Question: How do you keep 60 children aged 2.5-5-years-old entertained for 40-50 hours a week, with only one closet full of toys? Answer: Toy rotation.
Do you find your kids’ play area getting messy within moments of cleaning up? Toys they used to love are broken and buried under piles of other toys.
Meanwhile, your kids are bored and whine that there is nothing to play with? While they’re standing in front of a mountain of toys, of course.
Do you have a child who doesn’t seem to be able to focus on one task or activity at a time? They seem to jump from activity to activity without finishing.
It may be time for you to set up a toy rotation.
I was first introduced to the idea of toy rotation as a preschool teacher in a center with 3 different preschool classrooms. Each classroom had 20 children, ages 2.5-5-years-old, and we all shared the same materials.
I was in charge of the afternoon shelves. I arranged just enough of the toys to fill the shelves comfortably, each toy tucked into it’s own basket. Every couple of weeks I would take some of the toys that no one seemed to be playing with and trade them with another classroom or pull something from the closet.
The days when I rotated the toys, the classroom was the most engaged and focused.
These were brand new to them!
Well, they weren’t actually brand new, they’d been played with by hundreds of children before them, and they themselves played with it 6-8 weeks ago. But since they hadn’t seen them in awhile, they were brand new to them.
Now that my son is approaching full toddler age, we’ve been focusing on setting up our toy rotation at home.
I find that he’s also more engaged and focused right after I rotate the toys, just like my students.
Here’s what I’ve learned from being a teacher, setting up toy rotation in my home, and browsing around on Pinterest.
STEP ONE: SORT & PURGE
For a lot of people, this will be the most difficult and time-consuming part. You’ve got to organize the mess of toys to begin with.
Get all the toys out and put them with like items. All the balls together, all the Barbies together, etc. Go through them and see if there are any you can get rid of. Consider these points:
- Is it age appropriate? Does my 3-year-old really need 13 teethers?
- Is it in good condition? Are there any toys that are broken or missing parts?
- Does my child actually play with it? Hopefully, with rotating the toys you’ll really discover which toys they play with and which they don’t. But if you know right from the start which they never play with, that’s helpful.
Once you’ve sorted and gotten your stash down to what you want to keep, move on to step 2.
STEP TWO: SET UP THE PLAY SPACE & THE STORAGE SPACE
Set up your play space however you like it, however it works for your home.
- Momma Society has 2 main baskets that she rotates out the contents of.
- Playful Learning has a few adorable and organized play spaces to inspire you.
I am partial to the Montessori way of arranging a play area. I’m not Montessori trained, but I did spend almost 10 years working in Montessori preschools.
The basic concept of a Montessori play space is that it’s created for the child, not the adult. The Kavanaugh Report has a great tutorial to get you started on setting up a Montessori-inspired play space for your toddler.
These are our shelves:
My goals with the play space are for each toy to have it’s own designated space. That way it’s easy for him to reach, he’s not throwing a million things on the floor to get to it.
I mean, he still throws things on the floor all the time, but not because he can’t reach what he’s trying to get to.
It makes the space feel tidier and makes it easy to see what’s out.
You’ll also need to decide how you’re going to store the unused toys. You can choose large storage bins, baskets on higher shelves, or shelves inside a closet. We have a dresser in our living room that we found storage containers for.
I dream of one day having a spare hall closet for this purpose! Whatever works for you and your home. Just make sure it’s easily accessible, otherwise, you’ll never feel like doing the toy rotation.
STEP THREE: CHOOSE WHICH TO HAVE OUT, WHICH TO STORE
Once you’ve organized the toys and set up the spaces where they’re going to live, you’ll have to choose which toys to have out. If you’re doing this with your child or children that’s pretty easy. Let them choose. What are they pulling out?
A common way to figure this out is to choose within themes. For example, always have a basket of blocks, a shelf for stuffed animals/baby dolls, 1 or 2 cars, etc.
We mostly go with the themes, but my son is so obsessed with music that half his shelves are music instruments. If that’s what he loves and what keeps him busy, I’m fine with it!
STEP FOUR: OBSERVE
In order to know what to keep out and what needs to be stored away for a time, we have to observe our kids.
[Read more about using observation to help guide our children’s learning here.]
Watch them for what they’re focused on, and what they keep gravitating to. These are the best toys (for now!) and should remain out.
What are they not playing with? If they aren’t old enough to clean up after themselves: what is still on the shelf when you go to clean up? Once it’s been on the shelf a couple days in a row, it’s probably time to rotate it with something new.
If they are old enough to clean up after themselves (and they actually do it without reminders-yay!) Then you’ll have to watch a little closer and keep note (on paper or in your head) which ones they aren’t playing with.
If they aren’t playing with it now, it doesn’t mean they won’t play with it if you put it away and bring it back in 2-3 weeks. That’s the great thing about toy rotation: anything they get bored of will feel brand new once they haven’t seen it for a little while.
If they never seem to play with it, even after a couple of tries of storing it and bringing it back, then it must not be their kind of toy. Donate it, and let another family find it for a child who will love it.
STEP FIVE: TOY ROTATION
There are different ways you can do this.
- You can establish storage bins with a ton of varied toys and switch out the entire bin, like Can Do Kiddo.
- You can store the toys by theme and switch out each item from those bins, like Hand Made Kids Art.
- Rotate daily? Weekly?
- All the toys at once? One toy at a time?
Here’s the way I do it:
We have designated spaces for one or two toys at a time on each shelf section. There are several baskets, and also some empty shelves for large toys that don’t fit in baskets.
After observing my son and seeing what was not touched for a couple of days, I’ll take that toy with its basket over to the storage area. Sometimes I’ll have a specific toy in mind. For example, if he hasn’t touched his blocks for a few days, I’ll try switching them out for different blocks.
I usually do this when my son is awake and I’ll tell you why: he gets to choose what rotates next.
I’ll pull out a storage bin, and open it up. He’s usually curious and will start pulling things out. If he plays with it for more than a minute, it stays out. I store away the unused toy while he’s busy.
I do this every few days or so. Every couple of weeks I’ll rotate several toys at once. When I notice him getting bored frequently I’ll know it’s time for a major toy rotation.
I love our toy rotation. It helps me keep things minimal and intentional. (Which has really become ingrained in me ever since living in a studio with a baby!) Clean up is pretty fast because we never have more than a dozen toys out.
And it also helps my son. It helps him focus, play, and not feel overwhelmed by options.
Do you do any toy rotation? How do you do it?