How to Host a Birthday Party Toy Swap

How to Host a Birthday Party Toy Swap

By Jen Nordhem, a long-time Tiny Earth Toys customer ❤️

I love birthdays. Celebrating our children by showing them how loved and supported they are by their family and friends is priceless. My least favorite part of it though, is all the time, money, energy, and waste around gifting. Driving to a store, buying a gift, wrapping a gift - all while we have so many toys unused in our own homes. However, gifting teaches critical social skills of gratitude and generosity. So how can we keep the good while omitting the less favorable elements? 

For the last two birthdays for my boys (ages 1 and 3), I’ve hosted a Birthday Party Toy Swap instead of asking for gifts. And honestly, they didn’t miss the traditional gifts.

Why Host A Birthday Toy Swap

For the guests:

Each kid goes home with a new toy. No shopping. No wrapping. Just put an old toy in a shopping bag and show up.

For me:

No shopping for party favors. No wrapping paper clean-up. We get rid of a couple toys that are no longer in use. Less toy clutter from too many gifts.

For my kids:

Birthday kid gets the first pick from the toy swap table. They get to see their old toys go to a friend. Less overstimulation from too many toys in the following days.

For the planet:

Avoid wasted wrapping paper, party favors that end up in the trash, and over consumption.

Everyone wins.

How to Communicate About A Toy Swap

On The Invite:

Please, no gifts. Instead, we are hosting a toy swap! Here's how it works:

  • Bring 2-3 gently used toys (not new toys)
    • 2-3 seems like a good number for variety, but you’re welcome to adjust as you’d like.
    • We have seen a few new toys at our birthday party toy swaps. Emphasizing that you don’t want new toys gives them permission to skip the store.
  • Age appropriate for [insert child’s age]
    • I like to offer a range, this can also reflect the ages of your guests' children.
  • Bring a toy, take a toy (if you don’t want a toy, don’t bring one)
    • Gifting is very socially ingrained, and I’ve found some guests will bring a toy and then say “no, thank you” to taking one. This means you end up with a LOT of toys, which is an anti-goal. Your guests are also likely feeling overwhelmed by their toy clutter and child’s gimme gimmes! So give them an opportunity to opt-out.
  • Bring them in an opaque bag
    • This helps to conceal the contents and not distract the kids from the party activities.
  • Do not wrap the toys
    • So that when it’s time for the Toy Swap, each child can easily see and pick. 
    • It also reduces waste and saves your guests time.
  • Before departures, we will pull numbers. Birthday kid goes first.
    • This is optional. I’ve done it with and without picking numbers. For larger parties, having numbers can create order. I’ve written numbers on pieces of paper and put them in a cookie jar, asked each person to take one, then started from number 2 (number 1 is for the birthday kid). For smaller parties, you can ditch the numbers and opt to take turns instead. 

On The Toy Swap Table At the Party:

Have a table set up in an area that isn’t heavily trafficked, like a garage or bedroom. When it’s time for the swap, either bring out the table, or move to the new location.

You can place a sign on the table to help parents prepare:

Birthday Party Toy Swap

    1. Drop your toys here (keep them hidden in the bag)
    2. Pick a number 
    3. Listen for your number around [time 15m before party ends]. As the host, you may want to set yourself a reminder alarm for this.
    4. When it’s your turn, pick your toys! (If you brought 2, take 2. If you brought 3, take 3.)

Potential Agenda

If you’re hosting a party for a 3 year old from 10-1pm, here’s how your party could flow:

  • 10:00am - Arrivals & Toy Swap drop off 
  • 10:30am - 11:30am - Play time & activities 
  • 11:45am - Lunch  
  • 12:15pm - Cake 
  • 12:45pm - Toy Swap & departures

Reactions to Birthday Toy Swaps

In the end, feedback from other parents around the toy swap has been very positive, and the kids seem to love taking a new toy home! We are going to continue this tradition for future birthdays as a way to teach our kids about sustainability, sharing, and gratitude. I hope you have an opportunity to give it a try too.