How To Rotate Toys

If you haven’t yet read “Shopping In Your Own Toy Closet“, please check that out so you’ll fully understand why rotating toys is so important. Once you’ve done that, here’s the nitty gritty about how to rotate.

1) Get rid of toys that are not age-appropriate for your child (or children).

If you have baby rattles still out for your 2 1/2 year-old, box them up. Get out any toy that is not developmentally appropriate for your child.

2) Get rid of junk.

Broken toys, toys with missing pieces, toys you hate and beg your child not to play with, all need to go. Remember, playrooms are not meant to be toy graveyards or storage, they are meant to be PLAY rooms. So make room for real play to happen there.

3) Categorize what’s left.

You want to take what’s left and think of what purpose it serves for your child as far as his development. There are five main areas of development in early childhood: cognitive, social/emotional, language, fine motor, and gross motor. Those five areas have a great deal of overlap early on in your child’s life and any one toy may cover several areas of development. For example, the activity of feeding a stuffed animal may target social/emotional development as your child cares for the animal, language development as your child practices the concept of “eat”, and fine motor development as your child opens a toy bottle and stirs a spoon. For that reason, I feel the five areas of development are covered by three types of toys: 1) thinking toys, 2) moving toys, and 3) pretending toys. Here’s some examples of what would fit in each category and how they work:

  1. Thinking toys - These toys tend to target cognitive development and usually are carried out through small movements of the hand, therefore working on fine motor development as well. They include toys like puzzles, paper and crayons, nesting cups, stacking blocks, and shape sorters.
  2. Moving toys - These toys tend to target gross motor movements. They include toys like balls, swings, ride-on toys, tricycles, and instruments.
  3. Pretending toys - These toys tend to target social/emotional development and language development as your child acts out stories from his mind. But, as your child moves around to act those things out they may have to solve problems related to cognitive development or complete any number of gross or small motor tasks. Pretending toys include things like kitchen sets, car garages, fire stations, stuffed animals with available cups and spoons, or dress-up clothes.

Separate all of your toys into those three categories of toys. Once you’ve categorized you’ll probably have a fourth pile of SCLANS. The SCLANS may be something you chose to get rid of or you can create a “busy bag” for things like doctors appointments or long waits. Either way, don’t include them in your final toy sets.

4. Make your sets.

Depending on how many toys you have in each category, we are hoping to make 2-3 sets of toys by taking about 3 toys from each category. That’s a total of around 9 toys, plus you may have a large, stable item like a ride-on horse or a large dollhouse.

Ten toys. That’s how many you are going to put out at first. If it seems slim, it is. We are trying to really give your child repeated experiences with those ten toys. To make you feel better, you still have your books out (which I haven’t limited, yet) and no matter what, a few things seem to always sneak into our rotation leaving us with more toys at the end of the rotation than at the beginning.

5. Put toys “out” or “away”, and then rotate.

Put your “out” rotation stuff out. You can put smaller toys in boxes or baskets on a shelf. I’m in love with these peek-a-boo bags. I plan to hang them on low-mounted coat hooks. Put away your “away” rotation(s). Then watch your child enjoy.

To sum it up…

At our house we leave our rotations out for about 2 weeks, but sometimes my daughter is still going strong at 3 weeks with the same toys.

If you still have questions about rotating with older kids, multiple kids, and storage, check out my post “Toy Rotation – The Rest of The Story“.

For toy rotations in action, here are some examples of real life rotations…

AND if this toy organization system is just too complicated for you, here’s a super-simple system I shared over at Modern Parents Messy Kids. Now you have no reason not to get control over those toys!

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51 Responses
  1. Christine Tucker says:

    I would LOVE to have just 10 toys in circulation at a time. I can do this at home easily and make sets. But my son goes to his grandparents about once a week and they have tons of toys for him. My question is, should I put those in sets even though he only sees them when he’s there, or bring my toys and put all of theirs away, or just let him have a free-for-all when he’s visiting them?

    • Kim says:

      Well, that’s a tricky question isn’t it? It’s really up to you and your parents/in-laws. You could try explaining to them why your son may benefit from fewer toys available when he visits. Most grandparents I know though are from the theory of thought that “this is my time to spoil that baby”, so I don’t know how far you’ll get or how that will work out. In my book, a visit once a week isn’t enough to make a fight over, unless your son is really overwhelmed or having a hard time when he’s there. Keep me posted.
      Kim recently posted..How To Rotate ToysMy Profile

  2. Sara Evans says:

    What great advice! We recently moved all of Ethan’s toys into one room (they were spread between 2 or 3 rooms in the house) and I’ve been overwhelmed with how to manage them in the space. I was already thinking I should put most of them “away” but I wasn’t quite sure how to go about doing it – or how many to leave out for him to play with. I love the idea of categorizing and creating sets. I haven’t yet done the nightly toy clean-up so I’m going to seize the moment and do it all now!

