Play Time: The Benefit of Rotating Toys

31 Dec

Rotating toys and books provides children the opportunity to focus when they play. When the brain is focused it can better master the learning tasks at hand.

There are piles of research demonstrating how valuable play is to the developing brain. I found a particularly interesting study: A longitudinal study was conducted not too long ago that measured the complexity of children’s block play at age 4 and then tracked their academic performance through high school (Wolfgang, Stannard, & Jones, 2001).

Researchers found that the complexity of block play predicted a child’s mathematical achievements in high school. The children who used blocks in a more sophisticated manor as preschoolers had stronger math scores and took more math courses (including honors’ courses) as teenagers. We know that if a subject is interesting and stimulating our brains will want more of it.

More interestingly, the association between block play and math performance remained even after researchers controlled for a child’s IQ. This tells me that block play in itself influenced the cognitive development of these children. Whether it be that it helps the brain understand the foundation under math or it sparked an enjoyment of math, what matters is the end result.

If we rotate toys and books, the brain is given the opportunity to engage fully in what is available without being over stimulated.  A playroom filled with toys can cause over stimulation and “scattered play”.  Unfortunately, scattered play kills the opportunity for the brain to successfully master a concept or skill.  The brain may learn about the concept, but the concept will not be mastered.

What is a Parent to DO?

These are merely ideas pulled from what I did with my boys when they were younger.  Hopefully something resonates with you and is useful.


1) It helps to keep a small book shelf in your child’s room for his/her favorite book selections. These books stay in your child’s room and are great for easy access during bedtime.

2) All remaining books can be organized by theme.  For example books related to spring can be put in a see through container labeled Spring. Within that theme you may want to group the books according to subject: bugs, rain, beach, etc…

3) You will need 1 canvas tote for rotating your books. During Spring use the books in your “Spring” collection.  Maybe the first week the bin will have books related to bugs, the second week the bin will contain books related to rainbows, etc…


1) Think of your toys as objects that your children need to learn from.  Your play area will have 3 categories/themes in addition to 1-2 larger play items.  If your child is under 12months of age he/she more than likely does not yet have a play kitchen or train table. For this age group keep their toy groupings at around 3. Group your toys into the following categories: drama & make believe, building & constructing, puzzles, music & instruments, games.  

2) Every 2 weeks set-up your play area so that 3 groupings/categories are available for play.  Try to coordinate the play with what is happening in your child’s real world.  For example: when Spring is approaching think bugs, gardening, baby animals, etc… Items that are available for play will be placed in canvas bins.  This makes clean-up really easy!  Children can make a complete mess, but when it is time to clean-up it is easy for them to place the items back into the bins where they came from.  Easy Peazzy!! 

3) Larger play items like kitchens or train tables simply remain.  However you can change which items go with the large toy.  For example for two weeks the train table maybe used for the train, the next 2 weeks it is for lego, the next 2 weeks for playmobile.  The kitchen during one week can be used as a restaurant, the next 2 weeks as a store, maybe even Mrs. Clause’s kitchen during Christmas. You will merely switch-up the smaller items that go with the larger item.  If you enjoy costumes, you can have costumes for all the different themes and fun accessories.  When the kitchen is a restaurant you can make menus with your children and pretend money.  The possibilities are endless.

4) Items that are not in use can be stored in labeled bins.  Choose stackable bins that can be placed in a closet or against a wall and covered. I have to admit that our basement contained two shelving units of stacked bins.  Before a play date I would ask my boys which toys they would like to bring out.  We would have a blast looking through the bins and picking out special play items.


Arts and crafts are so important, it is ideal to have your child do something artsy once a day.  To keep it interesting for your child’ developing brain you will need to rotate the art offerings every week.  For example week 1 could be all about ripping and gluing.  Day 1 you could give your child several magazine pages to rip, Day 2  your child can glue the pieces onto paper, the following day you could have your child circle or paint over everything that is blue on their collage, etc… During week 2 we will not do any ripping, maybe we will focus on crayons.  The art station will only have crayons, paper, and coloring books.

Most importantly join in on the fun for at least 30-60 minutes a day. 

If you rotate toys how do you do it?  Was it helpful or a lot of work? Did you see improvement in your child’s ability to play independently? We want to know!!


9 Responses to “Play Time: The Benefit of Rotating Toys”

  1. Katie January 1, 2012 at 9:25 pm #

    We rotate our kids’ toys, but definitely not as often as you are suggesting. They are rotated approximately every 8-12 weeks. My children (2 & 5) become very argumentative if they see toys leaving, so the exchanges are done while they are out of the house. Toys are carried down from the attic while others take their place. When they come home for the day, they are always hugely excited to see “new” toys, which are those from the attic. They don’t usually end up missing the toys that have been put away. Sometimes they ask for specific toys that have been put away but can be redirected.

    Nothing is categorized into themes.

    Books of all topics are available at all times, excluding Christmas.

    The benefit I have found to the toy exchanges is an ongoing “refresh” of old toys. The exchange time is also a great time to reevaluate existing toys and donate or recycle.

    • Nichole Menard January 1, 2012 at 9:44 pm #

      Thank-you for sharing Katie. Love that you use the rotation to reevaluate existing toys.

  2. Ti January 3, 2012 at 4:06 pm #

    We have always rotated toys. A “full rotation” happens about once per month when kids are asleep and may even involve moving furniture. Moving the bookcase from one corner to another with a fluffy blanket, chair or pillow close by can suddenly stimulate a renewed interest in books. “Partial rotations” happen on a much more regular basis. The play table will have puzzles one day, a container of brightly coloured milk caps the next and sorting toy the day after. I am always saddened to see “playrooms” full of beautiful but unused toys as the pieces are everywhere or lost. Our kids aren’t born knowing how to play with every kind of toy and with every ounce of imagination that we confer to them. It is much easier to learn in a simpler environment. Thanks for the great article!

    • Nichole Menard January 3, 2012 at 4:16 pm #

      Thank-you for sharing! Moving furniture is a fantastic idea, we had a playtable too. I loved switching-up the toys on my boy’s table. Kinda like Christmas every morning, running to the playroom to see what adventure awaits. Sounds like you are having fun! 🙂

  3. Jenny January 7, 2013 at 8:02 pm #

    One of the best articles I’ve seen on toy rotation – thanks for the great tips!

  4. kay January 16, 2014 at 1:46 pm #

    Thank you for this article.
    I will probably adjust to my family (1.5 and 6 yr boys) as we go, but this is a wonderful starting point that makes a lot of sense.

  5. timchen263 December 30, 2014 at 7:57 am #

    Great tips on toys sorting, I need to get organize for my kid’s toys.

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