Toy Rotation – The Rest of The Story

In my post Shopping in Your Toy Closet I explain how rotating toys can benefit your family in so many ways, particularly in deepening your child’s experiences and increasing focus and learning during play.

Then in How to Rotate Toys I share a simple toy rotation method. Fantastic. But, some of you still had some great questions about the logistics of rotating toys. So I asked all of you toy rotation experts to write me and help answer all of these questions. Here’s what you shared (plus my own two cents)…

Where do I keep all of this stuff?

There are basically two parts to this question, because you need to appropriately store toys that are in the “out rotation” and then all of the toys that are not in the current rotation that get put away.

For the “Out” Toys:

It’s best to have a consistent way to display toys so that even though the toys may change your child knows where to go to get them. Audrey, our toy makeover winner, had limited space so she used a corner cabinet between her kitchen and living room to hold three baskets of toys for the “out” rotation. MaryFrances (our friend from Teach Speech) likes the Trofast storage system (pictured above) from Ikea to keep toys organized and ready for fun.

Monica displays children’s “out” toys like this…

One of thing things that we’ve done to keep the “right” amount of toys in the room is that the furniture that holds toys is consistent. The bookshelf has books on the shelves and a limited amount of space on top. We have a train table that we rotate on more often than the rest of the room. The trains and tracks fit into the drawers of the table. The most common things to rotate on the table are: trains and tracks, dollhouse, playmobile sets and duplo blocks. Finally, we have a standard toy sorter with four shelves and bins. What’s in the bins rotates, but the number of bins is constant. 

For the “Away” Toys:

Based on your space and house you may have to get creative. We use a combination of my daughter’s closet and our living room ottoman. Our reader Samantha stores her “away” toy totes in the space behind their couch.

Here’s what Monica does for her “away” toys…

For storage, we built shelving in our guest room. Anyone who’s coming to visit us doesn’t need the closet space!

How many toys should I have out if I have more than one child?

You know the general rule of around 10 toys out and available, but does that equal 20 toys if you have two kids and 30 for three? There’s no hard and fast rule. It depends on the age of your kids. Are they 7 and 1, or 4 and 3? Here are some ideas to give you a guide:

  1. The closer your children are in age, the more toys they can share.
  2. Put out an age appropriate option for each child. If you decide to put out a puzzle, why not put out a jigsaw puzzle for your older child and a simple wooden puzzle for your younger child?
  3. Remember the older the child the more toys they can effectively play with, and the younger the child, the fewer toys they need. SO, it doesn’t need to be an equal number of toys for each child.

Here’s how Samantha handles the number of toys for her children (age 3 and 1)…

We purchased 4 extra large matching totes and labeled them 1, 2, 3, 4.  We divided ALL the 3 year old’s toys into 4 piles. Three of the piles get put away in one tote each, and the last pile is put out, with the empty tote ready to be loaded when it’s time to rotate. We did the same thing with baby toys for the 1 year old, but she only has 2 smaller totes at the moment.  Honestly, she’s usually more interested in playing with her big brother’s toys anyway.

Here’s how MaryFrances helps her boys share their toys:

We have a timer. The timer sits by the toys, we set it when there is a toy both boys want to play with, and the boys take turns. It helps me keep sane and I feel teaches the boys some patience.

What about toys with lots of parts like train sets and dollhouses?

The simple answer is to make sets by putting like things together (trains and train tracks, little dolls with dollhouse furniture). If you have a lot of items for one set you can divide it into smaller sets. For example, your child may get half of the dollhouse furniture in one rotation and the other half in another rotation.

Here’s what Samantha does for her sons’s sets:

We were sure to keep like things together – all the musical toys/instruments, all the cars/trucks, all the Little People, etc. This way, he only gets to play with cars and trucks during one rotation. Then he gets to re-discover all the toys in the next rotation. 

Should I rotate toys for my older child? He seems to just want to play with the same toys.

Here’s MaryFrances’s insight for her boys age 4 and 6:

I have always used toy rotation with my children since they were toddlers. Now that the boys are in school (1st and preschool), I’ve also created a work station in baskets to include writing, drawing, and reading, so the boys can take them anywhere in the house (including the kitchen when I’m cooking). At their age for toys, we mostly have mostly pretend play toys, which consist of action figures, spy gear, and a few learning/logic type toys (ie. puzzles, building sets). We keep airplanes and cars as two constants that aren’t rotated and small basket (with handles for transporting to other rooms) of balls. The boys are always throwing, catching, and hitting each other with them.

Where should my child’s toys be? In her bedroom or a playroom or play area?

That’s completely up to you based on your house, your space, and your family. Most of my daughter’s “out” toys are kept on one small book shelf in her room and she has a small play area in an unused breakfast nook in our kitchen for her kitchen set and art table. We don’t have space for playroom, but I kind of like the fact that the limited space keeps us honest in limiting our toys. And using our kitchen nook as a play area means she can play in the kitchen while I’m cooking.

Here’s what Tracy had to say…

Your kids want to be where YOU are. I had no illusions that I’d have a sitting room of sorts in the main living area. Bam – the living room is our first toy area, and I have gone so far as to clear the cupboard shelves so that I can put toys in them. The closet is a game and puzzle closet, not a coat closet.  

Finally, some of your thoughts about rotating toys and clearing out the junk.

Monica says…

We could try to have all our toys in the playroom at once, but then there wouldn’t be room for open-ended play.