  3. Diana says:

    I halve just found your blog and love it! I tend to get overwhelmed by all the kids toys and don’t know where to start, and you’ve just told me :) brilliant! I was wondering what your thoughts are about applying these ideas to a playroom for multiple kids? I have 3 boys ranging from age 1 to 5. Some toys can be shared (though obviously played with in different ways) but not all. Should I go for a set of 10 toys out per child? And how many books would you recommend to keep out when they’re all at different stages? Thanks

    • Kim says:

      Thank you for your kind words. Your question is a fantastic one! I would shoot for around 10 toys per child, allowing for overlap. For instance, if two of the boys enjoy the car garage, that is one of the 10 toys on each of their lists. As you said, with really good toys, there will hopefully be a good deal of overlap, but it may take a little tinkering with the number to find the right balance of enough-but-not-too many toys out at one time.

      Books. Books are a whole different conversation that I plan to post about soon. I think that people tend to think that books are different than toys and that they should be out at all times in infinite numbers. I tend to disagree for the younger ones learning language. Really a book is like a toy to me. You want a child to have a repeated experience with its images and concepts as to fill pages for words related to that book. If there are fewer books available your child will repeat the same ones and deepen his experience with the chosen few. After a few weeks, once those books are familiar, you rotate, new books come out, and new pages are filled. Then, then(!), the old books come out again and they have an even deeper experience. So, I would say 5-10 books per child, depending on age, with fewer for the younger ones and more for the older ones. Then keep an eye out for my post that explains books a little more.

      Is that helpful? Let me know how the sorting and rotating goes.

    • Kim says:

      I also asked another mom (@valsykes on twitter) who started doing the rotation method for her two daughters what she did. She said she only did 10 types of toys at a time, but put out duplicates of certain items to be age-appropriate (ex: 2 puzzles, etc.). That’s another great way to handle it.

      • Diana says:

        Thanks Kim,
        That is very helpful. We’ll be starting with the books first because they’re a bit more manageable. Will let you know how it goes :) And will also be keeping an eye out for your book post :)

  4. Just wanted to stop by and let you know I included this post and linked it up in my post this week about Ideas for Creating and Storing Toy Stations for Babies and Toddlers. I love your site and your brilliant ideas and hope that many parents will read this. Now it’s time for me to reflect how many toys we really have in our home and how to minimize :) Thanks for stopping by our blog and facebook page! http://theeducatorsspinonit.blogspot.com/2012/02/baby-time-ideas-for-creating-and.html

  5. melissa says:

    Do things like Lego, a set of blocks or a train set count as one toy?

    If so – I think we only have about ten inside ‘toys’ to start with!

    • Kim says:

      Melissa, yes they do, so congratulations! That’s fantastic! One thing to keep in mind even with sets is that if they have a lot of pieces kids don’t need them all and you can rotate them. For example, with my daughter’s kitchen set I don’t put out all of the food or dishes. Now how about books? Do you have out too many books? I have to get you somewhere! :)
      Kim recently posted..Guest Post at The Third Boob!My Profile

    • Kate says:

      Oh and we just kept all our books, he loves them ALL and we read them all.

    • Kim says:

      YAY! Thanks so much for sharing this! I know other parents will benefit from seeing how you’ve implemented these rotation strategies. Please keep me posted on how it works for you.

      • Kate says:

        So today we got back from Grammies and I did notice a big difference, first he didn’t notice any toys were gone, 2nd he played on the ride-on thing (he hadn’t in awhile but did because it was only one of a few options you know!), 3rd clean-up time (part of our bedtime routine) was much less time-consuming and easier for him to participate (we usually have trouble getting him to participate but I think it’s because there are usually so many toys! But tonight it was just a matter of putting up the block set which was easy), and so we really enjoy this method of only keeping out about 10 toys and I think we’ll definitely stick with it, it was really easy for me to learn.

  6. Heidi says:

    I am STOKED to try this out with my son. He usually will throw all of his toys INSTANTLY when he wakes up in the morning or from his nap. I’m going to divide all of his car sets up, take away some of his older toys and books and give this a shot— hopefully it makes our house a little more organized and a little quieter LOL I’ll definately update in a few days to let you know if its helped! <3

  7. Joanna says:

    Love it! I found your blog on Pinterest. I have 20 month old twin boys, so I’m definitely in trying this. I saw you mentioned before to try for some overlap with multiple different aged children, but what do you recommend with twins? Stick with 10, do some overlap with 15, or do 20- 10 for each boy?

    • Kim says:

      Hi, Joanna! I’m so glad you are here. I know you must be a busy mama. I certainly think toy rotation would work well with your boys, but as you point out, finding the perfect number may take some fiddling.

      I always ask parents to start by thinking of their children. Think of how many toys you think your boys can handle based on these two criteria: developmental level and distractibility. The HIGHER the developmental level the more toys a child can handle. The LOWER the distractibility the more toys a child can handle.

      So, I would start with an educated guess and a smart plan. For example, you may want to work on sharing some and just have one puzzle, but decide it’s going to be too many tears if you don’t have two trains. I’m going to say to start with around 12 well-thought-
      out toys and go from there. If you need to sneak some toys away or add a few in, it’s easy enough to do.

      Please keep me posted!

  8. Samantha says:

    Love the idea of categorizing the toys. We recently moved all of toys into the laundry room for a toy check out system. I have 4 kids ages 21 mo to 6.5yrs and it was just chaos having all of our toys out. And that doesn’t even begin to touch our homeschooling games and supplies. lol I like the idea of having a toy of each category out and rotating better than the checking out system. I’m definitely going to give that a try.
    Samantha recently posted..Muffin Tin Monday: rainbow timeMy Profile

  9. Heather says:

    I love your ideas on rotating toys. I’ve been searching for a way to get a handle on the massive amount of toys we have and this seems like a great way to do it. I have four kids (ages 6, 4, 2 and 1) so finding the right balance of toys may take some trial and error, but I’m excited to get started!

  10. Heather says:

    I posted about my first toy rotation (and the amount of organzing/decluttering that had to go first). You can read about it here: http://campslop.blogspot.com/2012/04/playroom-toy-organization.html

    Thank you so much for your ideas on toy rotation. The whole family is loving our new CALM play space!
    Heather recently posted..Playroom Toy OrganizationMy Profile

  11. Laura says:

    I think this is great, and I’m actually going to do something similar at first and see how it goes: let them trade in “kind for kind” and see how that works for a while… I’m assuming barbies and little people are “pretend toys” and games and magazines are “thinking”, bubbles are “moving”. I’m having a hard time thinking of “indoor” moving toys as most you mention are what I would consider outdoors toys. Can you provide more example? My kids are 5 and 2, what other ages are people doing this for?

    • Kim says:

      Laura-

      A lot of moving toys are indoor for little toddlers and then become outdoor toys as kids get older. For example, a push toy or ball and then a swing or bike. Sounds like you are right on. I can’t wait to hear how it goes!

  12. Hayley says:

    I have been looking into this for behavioral issues, as it was suggested by a book I am reading. My question is on “big” things, like kitchens and doll houses. They are huge and don’t really store well. How do you handle those? Like put away some of the food and only allow a little big per time?

    • Kim says:

      Hi Hayley-

      I think it’s great to leave those things out as long as there aren’t too many, but to rotate the items that go along with them.

    • Laura says:

      that’s what I do too. you’ll eventually find that blocks, animals and cars live in doll houses can can be cooked in a kitchen too!

  13. Rebecca says:

    I found this post via pinterest late last night. After reading it, I promised my husband that we were going to organize after the kids went to bed tonight. Well, I didn’t make it that long. :) We now have a few more than 10 toys out, but I have 2 girls that are at different developmental stages (4.5 yrs and 22 mo) so I think that is ok.

    I really appreciate your practical and specific suggestions for setting up a toy rotation. Everyone says you should rotate toys, but I really had trouble figuring out how and this really helped me! I do have one question though. I have put away roughly 2/3 of their toys. If they request a certain item that has been put away, do you get it out before its “turn”? Or does the toy have to wait until its turn to come out of rotation? And then if it comes out, does it stay out? Or would you put it back away once she is done with it on that day? (I know- I can do whatever I want- there are no hard and fast rules here! But I appreciate your advice!)

    I am also kind of excited about this new system because we live in a pretty small place and this might help me figure out how to fit a piano in here. :)

  14. Rebecca says:

    What are the suggestions if I have 2 children of different ages( 3 yr old and 1 yr old) and they both play in the same room. Do I leave double the amount of toys out or do I cut each age category in half? Eg. 5 toys for each child

    • Laura says:

      if your children are like mine, the three year old won’t mind playing with one year old stuff. I do not have double toys out because I have two kids. Soon they will be 2 and 4 and will be best of friends and share everything (I have one boy and one girl that are now 3/5) Toys with small parts simply were not an option till the youngest could handle it OR the oldest could keep the toys in their room out of reach OR when the younger one was at grandmas. It works for us. Now if I had a third, perhaps I would add ONE toy set, but certainly not triple.

