It’s such a simple idea: keep a few toys back and switch them around occasionally. You don’t have everything out at once, and your child doesn’t get bored playing with the same things all the time. Rotating their stuff can also help them develop some pretty sophisticated and nuanced skills, like patience, perseverance and yes, even being tidy.
When you have all the toys available and accessible at all times, everything gets dumped out onto the floor, creating a mess. Children can find this state unsettling and have trouble focusing on their play. They bounce around from one thing to another, bamboozled by choice and unable to stay with one toy for very long. They don’t get to practise doing an activity for any length of time as their attention is diverted to whatever has just caught their eye. The task of clearing up at the end of the day is gargantuan, and they aren’t interested in helping.
So how do you do it?
Any toy rotation is good. If you have cars one day and put out a different set the next, the second set (if they haven’t been seen for a while) will be played with as if they were new. But even better than a second set of cars is something completely different. The trick is to think in terms of different types of toys, for example construction toys or small world toys, mark-making or threading. Your aim is to cover a variety of toys by the time your rotation brings you back to the start.
How often do you rotate?
You can rotate daily or weekly or even fortnightly. Leave the toys out for long enough that your child has the opportunity to explore their play possibilities fully, but not so long that boredom sets in. Some toys merit longer stints than others. For example, a small world scene may provide days of fun, but threading materials may get stale by the afternoon.
How many toys at at time?
The best way is to present all new toys in one go, rather than just subbing one or two. You may have a 2 x 2 bookcase, holding four baskets of toys. It is more effective to replace all four baskets at the same time. If you keep all your child’s toys in these baskets, you can easily swap new for old. Rotated toys that are now unwanted can go into the wardrobe until it is their turn again.
If you are rotating four baskets at a time, try to offer four sets of toys that work well together, such as blocks, nested boxes, figures and vehicles. Four baskets of figures don't offer any variety and boredom soon sets in. But pair toys with complementary ones and the play possibilities multiply exponentially.
What’s this about being tidy?
When there is a smaller, more manageable amount of toys available, children don’t feel overwhelmed by the job of tidying up. Incorporate games and songs to the tidy up part of the day and they will enjoy this as much as the play.
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