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When I wrote “How to declutter toys: a guide to cleaner rooms and happier kids” I promised to come back with more information about the method we are using for managing Bogdan’s toys, so I gathered here a step by step guide to show you exactly what we did to have a cleaner house and a lot more independent play for our son. As I wrote before, toy rotation means that you will have the toys split into several boxes and the child will receive only one box at a time. In this way, you reduce the number of toys in your child’s room and you help kids to focus more on the toys they have at hand. This method has many benefits: it encourages creativity, it develops imagination and it helps kids become more engaged in playing.
Contrary to what many parents think, having a lot of toys around is not determining kids to play more independently. Sometimes the high number of toys generate a chaotic environment and the kids become less focused and more agitated, requiring more attention from the adults and getting bored more easily.
We first implemented toy rotation when Bogdan was a baby. At that time he had a lot of toys (mainly because he was receiving a lot of gifts) but he was playing in a very chaotic way, going from one toy to another without really interacting with them.When I discovered toy rotation I felt that this is a method that could work for us and we implemented it. I started to notice changes as soon as we started using it and for us, it was one of the best choices we made as parents. Bogdan became more engaged with the toys he had and he started to use them in more creative ways. I think that one of the reasons why Bogdan is a child that often plays independently is that he is used with this method and he learned to have a different relationship with his toys.
We had a period in our life, just before our move to California, when I was too overwhelmed with all the changes in our life that I didn’t give much attention to the toy rotation. Bogdan started to have a lot of toys all over the house and I noticed how frustrating that became for me because I had to clean them several times every day. Bogdan felt this change too and I noticed that he was playing for less time with each toy and started to be more agitated and chaotic in all his actions. After moving to California I started the toy rotation again, this time in a slightly different way, and I am very happy that I did it! I immediately felt the change and we found again our balance in regards to the toys we have around every day. If you want to try this method too, here is our step by step guide to implementing it.
If you never used toy rotation before, it’s better to start with decluttering the toys and making sure you keep only the ones that your child really uses (I wrote an article about how to declutter toys, maybe you’ll find some inspiration there). Then you need to decide how often you want to rotate the toys in order to know how many boxes you will need.
Here are some types of toy rotation to choose from:
this means you will change the toys every day so you will need 7 boxes, one for every day of the week (this type of toy rotation is good for stay-at-home moms because for them it’s really useful to have new activities to do with the children every day)
this means you will change the toys on a weekly basis and the number of boxes will depend on how many toys you have (I would suggest using at least 4 boxes)
this means you will rotate the toys monthly. so normally 3 boxes should be enough (you can use more boxes if your child still has a lot of toys after decluttering)
this means you will have several boxes (normally 3-5 boxes) that you will rotate whenever your child gets bored with the toys he already has and you feel that it’s time for a change.
After you decided what type of rotation is best for your child, you need to prepare the boxes and start sorting the toys. You can choose from two ways of sorting the toys: to have boxes with different themes (e.g. Jungle box, Trains box and so on) or to have boxes with different types of toys without following a specific theme. In my opinion, the second alternative is better because you can implement it easier and the child will have various activities at hand every time.
If you choose the themed boxes, you need to sort the toys into each theme and add them in their specific box. If you choose the multi-themed boxes, it’s better to start the sorting by splitting toys into categories: books, cars, dolls, puzzles, Lego and so on. Then you need to go through each category and divide the item into different boxes. For example, if your child has 20 cars and you decided to use 4 boxes for the toy rotation, you can put 5 cars in each box. At the end, you will handle the toys that don’t belong to a particular category and you will split them into boxes so that the boxes will have a similar number of toys.
The last thing to do is to add labels to the boxes. The labels will contain the theme of the box (if you decided to use themed boxes) or the day of the week (if you chose the daily rotation) or only numbers (if you chose another type of rotation, to help you keep track of the boxes and to know which is the next one in the row). After adding the labels you can store the boxes and leave only one of them on hand.
– If your child has particular toys that he uses every day, you can let those toys always at hand and not include them in the boxes, but this exception can be made only for a few items.
– If you have a young child, it is better to make the switch between boxes when he is not around to avoid any difficult moments. When the child will see the new toys he will certainly be happy to try them and will not ask about the old ones.
– This method may seem a little difficult at the beginning because you must declutter and sort all the toys, but once you have the boxes ready the toy rotation will be easy and I’m sure you’ll enjoy the benefits. 🙂
– From time to time, you will need to update the boxes. The child will not use some of the toys (for example the easy puzzles he used some months ago) and you need to remove them from the boxes. Also, if the child receives new toys in the meantime you will need to divide them into all the boxes to make sure that each box is engaging and fun. The best time to do these updates is after the moments when the child receives a lot of new toys and you feel that you need to organize them better (e.g. after the child’s birthday or after Christmas).
When Bogdan was younger (he was around 1 year old) and I was a working mom, I used the random toy rotation. I had 4-5 boxes with toys and I switched them at random times when I felt that Bogdan was bored with the toys he had. Usually, this meant that I was switching the boxes approximately every 2 or 3 weeks. He also had some toys that were available all the time: some Montessori toys in his room and some car toys in a box in the living room. When I was switching boxes, usually while he was sleeping, I was gathering all the old toys and putting them in their box in the storage and I was placing all the new toys on the shelves in his room and in our living room.
After we moved to California and I became a stay-at-home mom, we changed the type of toy rotation and chose a daily rotation. We now have 6 boxes: one for each work day of the week and one for the weekend (during the weekends we usually don’t stay at home so we don’t need two boxes). Now Bogdan is 3 years old and he is used with toy rotation, so we make the switch of boxes together in the morning: we gather all the toys from the previous day and we put them in their box, then we open the new box and we put the toys on his table, to make it easy for him to access them anytime he wants. We also have some toys that are not included in the boxes and are available to him all the time: a train and a train track, a plush toy, some cars (the ones we take with us every day in the park) and some activity books. We recently created an arts & crafts station in our home and the supplies for crafts are always available too. When we buy a new toy or he receives one, that toy is usually left available until he gets bored of it and then gets included in one of the boxes.
Lately, we spend a lot of time outside every day and there are days when we don’t even open a new box and he doesn’t feel the need to ask for the toys. For me, it’s great to see that he can play independently with his toys, he gets to appreciate more each of them and he even finds creative new ways of using the old toys in new games. I don’t have to clean up toys all day long and our house looks more spacious and organized without a lot of toys around, so I can truly say that toy rotation is beneficial for all of us.
(The content in our boxes is meant for the daily toy rotation; when we had rotated the toys every two weeks we had more toys in each box)
I encourage you to try this method because I’m sure you’ll see the benefits too. Once you have the boxes ready and you decide on a schedule for toy rotation, everything will become easier and you’ll be able to see the differences. Your house will be cleaner and your kids will be happier with the toys they have!
Here is the content of two of our boxes:
Here is the content of other two boxes:
This is another box we used recently:
This is how we display the content of each box at the beginning of the day: