What Is Toy Rotation + How To Do it: System, Storage, Montessori Categories

Toy rotation has saved us time, money, and sanity! You've probably heard people talk about the benefits of toy rotation and today I'm sharing a complete guide, from what is toy rotation, to the best age to start rotating toys, how to do it, montessori toy categories, and how to store toys including our storage and organization system!

WATCH: Toy Rotation System, Tutorial, + FAQ Video

What is a toy rotation? 

Toy rotation is when you store a portion of your baby, toddler, or child's toys so they only have access to a limited quantity of their toys at a time.

Benefits of Toy Rotation:

Toy cycling has a slew of benefits including (but not limited to):

  • Deeper concentration in the child
  • Fosters independence
  • Increased creativity
  • Develops respect for personal belongings
  • Reduces stress and overwhelm
  • More independent play
  • Save money (buy fewer items when storage becomes more limited)
  • Saves time (quicker clean ups!)

I cannot stress the importance of toy rotation! It benefits children AND parents! Truly a win-win!

Benefits of Montessori Toy Rotation:

While toy rotation aligns with Dr. Maria Montessori's observations that children benefit from a decluttered space. She found that children with a calm/decluttered and organized space often engaged for longer periods of time (increased concentration) and experienced more independence and responsibility.

However, toy rotation is not an official concept derived from Maria Montessori, rather it complements her findings.

What age should you start doing toy rotation?

What age to start doing toy rotation really depends on your situation. In my opinion, the earlier the better. However, you can start when your child is 3 years old, 5 years old, or whenever you feel it's right!

Rotating toys for babies:

Starting from the beginning gives you the chance to set up a toy storage and organization system early on. Making it easier to refine a baby registry or gift wish lists to family since you know there's limited space. You essentially can skip the “declutter” step since you've been diligent from the beginning.

Rotating toys for toddlers:

Most parents start implementing toy rotation when their child is entering the toddler stage around 1 or 2 years old.

Rotating toys for preschoolers: 3 year old to 5 year old

You may need to declutter what you have if you start rotating toys at this age or later. Your child may also go through an adjustment period, wondering where all their toys went. Be prepared to talk to your child about why toys are being stored away, when toy rotation day is, and any other questions that may come up.

Personally, we knew we'd follow a montessori at home philosophy, so we were always VERY strict about what we allowed in our home.

I know many will consider what I'm about to say “in poor taste” but it worked for us… When I was pregnant, we knew we'd be moving about a month after baby arrived so it was a little easier to set this boundary.

Essentially we asked our family to stick to our minimalist baby registry. If they wanted to make a rogue purchase, we just asked them to snap a picture and send it to us before buying. If they bought something that didn't align with what we wanted or hadn't given the “OK” on, they'd be responsible for returning it (because there was NO WAY I was about to go on a return spree with a newborn and a new house!).

Of course we were grateful for gifts and whatever people wanted to do for us… but we also believe that the best gift our family could give us was UNDERSTANDING AND RESPECTING how we chose to raise our children and giving us as much time back as possible (re: not having to run around town returning stuff).

Sometimes the greatest gift, is no gift at all…

I got the Lovevery play kits before my daughter was even born. Those were basically our ONLY toys the first year. This kept everything very limited and easy to create a system/storage.

As the holidays and my daughter's first birthday approached, since family hadn't really spent money on toys, I felt comfortable asking for some large ticket items that aligned with her development (gross motor skills) like a scooter, pikler triangle and a non-toxic play mat for under it. Plus some fine motor skills that'd grow with her (wooden doll house). Controlling the “flow of gifts” made things pretty easy for us.

How To Implement A Toy Rotation:

Toy rotation is pretty easy to implement. You'll ideally want some sort of display bench or shelf where the toys your child has access to are currently displayed. Your child should be able to access this independently. Options like these work well:

Then on toy cycling day, you'll swap some of the items out with new items from storage. You'll need some storage bins or a toy organization system for the unused toys, which we'll talk more about shortly.

