of each other (use the toy box for long term storage, not daily use).  Open up smaller bins storing blocks, etc…  Remember, for a small child, out of sight is out of mind.  Pretend that you are setting up a shop.  How would you display your products so that customers will want to pick them up and buy them? See the picture below for an example of my primary play area this week or reference my article on toy display.

IMG_6127

How to Maintain a Toy Rotation System?

Give the system time.  Don’t give up too soon on your own ability to rotate the toys and your child’s ability to play with the toys.  Children often need a couple months, just as you do, to adjust to the new way to play at home.  Try it for 3 months before quitting.  If you persist, I can guarantee that you and your children will enjoy the pay off once everyone has time to adjust.  I can’t count how many times clients have told me “less really is more when it comes to toys” after trying out a toy rotation system.

For tips and tricks on maintaining your toy rotation system, check out my article on avoiding toy rotation burn-out.  Also remember that an Intelligent Nest is a realistic nest.  Ease into it and be flexible.  Make your system unique to your family’s needs and most importantly, have fun!

Intelligent Nest_whitebkgd-001

 

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Categories: Organizational Tips, Play & Learning, Play-Space Design, Toy Rotation

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22 replies

  1. I definitely need to do this, it will help me get organized! Thanks for the great tips!

  2. This is so informative. Thank you!

  3. We will definitely have to try this! We’ve wanted to in the past, but have VERY little storage in our house to store his toys. Maybe we’ll just have to store them in his closet, which he rarely uses anyway!

  4. I attended Kristen’s seminar on toy rotation and play. We have been doing toy rotation for about 3 months now and it’s working out great. Sometimes we change toys every 2 weeks, sometimes 3 since my kids are in daycare and only get limited play time during the week. It has helped on that “we have too many toys” feeling and I think my 2 year old is playing more with things now that she is not so overwhelmed with a huge pile of toys to choose from. I use big IKEA bags for the toy storage bins since they are forgiving when you are cramming some odd shaped toys together with other toys. I use the smaller shopping bag size IKEA bags for the books. I have 4 bags of toys and 4 bags of books that we rotate between our 2 main play areas (upstairs and downstairs).

  5. Great article. I’ve not had much luck with toy rotations in the past – probably because I didn’t display the toys, just left them in the box – will give it another go now though.
    Any tips on toy rotation when you have more than one child? I have a 19m and a 4 year old.

    • Hi Claire- Thank you! For households with children of multiple ages, I suggest choosing a few toys for each age group. Sometimes older children love a chance to play with “baby” toys again. Older children use toys geared for younger children in new creative ways and younger children will either ignore or challenge themselves with more advanced toys (or just try to chew them!). If a toy for an older child is unsafe for younger ones, then select a safe area (perhaps in the older child’s room) to rotate toys special for the older child. I do this in my 4 yr old’s room. One week I will put out a gear building set, one week intricate space shuttle toys, the next a train track set, small legos, etc…

  6. Wow, this is so incredibly helpful. Thank you!

  7. I instituted toy rotation this weekend for my 1 year old and could not be happier. He was suddenly interested in toys he hadn’t noticed in weeks. This morning while I was making lunch and cleaning up from breakfast instead of mumumumumum-ing me and pulling on my leg, he was off in the living room playing with the dozen or so toys displayed in our cubby-hole coffee table. It took less than an hour to sort all this toys – I printed this post and made a list of his toys in each category, put a few toys from each category into each of three piles and neatly stacked two of the piles into large toy totes. Thank you so much for making this easy for me!

    p.s. I added at 13th category for “balls” since we have so many and they’re some of his favorite toys.

  8. thank you for this post! i used it as a guide to set up a toy rotation system that works for us. Hopefully I can write an update about it soon! Will definitely link you, if that’s ok :-)

  9. I would love to do this in our play spaces. What if we have two play areas (upstairs & downstairs)? Should I do 8 rotations, 4 for each area??

    • After sitting down and sorting through the categories, I think there are enough to do 5/6 down stairs and the rest upstairs :-)

      • It depends mostly upon how many toys you have and how much storage and time you have to devote. If you have play areas that get a lot of use without rotation then you don’t have to devote as much time to those, leaving time leftover to focus on other spaces. If all of your playspaces are undefined (meaning no set theme for play) then you can rotate all your toys throughout all the playspaces. If you have theme (kitchen, art, workbench, etc…) then you can rotate the bulk of your toys through the undefined centers and leave the toys that go with the themed play spaces. Perhaps in the themed spaces you can divide the toys in half and display half and store the other half nearby, rotating in and out as time allows. Please let me know if that answers your question. Good luck!

  10. i never leave replies but i just have to share that we have been rotating toys using your categories for 5 weeks now. Fewer toys at once has made my 3 kids play more, play better together, play with toys they never played with before, clean up each night has been a breeze and we are all much happier and less stressed. it took some effort to organize toys so i had one or two from each category but this week we are starting our toy rotation back to week one and i could finally just grab those toys and set them out. i’d tried a few other methods but yours worked the best! thanks a million!

Trackbacks

  1. Toy Rotation the Cheap and Easy Way [Get Organized!] | Diapers-R-Us
  2. Rotating Toys « Hugs & Strawberries
  3. Rethinking “The Playroom” « The Intelligent Nest
  4. How to Persevere Through Toy Rotation Burnout | The Intelligent Nest
  5. How do you deal with all the toys and stuff?
  6. Week One Toy Rotation (12 months) | Watch our house change
  7. Our Old House » Blog Archive » Toy Rotation & Toy Storage

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