I think at some point almost every parent feels overwhelmed by their children’s toys. I know that I seriously feel like I live in a fun house sometimes. We choose to live in a modest home as living simply is of huge importance to us. However, since having children, the house at times seems to be shrinking on us. Our main living spaces including a living room, dining room, and a small eat-in kitchen (note: no play room, family room, rec room, etc.). The way we got our three bedroom to feel spacious again, was implementing a toy rotation.
For us having an effective toy rotation came down to a few things: A place for toys to live (away from the kids), a place/way for the kids to access their toys which are out, a labeling system for the kids to put things away, and the types of toys that are out each week. Yes, I did say week. I try to switch the toys out every week. While this doesn’t always happen, I aim for this time frame.
- A Place for Toys to Live (away from the kiddos)
I needed to find a place for all the toys to go when they are not in use. For us that meant a few different locations. The majority of the toys are located in a closet in our dining room. It was previously a coat closet (but we didn’t need a coat closet in the dining room), so we took out the hanger bar and installed shelving. Toys are stored in various containers, most of which we already had. Use what you got, buy what you need. I am too frugal to buy all new stuff just to make it uniform, especially for an area that I am mostly using.For larger toy sets and gross motor toys (think little people house and barn, ride on toys, trampoline, etc.), they are mostly stored in our unfinished basement. Some miscellaneous toys are in each of the children’s rooms. My daughter has a 4 x 4 Ikea KALLAX bookcase, so she has all the books, duplo, dress up and baby dolls stored in her room. While she has constant access to these toys, they still are in the rotation because she and her brother find new ways to play with them together.
- A Place/Way for the Kiddos to Access their Toys
For us, we desperately needed some sort of organization system. When it was just Willa, and even when Harvey was under 8 months old, I tried to create a Montessori type space by limiting how many toys were out and keeping them in pretty baskets on a smaller bookcase. Here’s a pic of the old setup (please excuse the crappy cell phone photo):Well that was great until Harvey was trying to climb into bookshelf and destroyed the baskets. Who knew that little boys would do that? Not me, a gal with only sisters! We took advantage of Ikea family pricing on their TROFAST toy storage system. We got this one with four large and four small drawers.
It fit perfectly in the corner, next to our fireplace. It’s great because I can keep the toys separated and both kiddos can access AND return toys to where they belong. It’s pretty amazing when a 15 month old returns toys to their correct bins!!!!
- A Labeling System
I have created a set of bin labels that change as the toys get changed. These were game changers for us. We were struggling to get Willa (3 years old) to pick up toys. We ultimately figured out that she didn’t know where the toys belonged, especially because they were changed out weekly.The labeling system came out of necessity and drawing in on how my mom (a 25 year veteran preschool teacher) would do things in her classroom, you know where she managed to get 18 preschoolers to put their stuff away. Each label has the name and picture of the toy that belongs in the bin. I had to use pictures because my kiddos are pre-readers.
At first I tried to keep really generic labels (blocks, dolls, vehicles, etc..) This became problematic for me because I would sometimes have two different types of blocks. Also, using the term manipulative didn’t help the kids, because it was too conceptual. Specificity became key, so I made more detailed labels. I laminated and used packaging tape to adhere them to the bins.
Don’t think I am going to leave you hanging. I hate re-inventing the wheel. I actually looked for toy labels that others had already made, but the only ones that really fit my needs, I had to purchase on Etsy. I am way to
cheapfrugal for that. Here are the ones that I made for our toys. These are what I would consider the most common categories, so hopefully they will meet your needs too!
- Weekly Rotation
Ok here is where the real work begins. The first thing that needs to be done in an inventory of toys. This gives you an idea of what you have, what you have duplicates of, any broken or toys with missing pieces, and it reminds you of some of those toys that your kids haven’t played with in a while. Because of our toy rotation, pretty much all of our toys get use every 6 weeks or so. It’s not that we have THAT many toys, but favorites get brought back sooner in the rotation. Once you have your inventory, you can group toys into categories. The following are the categories that I use with a few examples in each (I linked to some of our faves):
- Building Sets (Wooden blocks, legos, Lincoln logs, geometric builders, etc.)
- Dolls (Baby dolls, little people, puppets, stuffed animals, etc.)
- Dress Up (Play silks, hats, purses, tutus, etc.)
- Vehicles (Trains, wooden cars, vtech cars, wheelies, etc.)
- Dramatic Play (kitchen, tool bench, vet kit, doctor kit, felt food, tea set, etc.)
- Gross Motor Toys (Ride on toys, giant tonka truck, trampoline, balance beam, etc.)
- Sensory Bin** (Beans, rice, water beads, cotton balls, etc.)
**I keep the sensory bin in the kitchen, because….mess. You know what I mean!