You don’t want all of your child’s toys out, but you also don’t want to keep only a few toys out for too long. Why and why?
Have you noticed that when you put all of your child’s toys out they pick certain toys up, put them down, and then proceed to pick up other toys. And it’s repeated throughout the day, all day. They don’t have the opportunity to truly appreciate an activity or the purpose of a toy, and instead get distracted by the next toy they see nearby.
I used to do this as Mariam became more mobile. I would put toys out, mostly all packed into a bin, and she would do her routine gig of digging through the box, handling a toy for a moment then throwing it to the side. Yes, this would be considered exploration, but I was giving her too much to explore at one time. It was overwhelming. And yes, it may have entertained her for a moment, but she wasn’t given the opportunity to appreciate the texture or function of what I was laying out for her.
Just as you shouldn’t pour all of your child’s toys out at once, you also don’t want to set out only a select few for longer than a week or two. If you don’t change out the set of toys that you provide, your child will likely get bored, which then leads to the lack of stimulated senses and their curiosity not being fed properly.
If you’re curious as to how we rotate toys in our home, here are five tips that have worked for us that you may find will work for you and your family as well:
1. Observe the child
This is quite an important task for any parent, and an important principle taught by Montessori herself. To observe the child is to learn WHAT your child seems to be interested in, and what sparks their interest and curiosity. Our job as parents is to feed that curiosity and support their interests.
Does your child seem to currently be into animal books and sounds? Then you may want to set out some animal figurines and matching flash cards for your child to explore.
Does your child enjoy puzzles? Then set out a few for them to work on and master.
2. Not every toy has to be a toy
Don’t be fooled into thinking that you should ONLY set out actual toys.
Mariam is not a huge fan of toys to begin with. Her interests are geared toward exploring household items and mastering her fine motor skills with items from around our home. This is common for younger children who are allowed to explore safely around their home. They are naturally attracted to real and natural items.
Sometimes the best ‘toys’ to set out are things like bags with household items to explore or containers with matching lids to be sorted. A padlock and key are examples of items that support practical life work but are also fun to tinker with.
3. Develop a rotation schedule
A commonly followed rotation schedule is usually set at exchanging toys around every one to two weeks.
We rotate toys about every two weeks. This gives Mariam time to explore her toys and try any given activity multiple times. There are times though where I switch up her toys before the two weeks are up.
Because you only want to bring out a few toys/activities, you’ll want to make sure that you’re rotating them out frequently enough to keep the spark of curiosity lit for your child.
4. Do NOT be strict with your rotation schedule
You don’t have to be strict when setting a rotation schedule if you notice that your child is absolutely uninterested in any given activity (or if he or she is interested in something else).
There were times when a toy or activity was set out for Mariam that she would literally would never touch or she would throw the items around with no intention of trying the task. In these cases, I would rotate the toys during her nap time that particular day, or wait until the next day. The same goes for activities or skills I notice her wanting to master.
I would like to caution you NOT to rush and remove toys within the first few days of introducing it. Sometimes a child develops an interest after being exposed to a toy several times on different occasions AND at appropriate times (e.g. when the child is well-rested and fed).
5. Don’t be afraid to bring out repeat toys
You don’t need to buy too many toys to keep your child curious.
It’s actually a good thing to recycle the toys you already have and bring them back out weeks later. For example, if you bring out the stacking cups for these next two weeks, then plan to bring them out once again in the next few weeks (say, 4 weeks from now).
Bringing our previous toys gives your child an opportunity to apply newly learned skills to the toys that they are reintroduced to.
For Mariam, whenever I brought out her stacking blocks after a few rotations, I noticed that she would do different things with the blocks, testing her new skills with this particular toy.
Finally, do what feels right to you. You know what works for your family, so do what makes sense.
I am including a FREE rotation schedule template here to help you keep track of the toy rotations. Observe your child, take notes, and keep track of the toys you bring out and those that your child especially enjoys.
Let me know in the comments if you found these tips useful or if you plan to use the rotation schedule.