Toy Rotation: The Best Way To Manage A Mess

We’ve all been there – you step into the children’s bedroom or playroom at the end of the day and there are toys everywhere. Meanwhile, the kids have been underfoot all day complaining that they’re bored, and now you’re feeling frustrated because you have to clean it all up. As it turns out, though, the number of toys might be the problem, and you can get the mess under control by introducing a toy rotation.

A toy rotation is a simple way of organizing your children’s toys that limits the number of items available at any given time. In addition to minimizing the potential mess, toy rotations can offer your children these 3 advantages:

Focus, Not Frustration

If an overwhelming number of toys, and the subsequent mess, makes you feel frustrated as a parent, imagine how it makes a young child with limited decision-making abilities feel. Presented with so many options, children tend to move from toy to toy without ever really focusing or engaging with any of them. Even ten year old children play with, on average, ten out of 238 toys, and those ten are usually stable favorites. The rest sit idle.

By instituting a toy rotation, in which children have access to just 10-12 toys at any given time, children are encouraged to focus on their toys, use their imagination, and really play. Many parents recall having deep relationships with a few special toys – a doll, action figures, a play kitchen – and don’t see that reflected in their children, but by introducing a toy rotation, this kind of deep play becomes more common.

The Joy Of Mastery

Just as the mess associated with having toys all over the floor leaves parents feeling frustrated, children feel frustrated when they don’t know how to manipulate their toys well. This is especially true of young children, but even older kids can become angry if they can’t get make something work as intended. By limiting the number of toys children have access to, though, children have the opportunity to develop mastery over their possessions. For little kids, this can be something as fundamental as learning to stack blocks or assemble a puzzle, but it also includes feeling a sense of control and possession over those items that can encourage children to actually put their toys away.

Developing Appreciation

Many families that practice toy rotation use the process of sorting and pairing toys to purge outgrown and broken items, donate toys their kids never play with, and generally thin out the piles of stuff on the shelves and in the closets – but ideally you shouldn’t be doing this alone. By including your children in the selection process and working with your children to select items to donate or give to friends, you also have the opportunity to counter the rampant materialism of today’s society. Children absorb a lot of messages about the importance of having the newest and best toys and clothes, but not very many about inequality and sharing what we have with others – and that’s where your influence is important.

Implementing a toy rotation can bring some order to your home, but what’s most beneficial about this practice is that it encourages children to learn to play. We rarely think of play as a skill, but when kids don’t know how to entertain themselves and create independently, it’s a real impairment. Give them room to play, to learn, and grow.

Photo by Markus Spiske

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