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What Is Toy Rotation and How I Use It

Toy rotation is very effective and simple. By having small selection of toys available for your child to play with, they become more engaged in what they have. The rest is stored away and you rotate new toys in at regular intervals.

What Is Toy Rotation and How I Use It

In this post I’ll be covering

I feel like a broken record when it comes to toy rotation but you guys, IT WORKS. I blab about it all the time in videos and on Instagram and I’ve had a lot of requests for more information sharing exactly how I do it. So, I wanted to get into the nitty-gritty and write out a whole post.

Note, the way this general concept is written is for ideally 1- to 4-year-olds. It’s not that toy rotation doesn’t work with older children, it’s just that it starts to look different around Kindergarten as our children interact differently and develop different skills.

What Is Toy Rotation and How I Use It

First things first…What is toy rotation?

Toy rotation is the idea of only letting your kid have access to a portion of their toys at once and the rest are in storage.

When your child has too many toys available they can get bored of them. There’s something called “toy fatigue” which basically means that their favorite toy can start to look like a boring piece of junk. Not to mention, having too many toys out can also be overwhelming and often leads to less engaged play.

By rotating toys, you keep the selection new, fresh, and concise. There aren’t too many choices. And, every time you rotate the toys, it’s like they have all new things to explore.

What Is Toy Rotation and How I Use It

How to Use Toy Rotation

The biggest two questions I get about toy rotation is how many toys do you put out? And, how often do you rotate? These are hard to answer in black and white terms, because it does really depend on your child and how many toys you own. But, I’ll give you a good basic outline.

How many toys?

The best way to not put out too many toys is to get yourself a single shelf.

Now, a shelf, as opposed to a toy box or basket, is KEY in my opinion. This is a Montessori technique. Having a toy box is a nice idea in theory because you can just throw all the toys in for easy clean-up. But, it’s not conducive to engaged play because your child can’t easily see the toys at a glance, and the pieces needed for each toy/activity aren’t always right together.

The concept behind a toy shelf, particularly in Montessori parenting, is that toys are presented in an easy, simple, decluttered way for your child. All the pieces needed for each toy are together so play is easy. It’s also low, at your child’s level, so they can easily help themselves to the toys they want

The other plus is having a shelf helps answer the “how many toys” question really easily. Besides maybe 1-2 items that are too big to fit on Miles’ shelf, I know to put out just as much as fits on the shelf, and that’s it. It takes the guesswork out how “how many toys”

We have this $16 tv console from IKEA and it works really well. Linked below are some other great options that offer a little more space.

How Often to Rotate?

This can really vary. It can depend on your child, their age, how often they are home, how big your shelf is (you may have one that holds more or less). I really let Miles guide this. There have been times I’ve had to rotate after 5 days, and other times we went 3 weeks without rotating.

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Let your child guide this. It’s time to rotate your toys when:

  • Your child is acting more bored or less engaged
  • They stop playing with the available toys or are playing with them in the wrong ways (such as throwing them)
  • You have gotten some new toys you want to introduce in
  • The space is looking/feeling cluttered
What Is Toy Rotation and How I Use It

How to Have a Successful Toy Rotation

There are a few other things I want to note about successful toy rotation. One key is setting up your toy shelf for success.

A few notes to successful toy rotation

  • You want the items displayed in a simple, not cluttered way. You ideally want the toys to be easily viewed. This is more accessible to the child and often leads to more play and more independent play. This is why a shelf is ideal instead of a basket.
  • Any toy that is available has all the pieces it needs to make it work. Your child is less likely to engage with a toy or engage with it for a long time if it’s missing the pieces necessary to make it work.
  • Make it easy for your child to take the entire toy off the shelf. For example, if it’s something with multiple parts, put it in a basket or on a tray.
  • Encourage interaction. Try putting the puzzle pieces of the puzzle next to the puzzle board instead of having the puzzle all put together. This encourages them to come over and put it together. Also, model new toys/activities. Sometimes it’s not always as innately obvious how a toy is supposed to be used by our child as we think it is. Model how to play with a new toy with your child to encourage play.
  • Get creative! It doesn’t have to be JUST traditional toys. The other day our shelf had a row of canned foods because my son loves stacking cans.