Lastly, as your child gets older, you may want to focus on a mix of toys and activities. I found that as my daughter moved into her second year, she wanted less to do with traditional toys and more to do with montessori activities.

When should I rotate my toys?

How often you rotate toys may vary, generally every 7-12 days is a good timeframe.

Some parents may choose to rotate everything at once, while others may leave a toy on their child's toy shelf if it's still being utilized quite often.

Personally, I try to stick to a weekly toy rotation where I swap anything out she hasn't touched in the last 5-7 days.

How do you set a daily toy rotation?

Daily toy rotation may be excessive. It can be taxing on the parent and it's actually really beneficial for children to see the same toy over and over.

This ties back to what I said earlier about toy rotation not actually being a concept from Dr. Montessori. Dr. Montessori instead believed that frequent repetition with the same materials allowed the child to go deeper into the learning/lessons.

But since toy rotation is more of an at home concept, I think she'd approve but encourage families to leave materials out for a week or so. The idea is frequent exposure encourages deeper engagement/play/learning and fosters creativity.

How many toys out?

Generally speaking, I'd limit between 5-12 items per area; with fewer toys out the younger the child is.

There's no right or wrong amount of toys out. How many toys to display largely depends on your child's age and your set up. The key is to keep things decluttered and options limited.

I know it sounds counter-intuitive but it works! It's sort of like when our pediatrician said to move her nap time earlier in 15 min increments when we struggled with an early wake up period. Sounded totally wrong, but totally worked!

The exception here is, if your child is used to having ALL the toys, and just pulls them all out, this could be a big shock to the system. You may want to go slower in that transitional period.

How many toys we keep out:

When my daughter was under 1 years old, we typically only kept 3-5 toys out at a time.

Between 1 and 2 years old, this increased to 5-10 toys at a time, and this strictly related to her montessori shelf and did not include large items like her Pikler Triangle or scooter or dollhouse. Now that she's over 2 years old, we keep about 7-12 toys out at a time, but I don't stress about the number, I just make sure everything is decluttered.

Often times if multiple toys can work together like the weigh scale and the cylinder puzzle, I'll put them together on the same shelf. So I just try to keep things set up in a non-overwhelming way that can be used in multiple ways.

How often should you rotate kids toys?

Generally once every week or two. This gives your child time to explore everything they have access too. It also gives them the opportunity to get bored of an item, which inspires more creativity and encourages more open ended play with what they have access to.

If my child hasn't touched an item for about a week, that's when I rotate it out.

In other words: when I rotate toys, not EVERY toy is getting rotated out. If she's touched it in the last week, it stays.

How often should you rotate toys in Montessori?

Technically, Dr. Montessori never identified or utilized “toy rotation” as part of her curriculum/educational methods. Instead she provided unending access to the students with the same set of materials.

Toy rotation is often associated with Montessori today because it aligns with an organized decluttered space.

But since we don't live in classrooms, I think it's fine to follow a montessori at home philosophy while rotating toys.

How do you rotate a toy?

I think when rotating toys for babies and young toddlers, you can just do it during nap time or while they're sleeping.

Once your child is older, and knows where the toys are stored, it can be a bit more challenging. Even if you only rotate toys when they aren't around. My daughter occasionally goes into our closet and asks for the toy rotation bins to get something.

At that point, you have a choice: You can either give them access to it, or teach them that those toys are off limits at the moment.

Personally, our toy rotation storage has changed over the years. We do not have a basement, so initially toy rotation storage was in a guest room, which had just become storage for R's stuff and my work stuff as my office was small. The door was always closed and she never really thought about the toys unless we went in there together at which point I'd just let her have whatever she wanted.

When I found out I was pregnant with baby number 2, I decided to move my office to the guest room, and give baby the room I was working in (it was originally a nursery). At that point, I moved all the toys to shelves in that room, but the shelves were open and my daughter would always ask for the items in there. I realized I was not going to be able to store the toys in there pretty quickly.