  15. Tiffany says:

    I have been rotating toys at my house for several months now, but still feel overwhelmed when it comes time to clean up. After reading this, I realize I still have too many toys “out” and not enough “away.” And I have not put enough thought into exactly what is out at the same time. To me (as an adult) it would make sense to have *all* the Little People out at once to make some elaborate Little People city, but the kids would be better served with just a couple Little People out at a time, especially when it comes time to clean up. I think fewer toys out will also minimize all the non-toy items that get picked up around the house, played with as toys, and then end up in the toy bins (like the mitten pot holders that are frequently used as puppets.)

  16. Rebecca says:

    I love this! We have a 6,4 and 3 year old. We don’t have a lot of toys that fall into the thinking category. Your examples fit for younger ones, but what about when they are a little older?

    • Kim says:

      Thank you! Thinking toys/materials for older kids include art materials (clay, needlepoint, bracelet making, paint brushes), writing tools, building toys (legos, blocks, Lincoln logs), and floor and jigsaw puzzles. Basically, anything where they use the small muscles of their hands and their brains. Is that helpful?

  17. Sarah says:

    Firstly, a big thank you for your blog posts on toy rotation: so easy to understand and implement. I really couldn’t have done it without you! (And the examples from Triple T mom, how cool is she?). Last night we sorted out our 17 month old’s toys, and now have three rotations. A slight abundance in moving toys, but we’re getting there! Today he has played completely differently – I can only describe the change as dramatic. He picked one toy off the shelf, and focused on it for around 45 mins. He was calm and content – thank you for the inspiration and motivation! What’s your take on playdates with several children? I don’t want to disrupt the now organised rotations, but also want there to be enough toys to go round in those scenarios. Thanks for your help!

  18. Sierra says:

    Thanks for your posts on toy rotation. They are super helpful! I reference them (and others on your site) often for inspiration and reassurance.I also wanted to let you know that Toygaroo has closed down so you may want to update this post.

    Thanks again!

  19. Lynn says:

    Thank you… I pinned this before a trip and now I read it. makes perfect sense to me.. and ohh will be so wonderful in our small apartment. I am the shopper and I buy lots of multiples for dd that is 3. Wow.. this will make clean up time a snap for her and me. Plus will teach me to stop buying. Plus it will go along with my own issues of decluttering.. hoping it will take effect on her daddy too.

  20. bean says:

    I don’t know if you’ll see this because it’s an older post, but what at what age do you think it’s appropriate to start rotating toys? I have an 8 month old who (I think) is starting to how preference for new/novel toys, so I like the idea of rotating toys, but his toys don’t fit in some of those categories yet. Like, he doesn’t really have much in the way of gross motor toys (just a ball I guess) or pretend toys yet. Any thoughts on how you would categorize and rotate toys for a child under 1?

    • Kim says:

      Thanks for your question. I think it’s a great time to start rotating. Any toy that encourages your child to move or crawl, like a ball or instrument, is a movement toy. For pretend it’s not too early to introduce a little cup and spoon, stuffed animal or pretend phone. Those are all pretend play toys. Sound good?

  21. Lizzy says:

    Just sorted through all the toys and I’m a little worried about how sparse it looks – will have to see how she likes it when she’s up from her nap.

    Wish I had taken photographs of before and after!

  22. I need to do this, currently my living room is overrun with toys. I think your idea of rotating things in and out will help keep her “stash” fresh. Thanks for the great advice! – Dee @ From Wine to Whine
    Dee @ From Wine to Whine recently posted..Thinking HappyMy Profile

  23. Mary says:

    Thank your for a great post. I have 22 month old twins and with the holidays and then birthday not to far off, I think this will be a great system to implement.

    My question is what to do with similar toys that are different sets. After the holidays we will have a Fisher price sets of a bus, playground, farm, and carnival, plus a few extra people. Do we consider each set as 1 toy or all the sets as a toy? Also how would you handle the people? (e.g. only the people that came with the set out or should I do extra people?)

    Also, any suggestions on how to use this to help speech development? My twins are speech delayed (receptive language is excellent and very high on non-verbal communication but haven’t quite figured out words yet). Is there a way to use the toy rotation or hiding to encourage speech?

  24. Holly says:

    I have been doing this for some time. At first I aimed to do a two week rotation, but I never got round to changing the toys and then found more and more toys were sneaking out. I changed it to 6 nappy boxes in two chests. We get a new box out each day and tidy it up at the end of the day. Just thought I would share as it is a bit different.

  25. teamuk says:

    Excellent advice, we have many toys just abandoned at the bottom of my daughters toy box. We’ve also stopped purchasing toys that contain batteries as this is one reason why they end there.

    I think i might choose a few that will aid her development and rotate from now on. Thanks.

  26. Mem says:

    Thanks so much for your article :) This was the easiest way to classify the toys I found on the topic and its working well.

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