I hope this helps answer some of your questions around toy rotation and makes you feel like it’s something you can start to implement more as well! I find that the small amount of prep time it takes me leads to much more fun and intentional play.

Tips for Toy Rotation with Older Kids:

Now, I know if your kid is older, this method might be harder. And you might have to be a little more flexible. Kids get very attached to their toys and won’t want to put them away. But, I do think you can still adopt this general method. The best way to approach it is to get your kid(s) involved as much you can.

Explain to them “we have this big shelf, and we have to pick which toys we want to have out right now and the rest are going to go to take a nap” (or whatever you want to say, you could say they were going on vacation or something like that). Let your kid help pick the toys for the shelf.

Remind them of the guidelines: when the shelf is full we can’t have anymore. Kids typically really like simple rules and boundaries and so the concept of only filling one shelf is easy for them and they often rise to the occasion. Plus they’ll like that they get to choose the toys, it gives them the power of choice, just inside your parameters. If you’re little one is really struggling, give them more choice. Try saying something like “OK, you don’t like using just this shelf, what do you suggest instead? Some toys need a nap, what should we do instead.” It might require you both compromising a little bit. Remind them whenever they want one of their other toys you can always go get it, they are just going away to take a little nap for now. And when they do want to add something new, they’ll need to let another toy take a nap to make space for it. 

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Toy Rotation FAQs

As with all reader requests, I try to answer some FAQs you guys ask on Instagram to make sure I’ve covered it all!

Do you rotate books, too?

I do! I’m not as strict about it, but Miles has a book basket in his play area. When I notice he’s reading less, I’ll swap them out for new books. Usually, he has about 8-12 books available at a time. I just rotate them to upstairs in his bedroom, so they are still mostly available to him, just not in his main play area.

What age did you start toy rotation?

I started around 9 months. Like with so much, let your child guide this. That was the age I found him more interested in engaging with multiple things and more likely to go and get a toy himself without my help.

Where do you store the toys he’s not using?

We don’t have A TON of toys. So, I store them in his room in a few strategic places. I utilize the space under his crib and store them in boxes there. I also have a space in a closet in his room to store some more. There’s also a little space at the top of his closet where I can store smaller items in bins. Anything BIG such as a jumper, sensory table, push toy, etc., I store in the basement.

If you don’t have an obvious place, I suggest 2-3 large plastic totes. You can label them by type of toy. These can be stored literally anywhere: basement, attic, garage.

How do you know what toys to rotate in?

Obviously, I try to choose things I think he’ll like. BUT I also always pick 1-2 things that maybe he’s never really played with or liked. Because we know with kids they are always changing. Something he didn’t care for 3 weeks ago could be his most favorite thing now. So, I do a mix of something I know he likes and a few things maybe he hasn’t liked before. I often try to include one toy that involves a skill he’s working on mastering as well such as a lock board, a slightly more difficult puzzle, etc.

Personally, I always rotate in at least 2 toys from our Lovevery Play Subscription. Read my entire review of this subscription here. I find they are some of the absolute best toys we’ve EVER gotten and Miles is super engaged with them.

How to use toy rotation if I have a playroom?

You can still utilize this. You’ll need to make use of closets or cupboards you can child-proof closed. Obviously, you can keep bigger things out like a play kitchens etc., but you can still store away a lot of it.

Another idea if you have a lot of space is to create “stations” within the room. You can have 2-3 shelves but put like items on them so it’s not just a total free for all. For example, maybe one shelf is all music/art-related toys, one is pretend play, and one is general toys. You could also do a “learning” area with puzzles and learning toys and then another area for cars and trains.

Either way, I still highly suggest storing away a good portion of the toys so you can still rotate even if you have an entire room.

Can we have multiple play areas within our home?

Heck yes! We have three actually: living room, sunroom and Miles’ room. Just keep each area concise and make sure enough is stored away that you can still rotate. If you’re playing in multiple places, you’re probably playing in each for less time, so you can really keep the toys to a minimum.