So I emptied some storage bins, and created space in our closet. At first, she asked for the bins quite often, so I'd just put them on my bed and open the lids. She got pretty disinterested in them this way rather quickly. I think because the items felt overwhelming in the bin, she never really engaged with them. Now she'll occasionally ask for toys from my closet but that largely seems related to if I'm folding laundry and she's over helping with it.

How do you know what toys to rotate in?

You can choose what toys to rotate in using a toy chart, intuition, categories, or by inviting the child to choose.

Toy chart:

Basically create a spreadsheet with all your toys, and date it so you know the last time they had access to that toy.

Intuition:

Just choose whatever feels right according to your parent's intuition!

Inviting the child:

This can work well for older kids, like 3 year olds and 5 year olds who know they have toys in storage.

You can give them a visual queue for toy rotation day with a calendar on the fridge or something. Then invite them to help you rotate the toys and just let them choose what to put away and what to put in its place.

Personally, I'd bring all the toy storage bins to the playroom or montessori shelf area, and let them explore that way. This can be a fun activity in organizing/re-organizing too and they'll learn the practical life skill of storing items/cleaning out their space.

Categories:

Often times, our toys fit into specific categories, you can ensure your child is moving along developmentally by always having specific categories accessible to them, and then toy rotation is just within that category so it's less overwhelming.

Montessori Toy Categories (Consider In Toy Rotation):

Typically in a montessori classroom the following five areas are represented:

  • language- with books, phonics or writing activities, etc.
  • sensorial – all things that engage a child's senses from colors, shapes, textures, smells, sounds, etc.
  • math – early patterns/quantitative concepts etc.
  • cultural studies – history, geography, art, science, music, peace/tolerance, botany, zoology, etc.
  • practical life – every day life, so things that focus on fine and gross motor skills, practical things rooting the child in reality like a kitchen (more on that in a minute), cleaning supplies, etc.

Personally, when setting up our Montessori Playroom For a 2 Year Old, I made sure all of these areas are represented. When rotating toys for my toddler, I try to just keep these in the back of my mind.

Toy categories:

If you want more clarity or a list for how to categorize toys consider the following:

  • Gross motor skill
  • Fine motor skill
  • Sensory (color, smell, texture, etc.)
  • Language (books to start, as children get older this could be alphabet puzzles or montessori language activities)
  • STEM (blocks/building, cars, etc.)
  • Cultural (music, plant, art, etc.)
  • Practical life (cleaning supplies, dressing boards, etc.)

What types of toys are Montessori?

The term Montessori is unregulated, and Dr. Montessori only created a specific set of materials known as “montessori materials.”

Technically most toys labeled as montessori, aren't.

Instead, if you'd like to have montessori inspired toys, look for wooden objects that “control for error,” focus on a single skill, encourage open ended play, etc.

How are toys arranged in Montessori?

Toys are arranged on a child size shelf – meaning the child can access all the items without the help of an adult. The toys are displayed on trays or in singular cubbies to not overwhelm the child with clutter.

Our Toy Rotation System:

Like I said earlier, our toy rotation system has evolved from birth to toddler years and I'm sure it will evolve again when my daughter is a 3 year old and a 5 year old.

Currently, I leave anything out if she's touched it even for just 5 minutes in the last week. I don't monitor my toddler very closely, so I know if I've watched her use something for 5 minutes, she's probably used it even more when I wasn't looking.

From there, I use mama's intuition to choose what toys to rotate out and in. Generally I think about what skills she's been working on or interested in.

For instance, she was very obsessed with learning numbers a few months back, so I specifically set out a puzzle with wood numbers, her felt number book, counting cards, and a Connect 4 type toy she could use in montessori activities to bring numbers to life.

Other times, it's just about getting those montessori categories I mentioned earlier met.

I don't stress about rotating toys every week or two perfectly. I generally know if I need to rotate based on how often she's requesting screen time.

Organization system for toy rotation:

Currently we use a set of clear plastic bins I found at Costco a few years ago on clearance. We currently have four of them where I've grouped “like items” together.

