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How Rotating Your Child’s Toys Supports Learning through Play

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We’ve all been to a playdate at another family’s house (ok maybe it’s your house) and have been shocked by the amount of toys everywhere. In some homes (ok maybe your home), toys have taken over. Getting new toys is fun, but having too many toys can actually be quite overwhelming for little ones.

“Too many toys and materials is overstimulating for children and often results in a large mess that is hard to clean up, and very little purposeful play,” explains Rachel Duda, Vivvi’s VP of Education.

Don’t worry. It’s not too late to get a grip on your toy situation! You can start by becoming the Chief Curator of your child’s playspace and rotating their toys. By editing how many toys they’re able to see and access, and being intentional about what you put in front of them, you’ll not only be helping your child keep their space neat and tidy, you’re also helping them get more out of playtime.

At Vivvi, we use toy rotation, a tried and true tenant of the Montessori learning method, to help guide our learning. The idea is that you give your child access to only a certain number of toys at a time, say 6 or 8, rather than every toy they’ve ever been given. The rest are neatly binned and stored, ready to come out in the next rotation. 

Fewer toys = better play. And there’s data to back this up. When faced with 16 toys, children are found to be overwhelmed and not sure where to go. They may play with each toy for a minute or two before moving on to the next, because they can’t decide what to do. When this happens, they are not digging into what the toy is actually meant to teach them – they’re just kind of grazing.

When presented with four toys, though, children are way more capable of choosing one and sitting down for extended play time. This play usually lasts longer, which strengthens their growing concentration and gives them time to master the skills the toy is designed to hone.

Another goal of a toy rotation is to foster independence in your little one, and a key element of this is a Montessori shelf. A Montessori shelf is a low, open, wood shelf that allows your child to see each toy available and decide what they would like to play with. Having toys at their own level allows them to experience a sense of order by seeing how each toy is stored.

“With a Montessori shelf, children can see what they have to play with, and everything gets played with,” Duda says. “It keeps play spaces and homes neat and organized. And all toys have a specific space, which helps children become independent with clean up.”

Rotating toys lends way to deeper, more meaningful play. It gives your child time to hone essential skills. It strengthens their independence. And tbh: it makes your child’s playspace (aka your house) way cuter.

 Here are 4 tips to help you get started with a toy rotation of your own:

How to Set Up a Toy Rotation

To get your toy rotation going, you’ll need a couple items that you may already have: a low, Montessori style shelf and storage bins for toys both on the shelf and toys in storage.

Every toy on your shelf will not need a bin, but toys with small pieces should be stored in an easy-to-see-into tray or basket. Remember: you want your child to get those good visual cues from the low shelf showing them what they can play with. If the toy is closed up in a bin with a lid, they might ignore it.

Shoppable shelves:

Shoppable bins:

Duration of Rotation

Rotating toys keeps playtime fresh and interesting for your child. To that end, we suggest starting your toy rotation on a weekly basis: new fun each week! Feel it out and see what works for your child/ren.

You can also see these rotations as an opportunity to learn what your child is truly interested in. If your child asks for a toy from the last rotation, you’ll know they’re still thinking about it. Bring it back out! Ask which toy they would like to swap it for. This type of exchange encourages your child to be part of the thought process and decision-making (even more independence!).

Number of Toys to Rotate

We’ve seen the research on four toys versus 16 – but this isn’t black and white. Choose a number of toys that feels right for your child. Maybe it’s six, maybe it’s eight. Fewer is better, but you know your child and their playtime habits and abilities.

Type of Toys to Rotate

How do you choose which toys to have out on display? Team Vivvi suggests creating groups of toys for your rotations. As Chief Curator, work to curate groups of toys and materials that lend themselves to cross-play or interact well together. You can also consider the specific skill each toy exercises and try to curate a variety in each group – pincer grasp, counting, balancing.

A six toy rotation for a 1-2 year old might include:
Shape sorter
Busy beads
Wooden blocks
Silk scarves for covering
Chunky puzzle

A 2-3 year old’s shelf might include:
Small felt squares
Animal figures
Bowls of acorns or rocks for counting
Cups for sorting
Wooden magnetic fishing game

Vivvi provides child care and early learning for children ages 0-5, with unrivaled flexibility that works for today’s families. Our inquiry-based curriculum is facilitated by warm, experienced teachers in bright, open spaces that let children make big connections to the growing world around them. Find your nearest Vivvi here.

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