Tracy says…

I can’t say enough about rotating toys, having just a few nicely displayed, and having CREATIVE SPACE for the kids to PLAY with those toys in the area where they are displayed. When I shop for toys or add them to a wish list for a holiday or birthday, I only ask myself whether I think I would still have said toy when I have grandkids myself. If not, I don’t put it on the list. 

Creative Space! Declutter! Less is more! If you worry about throwing toys out, “store” them in your garage. When you find that you don’t miss them in a month/season/6 months/year, give them away!

Whew! Now that should cover all of your toy rotation questions! Simple Kids also has a great toy rotation post. If you’re just too overwhelmed with rotating, you can at least simplify the number of toys and my post “There Are Only Two Types of Toys” at Modern Parents Messy Kids should help you with a super simple toy sort. Let me know how it goes!

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14 Responses
  1. Thank you! We do things pretty similar at our house. We love our toy rotation. I’m off to share this all over the place!
    Amanda@Dirt and Boogers recently posted..Play in the RainMy Profile

  2. Such a wonderful series for parents. Toy rotation can make learning more fun, meaningful, and creative. Great job!
    maryfrances gonzalez recently posted..Remembering the 4th of JulyMy Profile

  3. Danielle says:

    I really need to start doing this. I just spent an hour helping my kids organize their playroom. They have so many toys that they enjoy playing with, but they get lost in the shuffle. Plus, when friends come over, the room is practically ransacked. Now I just need to get some big bins to hide everything in!
    Danielle recently posted..5 New Experiences to Try at HomeMy Profile

  4. Michelle says:

    loved this post about rotating toys. i have 2 boys, ages 3 1/2 and 5, who have a LOT of toys. They have huge imaginations and love to play with ALL their toys.. but they have a lot of them and they have a hard time cleaning them all up at the end of the day… I just finished sorting all the toys and need some tips on how to go about doing the rotation… the kind of toys my boys like are superheros, cars ( from the Cars movie & hot wheels ) they also like animals, dinosours… i thought i’d keep their dress up clothes ( capes, masks ect ) and books out but need some advice on how i should go about the other toys and what i should let them have at a time. i think that 9 toys is fair but how do you catagorize the superhero’s, cars ect into the catagories you mentioned in this article? Thank you for any tips!
    Michelle recently posted..Trip to The Island… and Monica & Booth’s Wedding!My Profile

    • Kim says:

      Michelle- Sounds like most of those are pretending toys. Older kids usually get their moving play in outside, so you just need to make sure you have some thinking toys like puzzles, small building blocks/Legos, and writing/drawing/modeling materials available (dry erase boards & markers, play dough, pencils & paper, etc.). How’s that sound?
      Kim recently posted..Summer Reading ListMy Profile

  5. Caroline says:

    SUCH great tips! I recently organized our toys again and BOY did it make a difference! Love this goodness from you–always great information.

  6. Emily says:

    I loved your interview on Teach me to Talk today and am thrilled to discover your site.

    We are having toy drama in our house, and with Christmas so close, I’m trying to figure out a new strategy. My son is almost 3, speech delayed, sensory processing disorder.

    - he is really, really into DUMPING the toys. If I left 9 toy sets out, he’d dump every single one of them the second I looked away.
    - my husband is highly stressed out by toy messes and chaos (see above. Ugh)
    - my son really struggles to nap. Several months ago he climbed out of his bed, so we had to switch to a toddler bed. But he still really needs a nap, but he’s easily distracted so I have to move all the toys from his room into the hallway. It is crazy-impractical in our little apartment to use anywhere else as the play space besides his room.

    Anyway, do you have any tips?!

    • Kim says:

      Thank you! I’m so glad you found me!

      If he’s dumping I think a few things are possible. Maybe he doesn’t know how to play with those toys yet without a little help (so you may need to keep them out of reach and bring them down when you can be there to facilitate AND also mix in more simple toys that he can play with independently), maybe the toys also just have too many pieces and his sensory system gets overwhelmed and riled up, or both too hard and too much!

      In order to cut down on the pieces, I think 9 toy “sets” may be too much for him. Some of the toys out of those 9 should be solitary toys without extras (ex: a ball, a drum, a microphone), some of those nine should be VERY simple (ex: a chunky puzzle with only maybe 5 pieces, blocks with only maybe 8-10 out), and only one should be a “set” and even that should be simplified (ex: a simple train track loop with only 2 trains, pretend kitchen with only one pot, 4 food items, a bowl and a spoon).

      If you make the toys simpler, with fewer parts, and then help facilitate play with the more complex toys you should see some improvements in his play. If you need examples on how to facilitate play check out my posts on A Magical Interaction and I Hold, You Talk or try taking those toys to speech therapy and ask your therapist to help model some facilitated play for you! It can be tricky at first and a good example will surely help!

      Also, all of what toys are left should easily fit in a large basket since it’s not really that much. So what I’m thinking about nap time is that even if you say left a toy kitchen in his room but had a bag with the pot and food that you dumped into the basket, and gathered up the other few toys and dumped them in, he could help you do a quick clean up before nap so that the room would be essentially empty during nap. Then he wakes and gets the big basket when it’s play time again. It could just become a part of your routine. I know you may not have a kitchen but that’s just an example. ;) Let me know if you have more questions!
      Kim recently posted..Hot Off The PressesMy Profile

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