One is more baby stuff that she's outgrown. One toy rotation bin is primarily loose materials and sensory items. This is probably the messiest/most hodge podge of the bunch. It has straws, pipe cleaners, water guns, Dollar Tree toys, sponges, etc. Really anything that I've used for an activity in the past or just collected and is small goes in here.

The last two bins are primarily Lovevery and KiwiCo toys. One is more puzzle or problem solving activities. The other is more random materials. So the animal matching card game, flashcards, lacing kits, etc.

How to store Lovevery toys:

Lovevery has some larger items that don't fit in our storage bins. For those items I focus more on rotating them between rooms, versus in formal toy storage. For instance, in my daughter's room she has about 3-5 toys, one is usually a large Lovevery item like the race track or ball drop. At other times those will be in her playroom or our living room.

Currently, in the nursery I have some of the younger Lovevery toys like the object permanence box, the peg drop, and the slide top box. R hasn't been too interested in these and asked to take them down so I think they're fine there for now. Once the baby is born and ready to use those items, they'll get rotated into the playroom and living for him.

Lastly, I'm NOT a morning person. I spend at least 1 hour in bed after I wake up every day. So I keep 2-3 Lovevery toys in my night stand at all times (the plush mouse, the buckle pillow, the felt flowers, the mosaic button board, etc.). Generally R joins me and will either nurse, cuddle, read books, or if E and I are hanging out and she wants attention, I'll give her one of the toys.

Other FAQs on Toy Rotation:

Do you rotate books for toddlers and babies too?

Yes, I recommend rotating books for toddlers and babies!

More for your own sanity than any other reason though haa! When I moved my office out of the nursery and started to store things in there, R wanted ALL THE BOOKS from the shelves. I eventually just gave up and gave her all of them in her playroom or bedroom.

We also go to the library once every week or two weeks and get about 10 books. During those 4 months she had access to all her books, it was SUCH A MESS. She'd pull them all off the bookshelf in her playroom. We had PILES of them on the couch that'd slide over constantly. I went from never really cleaning up after R to cleaning books 3 times a day.

So now she has a handful of books in her room. We have a few books on her hutch in her playroom, a few books in my nightstand, a few in the nursery, and I just got a montessori style bookcase that is in her playroom, but not as easily accessible as the hutch. I also keep seasonal books in garage storage with seasonal decor (e.g. Halloween books are with Halloween stuff, Christmas books with Christmas tree, etc.).

How do you rotate toys in a small space?

While our house is very open, it's quite old and closet space/storage is actually VERY limited. Plus our furniture is low to the ground, so no under the bed storage for us. We also don't have a basement in FL and with the humidity I just don't love putting wood toys in the garage since they can swell/get warped… and bugs.

Instead we have multiple play areas and use what's available.

How do you handle toy rotation if there are multiple play areas?

Our whole house is a “yes” space, meaning R has “play areas” or her stuff in basically every room. We just try to limit it to only 2-4 items per area, other than her official playroom. We'll move the toys around the house often too.

I've also always cleaned up and sung the clean up song infront of R (literally since she was like 3 months old). So she generally gets the concept of “putting something back where you found it” and has never really been confused by the idea that a toy once found in her playroom, still “has a place” in the living room, her room, or in my nightstand.

What I've found is seeing the same item just in a new space can spark my toddler to engage with it after not touching it in a different room for a while. And again, per Dr. Montessori's finding, repeated exposure to the same materials is helpful in developing concentration and creativity in kids.

Read next…

What Is Montessori? | Best Montessori Quotes | Montessori Gift Guide For 1 Year Old to 2 Year Olds | Toy Guitars For Kids + Toddlers | Toddler Learning Tower  | Busy Boards for Toddlers + Babies | Lovevery Playkit Subscription Review | Lovevery Block Set Review | Baby Dolls That Look Real| Toddler Backpacks | Ball Pits For Kids | Best Toddler Backpacks | Toddler Block Sets | Best Minimalist Baby Registry Checklist  |  Receiving Blanket vs Swaddle: Which Are The Best For New Parents? | Baby Dolls That Look Real

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