Previously on the blog, I’ve talked about the best strategies for decluttering and organizing toys and today I’m going to follow that with a guide to rotating toys - a classroom trick that you can use in your home to promote focused, creative play! In a daycare or classroom setting, toys are usually stored in a closet, and teachers pull out the materials for each day. At home, you probably don’t want to switch out toys on a daily basis, but rotating every few weeks keeps things fresh and encourages children to combine materials in creative new ways (not to mention reducing playroom chaos!).
First, as you’re decluttering, make sure the toys you’re keeping are age-appropriate and in good condition. Find a central storage place for off-rotation toys, like a closet, basement, or locked cupboard. Labeled plastic storage bins keep things tidy and clean and will make it easy to pull out new materials at a glance.
Second, we’re going to loosely sort toys by the type of play they provoke. Depending on how many toys you have, you may only have a few categories (indoor, outdoor, art supplies), or you might be able to get more specific (stacking toys, puppets, playdough). However you decide to classify, you want to have a few options in each category to rotate through. If there are any particular toys that your children are particularly attached to or truly use on a daily basis, those can stay out of the rotation system.
When you’re ready to start rotating, you’re going to pull one toy from each category to set out in your child’s play space. From time to time you can skip a category, or combine toys from the same category, but in general you want to have a balanced variety of play materials available. There are no hard and fast rules, but I find that 5-10 toys (or sets of toys, eg. Brio trains, LEGO, dolls with accessories) is a good number to provide options without being overwhelming. In my current nanny job, I rotate toys every two weeks, but every week or every month would work just as well.
As a Montessori based nanny, I have our play space set up with open shelves to display the toys that are out on rotation. Children are drawn to appealingly displayed materials, and you can steer them towards less-used toys by placing them at eye level. In Reggio Emelia philosophy, this is called a “provocation” or an invitation to play. You can find beautiful, organized, color coordinated playroom ideas for inspiration on Instagram and Pinterest, but it is important to keep focus on the child’s play - not what will make the best photo. We want kids to use their imaginations to create their own play, and sometimes when adults set up a detailed and prescriptive activity, it can stifle creativity.
A note on books
I rotate books in the same way as toys - most of our board books are on a shelf in the library and I pull out about 10 each week to display in the living room and playroom. You may want to group a few books at a time in each living space - a basket next to the rocking chair in the nursery, a shelf in the playspace, a few in the diaper bag. Most babies and toddlers delight in yanking books off shelves and ripping out pages, so I find it helpful to limit their access, for everyone’s sanity!