Toy clutter can easily overwhelm living spaces, and kids often have more toys than they know what to do with. Our kids were constantly telling me they were bored even though toys were literally pouring out the door of their playroom. This is when we first implemented a toy rotation system. By regularly rotating toys, you can maintain a sense of novelty and excitement, encourage creativity and imaginative play, and help manage clutter. Here are the toy rotation categories we used to finally get our toy clutter under control!
Benefits of Toy Rotation
When your kids have too many toys available to them, they get overstimulated.
This is why your kids can have dozens of toys in their toy box and not know what to do with them.
Instead, they dump them out and then complain that they’re bored.
When you drastically minimize the toys, your kids will become insanely creative.
We were reminded of this about a year ago when we lost everything in Hurricane Ian.
Our kids never complained they were bored.
They knew we were busy with insurance phone calls and that we had lost possessions, but they played together so perfectly that it was hard to be too sad about all we’d lost.
We found such simplicity and really bonded as a family.
Our kids were 7, 6, 4, and 2 and I was pregnant with baby #5.
Now that we have bounced back and have toys again, I will never let our house feel cluttered with toys.
Fewer toys has been so amazing for so many reasons and toy rotation really helps me to keep the independent play magic going.
Toy rotation works!
Rotate toys based on the seasons or holidays.
For example, you can have a bin of summer toys like sandcastle sets and beach balls for warm months and switch to winter-themed toys like sleds and snow gear when it’s cold.
We have a set of Melissa and Doug Christmas cookies that the kids only get during the Christmas season.
How Do You Group Toys for Toy Rotation?:
This sort of depends.
We used to put a few of each category below into a bin and rotate those.
It ended up feeling like too much separation of the categories.
For example, if you are putting a few items from imaginative play into a bin, what does that look like?
A couple of princess dresses in each bin?
Instead I just keep all of our imaginative play together and rotate each category out.
I thought this would be me forcing my kids to play dress up for an entire week.
What actually happens is they make their own toys if they want them.
My daughter makes paper dolls or even outfits for her dolls for the next time they come out of rotation.
They’ll play outside more or make games around the house.
Try out a few different ways: by putting a few of each category in a bin or simply switching out each category like we do.
See what works best for your kids and how they play best.
This might include dress-up costumes, action figures, dolls, and play sets.
The two are just so massive and come with SO many accessories.
Last week, my girls and I packed up ALL of the Barbies and their toys, food, etc. and took them to the garage.
The toy kitchen and all of the food came in and is in the same play area.
They haven’t stopped playing with the toy kitchen since.
This is the magic of toy rotation.
The pretend play just blossoms when they rediscover toys that have been gone for a little while.
Arts and Crafts:
Keep art supplies and craft materials separate and rotate them.
This could include markers, crayons, coloring books, clay, or painting supplies.
Our five year old is a budding artist and can’t live without art supplies.
We keep a ton of supplies for her near our dining room table so she can create whenever the mood strikes.
Before she was bitten by the art bug, we only brought out finger paints and play doh when I really felt I had the mental bandwidth to handle it.
Puzzles and Games:
Group puzzles and board games together.
Rotate them to maintain interest and to match the child’s skill level.
For example, our 10 month old is starting to work on his motor skills and can put a one piece puzzle together.
He can also do egg in cup which is a Montessori puzzle for babies and you can find more about that on my Montessori toy rotation categories list.
Our oldest son enjoys doing larger puzzles, so I’ll put one in a toy rotation bin and then leave it near the dining table where he might choose to use it.
Easy access to puzzles has been all the encouragement our kids need to actually build them.
If you have outdoor play equipment like bikes, scooters, or sports equipment, rotate these based on the weather and the child’s interests.
Our water table and soccer nets would be in this category.
We live in Florida, but it still makes sense to rotate through these items so they actually get used.
Otherwise our kids seem sort of blind to them and they don’t get used on a daily basis anymore.
Building and Construction:
Group building toys such as LEGO sets, building blocks, and construction toys like marble runs.
If you have older children, you may find that their toys no longer even have to go into rotation.
Our oldest son is 8 and his toys have naturally pared down as he’s gotten a little older.
All he cares to do is build lego sets, so his legos stay in his room at all times.
Books and Reading Material:
If you have a collection of books, rotate them to encourage different reading experiences.
We have one of these forward-facing bookshelves and rotate books weekly.
Some are from our own collection.
Many are from the library.
This category can include items like sensory bins, kinetic sand, water play, and tactile toys.
Rotate to stimulate different senses.
Vehicles and Transportation:
Toys related to cars, trains, airplanes, or boats can be grouped together and rotated.
We keep our matchbox cars and our large train set in this bin.
If your child has musical instruments, rotate them to introduce variety.
We have this set of Melissa and Doug instruments and rotate them in and out of our home.
Stuffed Animals and Plush Toys:
If your child has a collection of stuffed animals, rotate them to keep them fresh and exciting.
We recently pared ours down to just a small bin and keep them in our reading corner near our bookshelf.
Bath and Water Toys:
Obviously these toys wouldn’t go in the same bin as the toys in the main toy rotation.
But if you have a ton of bath toys taking over your bathroom, keeping them in a basket under the bathroom sink and only pulling out a few at a time can quickly declutter your bathroom toys.
Some toys don’t fit into specific categories, but you can create a miscellaneous category for items that don’t belong elsewhere.
When rotating toys, be sure to involve your child in the process, explaining why you’re doing it and allowing them to choose which toys to rotate out.
This can help them feel more in control and excited about the change.
Character or Theme:
If your child is into a particular character or theme (e.g., superheroes, dinosaurs, princesses), you can rotate toys centered around that theme.
This approach worked best when our two oldest, both boys, were younger.
We could rotate through their train set and their action figures without having it all out at once.
Now that we have 5 kiddos that are all different ages, we really need to have a wide variety of toys based on each child’s age in each bin.
Storage Bins for Toy Rotation
While I think toy rotation is 100% worth spending a little money on, it’s absolutely not necessary.
We bought these clear bins to use for our current toy rotation.
When money was a little tighter, we used diaper boxes instead.
They’re super sturdy and come with no additional cost.
The rotation boxes don’t matter nearly as much as what is actually inside the rotation bins.
A good toy rotation strategy that rotates through the toy categories we discussed today is the most important part.
After we had been using this toy rotation system for a few years, I was introduced to the concept of Montessori toy rotation.
Maria Montessori was an Italian doctor and teacher and developed this really beautiful method of hands-on education using open ended toys.
While we aren’t a strictly Montessori family, we do homeschool and I see the true value in her method.
If you’d like to read about how our toy rotation has evolved using some Montessori concepts, you can read about that here.
No matter the method or categories you use, successful toy rotation is a simple solution to the overwhelm that comes with having lots of toys. Not only is there less clutter, but your young children are more likely to engage in quiet play for longer periods of time. The exact number of toys in your toy rotation schedule doesn’t matter. Watch your child’s reaction to their toys and how long they are able to hold their attention. Tweak as necessary. I can’t express how much of a difference this will make in your home. Yes it takes some effort to start, but less time than you’d think. Give it a try, it is so worth it!