I finally did it! One evening recently, despite being tired from mumming during a pandemic, I got the kids to bed and I fiiiinally put into practice the thing I’d been promising to do for literally years: rotating toys; I ruthlessly took the playroom to task, and joyfully discovered how toy rotation benefits the whole family – and it’s been a revelation.

What Is Toy Rotation?

Toy rotation is, simply, rotating sets of toys. 

The idea behind toy rotation is to keep all items fresh, and therefore in use. Too many toys can very quickly become overwhelming to children, resulting in several issues dependent on age – all of which we were experiencing unnecessarily.

3 Problems Toy Rotation Can Solve

Our girls are nearly three years apart in age. Now, while they can be very good at playing together, they also have their own age specific needs; they’re also affected by toy overwhelm in different ways, both enormously frustrating for parents. But especially this parent who can’t bear mess, and especially in the middle of a pandemic when there’s an inevitable loss of structure, routine, and pursuits away from home.

Woman With Headache

1. Lack of Direction

Elfin recently turned three. She is bright, but she can’t reach the toys the are high up, and she can’t regulate her behaviour too well. I was finding that most days she’d simply pull out everything within her reach and sit in the middle of a pile of toys that had no cohesive purpose, and which she didn’t know what to do with. 

She’d quickly tire of the mess since there was no direction for her play, and subsequently lose interest; her attention span was extremely low unless her sister (or I) was helping to direct play…

2. Toys Being Ignored

Pixie is nearly six. Imaginative play is second nature for her, which is great. However I was noticing that she rarely used anything other than her firm favourites. Which isn’t a problem, but I did wonder if she perhaps missing out on some valuable learning from other types of play. She’s also very keen to have more time to play independently, without her sister ‘gatecrashing’ her games.

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3. Mess

Mummy is feeling old. Mummy is fed up with needing to constantly entertain Elfin and referee between the girls. Mummy is definitely fed up with the bomb site at the end of every day, and the huge waste she sees in too many toys, none of which are being properly/fully engaged with in an effective and valuable way…

Both of the girls are inclined to get hold of all of the little bits that go with various toys, mix them up, and dump them around the house, with no clear objective. Lack of direction seemed to really be a big problem – for them and me.

Mummy needed to fix the problem.

Toy Rotation Benefits

With the above in mind, there are some fairly clearcut benefits to toy rotation:

a) Focus

Having fewer options creates focus and direction, removing overwhelm; this is turn leads to more creative and absorbing play.

Wooden Baby Toys Including Wooden Blocks. Wooden Toys For Different Ages.

b) Fresh Toys = Interest

Because toys are regularly switched up, nothing loses its shine – or if it does it quickly becomes apparent, and is easy for you to simply remove it to be donated. 

c) Organisation

With less clutter, toys can be carefully arranged as provocations, fascinations, and invitations to play – all of which should maximise curiosity and encourage independent play. One important aspect here is keeping appropriate toys at a level Elfin can reach unaided.

Low Level Playroom Toy Storage
Elfin is able to reach everything that is suitable for her to play with, and there’s not an overwhelming volume to choose from.

d) Calm

Tidy home, tidy mind – this is so true for me, and I’m fairly confident it applies to my children too, especially our eldest. Pixie thrives in a calm and quiet environment, and while Elfin seems relatively unbothered by chaos, she plays far better with our new set up – her attention is held, her curiosity is sparked, and her imagination runs wild. 

Plus there’s the added benefit of less mess for me to contend with come bedtime, which is a nice bonus too.

Woman With Blanket

e) Coffee

Okay, this one is all about me. But at a time when there are sleep regressions for one (broken arm and associated trauma), and normal sleep for the other (which I’d wager  is the equivalent to a sleep regression in most homes), I’m feeling constantly drained. 

Oh, and there’s a pandemic too of course, which brings its own challenges, and compounds the need for caffeine. Better entertained children plus a more peaceful home equates to more hot coffee. And those few minutes for me each day, are basically all the self-care I’m getting right now. So they are precious.

Peaceful Woman Drinking Coffee

I think I just made the leap that toy rotation has allowed me to practice self-care, which seems a bit far-fetched – but it has honestly been a game changer.

Tips For Successfully Rotating Toys

  • This is not a job to be done in front of the children, unless they’re significantly older and are taking an active part in the process.
  • You may find it becomes necessary to purchase storage boxes and/or dedicated units for your playroom or child’s bedroom.
  • Bear in mind that some items will be impractical to rotate, generally those which are simply too big to put away.
  • Choose a place to store toys which is out of your child’s view and reach, but is fairly easily accessible.
  • If you have more than two boxes to rotate, number them!
  • You may also like to note what is in each box for reference.
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Setting Up a Toy Rotation System

Okay, so we’ve established the benefit of rotating toys, but how do you do it effectively? Well, there are a couple of principles to follow, but it’s a fairly simple system to implement:

1. Plan

Within your plan, consider: 

  • How many toys you want out at a given time,
  • Where and how they’ll be displayed,
  • Where and how you’ll store the toys that are out of rotation,
  • How many ‘sets’ of toys you want in rotation (just two with one in, one out; or will you have multiple sets in storage to be rotated in?).

These things may be dependent on your children’s ages, the number of toys you own, the space you have available both for storage and display, and ease of access to the toys in storage.

Once you’re ready to proceed, find a time to get organised when the kids are not around.

Toy rotation benefits the whole family. This is an example of a playroom displaying one set of toys in rotation.
Toy rotation benefits the whole family. Here’s how we’ve set ours up.

2. Cull

Remove anything broken, set aside anything with missing parts that make the toy useless, make a pile of toys which have been outgrown, and replace batteries where required. You can then sort into piles for the bin, charity shop, and those to be kept in rotation.

Part of this stage will also include acknowledging which items are going to stay in rotation at all times, such as large toy kitchens.

3. Group

Toys should be be grouped into categories, with around two or three items from each category kept in every ‘set’ of toys to be rotated. This number should provide choice, while keeping the volume manageable for you and your child/ren.

Groups could loosely be:

– Cognitive Development

Think shape sorters, puzzles and jigsaws, board games and such.

– Gross Motor Skills

Active movement toys including things like ride on trikes, wobble boards, kids stilts, mini trampolines, etc.

– Fine Motor Development

Construction toys such as nesting boxes, stacking blocks, Legos, and Grimms’ rainbows for example.

Grimm's Wooden Rainbow

– Musical 

Tambourines, drums, mini pianos, whistles and the like.

– Social and Emotional Development

Pretending toys including tea sets, Grapat Nins, garage sets, shop tills, dressing up clothes and anything else likely to encourage the development of language and social skills.

– Creative

Art supplies (pens, pencils, crayons, colouring books, play dough, kinetic sand, etc) may be included within your groups. Or depending on your situation and space you may prefer to keep it all aside and bring it out under supervision (my preferred method!).

– Books

Depending on how many books you own and the way in which they’re stored, you may choose to include these or not. We have so many books that it’s simply not practical for us to rotate them in and out, though I wish we could to encourage a wider range of reading. This is something I may look at later, but for now it’s jus too much.

Any current favourites should be kept in the first rotation, and you need only rotate when they begin to lose favour – that’s the beauty of the system!

Tags

Parenting, School, Toddlers

An award-nominated blogger and author, Kate is an experienced breastfeeding advocate, and expert baby sleep chaser. Her writing has appeared on Mothercare, Huff Post, and BritMums.

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