An effective toy rotation can help manage the chaos and clutter of modern play spaces. But the real benefit is the impact it can have on your child. It is well documented that fewer toys can increase concentration, focus and learning. And the number may be lower than you think. A study published by researchers at the University of Toledo in Ohio suggests “an abundance of toys present reduced quality of toddlers’ play.” And it suggests the golden number may be in the single digits as, “there was a significant difference in the quality of toddlers’ play between the two toy conditions…toddlers had a greater quality of play in the Four Toy condition compared to the Sixteen Toy condition." Simply put, fewer toys on display led to longer and better play.
In addition to this recent research, the concept of a prepared environment has been used for decades in the Montessori classroom and as a cornerstone of Simplicity Parenting. The Six Principles of the Montessori Prepared Environment outline how the child’s environment might best facilitate independent learning and play. The core themes include freedom, structure and order, beauty, nature & reality, social environment and intellectual environment. The first two principles of freedom (of choice and movement) and structure and order can be supported with a well functioning toy exchange. Below outlines five tips to consider as you plan a toy exchange for your child.
1. Start with observation
The best way to identify the work your child is most interested in is through observation. Watching your child and seeing what they gravitate towards and what skills they are actively practicing can help you identify what items you want to leave in the space. If your child is not engaging with the toys at all or only interested in destructive behavior that is a good sign it is time to put something new out. In addition, observe how your child is interacting with their environment and if they find specific areas of the home to bring their toys and work. This can influence where you set up your toys and what to include.
2. Consider number of toys
Based on the above cited research, consider keeping the toys on display to a maximum of 10 at any given time. This will help your child focus and engage in deeply creative work with each item.
3. Consider type of toys
Also consider having a variety of types of items (preferably with a healthy dose of passive toys that require the child to actively engage) to encourage diverse learning and play. As always consider what is most developmentally and age-appropriate for your child in the moment.
4. Consider length of rotation
The length of the rotation can vary from family to family and might be as short as a few days to as long as a few weeks! Consider starting by rotating once a week and observe how your child’s interest and play changes throughout the week. And if your child is spending all of their time in the home due to the coronavirus pandemic or homeschooling, consider rotating more frequently or setting up two play spaces in your home. Also ensure that the toys that are rotated out are completely out of sight and reach to ensure focus is kept on what is available. Which brings us to our final tip.
5. Adapt based on your child
Guidelines and suggestions are great but nobody knows your child as well as you! Observe how your child responds, plays and engages with the toys on display over time and adapt to what works best for you!
A toy rotation has the ability to impact your child’s play and learning AND your home’s aesthetic and mood. A well ordered, clutter-free environment can be good for all members of your home and a simple way to facilitate deep concentration and focus for your child.
Consider the environment for your toys on display and consider an open shelf or set of baskets for easy, independent access to toys. Check out this article on the benefits of a Montessori shelf.
Consider keeping each toy in an individual basket or tray so your child can move their “work” to whatever spot in the home they feel most comfortable.
Consider displaying toys in their “undone” state to invite the child to finish the work. More on the power of “undone” here.
As an added benefit, consider if there is a nearby family you could create a toy rotation/exchange with so while your toys are in “storage” they can remain in use by a neighboring family!