Mommy Skills,  What We're Learning

Reduce Toy Clutter And Promote Independent Play With Toy Rotation

Most of us have been here: your TV room/family room/living room is POSITIVELY littered with toys. Your kid is sitting in the middle of them, looking bored and asking to watch another episode of Mickey Mouse Club House. You’re saying to yourself “How can you be bored with all these fabulous things to play with? How long is it going to take to clean up this toysplosion? Will I make it through another episode of MMCH without going on a bloody rampage?” Folks, I have the answer to your dilemma, and it’s called toy rotation. Toy RotationWould you believe me if I told you that toy rotation can:

  • Reduce toy clutter
  • Improve your kid’s engagement with toys they have
  • Increase the length of independent play
  • Reduce the time it takes to pick up every day
  • Bring a sense of calm to your living space so you don’t go on a bloody rampage

Well it can, because it did for me. Read the what, why and how below.

If you want a quick list of steps so you can go about your business, here they are. I explain in greater detail below.

  1. Put all the toys in the center of the room
  2. Sort through the toys, getting rid of broken, incomplete or old ones
  3. Sort the toys you’re keeping into categories
  4. Choose your in-rotation toys and set them aside. 7-10 max, 1 from each category
  5. Start packing the out-of-rotation toys into the large storage bins
  6. Put the storage bins somewhere out of sight
  7. Arrange the in-rotation toys in a way that encourages play
  8. Repeat steps 4-7 when you swap out the toys

What Is Toy Rotation?

toy rotation display
This is all you get for a week

With a toy rotation system, only 7-10 toys are in use in each of your play areas at any given time. All the rest are put away in storage somewhere else in your house. Toys are rotated out on a regular schedule, anything from daily to monthly. It’s most effective in early childhood, ages 2-6, but can still be beneficial after that.

What Are The Benefits of Toy Rotation?

The benefits of toy rotation to children have been described elsewhere in greater detail, but I will summarize them here:

  • Reduce overstimulation by reducing choices and decision making
  • Promote developmental benefits through extended “schematic play” over short bursts of “scattered play”
  • Increase attention span, and therefore independent play
  • Foster creativity and critical thinking through “toy mastery”

In my experience, I’ve noticed that Coco is more engaged with toys she used to ignore. She plays with them for longer periods of time and seems to get more enjoyment from them. I’ve also noticed this concept of “toy mastery” emerge, particularly with her electronic toys and puzzles. Puzzles that she used to struggle with she now completes quickly. I know it’s building her confidence because she beams with pride when she completes a puzzle.

For me, it’s led to a greater sense of calm in my spaces. Clutter makes me anxious. When I’m in a cluttered space all I can think about is “Who’s going to clean this up and when, and how long is it going to take??!??!!” Because basically the “who” is me, the “when” is at the end of a long day and the “how long” is TOO LONG…or at least that’s what my monkey brain is telling me. Since we started toy rotation there is so much less STUFF around to drive me bonkers. The best part? Clean up takes me no longer than 2 minutes. Yep. That’s how you squeeze more time out of the day!

How Can You Implement Toy Rotation?

I’ll be honest, there is an initial time investment to get a toy rotation system up and going. You’ll also need to purchase some storage containers if you don’t have any unused ones. Walmart has them for crazy cheap. I’ll walk through my process and link to a few other resources at the end.

Supplies

  • Large (at least 50 quarts) clear plastic storage bins – I used 6 containers for my 2 year old’s toys. You may need a few more if you have more kids or just a ton of stuff. Clear plastic makes it easier to see the contents for swap outs
  • Clear plastic shoe boxes – These are used to corral blocks and toy sets with a lot of pieces. I also used them to group smaller toys in specific categories (hand puppets, small electronic toys, etc.)
  • Paper grocery bags – For larger sets with multiple pieces that won’t fit in the shoe boxes (puzzles, magnet boards, etc.)

toy rotation storage 6

Directions

    1. Put all the toys in the center of the room. This step helps you sort and categorize. It’s a pain but this is the hardest part.
    2. Sort through the toys. Throw out any toys that are broken or missing parts. Set aside to donate anything that is no longer developmentally appropriate. I had a bunch of baby rattles and crinkly toys I gave away.
    3. Sort the toys you’re keeping into categories. These are the ones I used, but you can do what makes sense to you. The idea is that you will set out at least one toy from each category during every rotation.
      • Blocks and building
      • Electronic toys and games
      • Stuffed animals and puppets
      • Puzzles and puzzle games (like a bead maze)
      • Pretend play (play food, play pots and pans, dress up)
      • Art, coloring and activity books
      • Regular books
      • Gross motor skill toys (balls, tunnels, push/pull toys)
    4. Choose your in-rotation toys, 7-10 max, and set them aside. Include one from each major toy category.
    5. Start packing the out-of-rotation toys into the large clear plastic storage bins. There are a few ways to organize this. I chose the first option below. A lot was also dependent on which toys would fit in the storage bins. Some bins hold more than one category in my system. Be practical and don’t overthink this…you don’t need to because I CLEARLY did all of the overthinking.
      • In the first storage option, you put all the toys from one category, say blocks, into one storage bin. Then you make another large storage bin just for books, and so on. On your first rotation in, you set out 1 toy from each of your large storage bins. When you swap them out, you put the toys back into their corresponding bins and then grab new ones to set out. You’ll be opening most of your bins and looking through them each time you rotate, but it gives you flexibility on which toys are displayed during each rotation.
      • The second storage option is to put at least one toy from each category into a single large storage bin (1 book, 1 set of blocks, 1 puzzle, etc into each storage bin). On your first rotation, you just grab a storage bin and set out the entire contents. When you swap them out, you grab another single bin and set out those contents. There is less variety in the toy groupings your kid sees during each rotation, but it’s a lot quicker to swap out.
    6. Put the storage bins somewhere out of sight. Mine are stacked up in the garage, but you could use closets or under bed storage. Just make sure it’s somewhere your kids won’t be tempted to get into the out-of-rotation toys.
    7. Arrange the in-rotation toys in a way that encourages play. I like to set them up so the stuffed animals look like they’re playing with the toys. Stack up blocks, stand up books…this part is fun, so be creative. I also do the swap out during nap time so when Coco comes downstairs it’s like a mini Christmas. She gets so excited!

toy rotation display

This first sorting and packing steps took me a few afternoon nap times to complete. I’d say about 4 hours total. Once it’s done, though, maintaining it is easy.

How Do You Maintain Toy Rotation?

I’m committed to rotating once a week. This frequency seems ideal for Coco now, but I’ll adjust it if necessary. If she shows signs of boredom then it’s time to rotate.

I use an empty container to help with the swap out. All the toys getting pulled out of rotation go into the container for transport to the toy storage area. Those toys go back into their corresponding storage bins. Then I pick the new toys and move them to the play area for set up.

This process takes me about 15 minutes, depending on how much time I spend setting up the new toys. That part is fun to me so I don’t mind spending more time on it.

Is Toy Rotation Worth The Effort?

OMG YES! I wish I had done this sooner! Coco is having more fun, she’s playing more independently and I have more time and sanity. I sometimes can’t believe how quickly she is mastering toys she struggled with before. It’s a win for both Coco and Mama.

If you try toy rotation I’d love to know how it goes. Please comment on this post or drop me a message in my contact form.

Toy Rotation Roundup

Check out these articles for more information on toy rotation.

Benefits of Toy Rotation

General How-To’s

Once a first-time parent, always a first-time parent (to your oldest, ha!)

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4 Comments

  • Roshea Sandherr

    I really need to do this. I have five children and one on the way so the amount of toys here are insane. I never really clear everything out until the end of the year when it’s closer to Christmas, only to replace with more and more toys. Definitely needed this read! Awesome! Thank you for sharing!

    • admin

      Congratulations, and you’re so welcome! If you try it with 5 (about to be 6) kids I’d love to know what you learned or had to tweak. Please keep me updated 🙂

  • Tinisha

    I LOVE this idea! We have done this with toys in the past (after getting a million after the holidays) and when we brought the toys out again it was like Christmas morning!! Great great idea!

    • admin

      It is fun when you get the old toys back out. My daughter gets so excited about toys she used to ignore. It’s like magic 😂

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