The magic of toy rotation and open toy display. Watch as your children play longer with fewer toys!
Organization,  Toys

The Magic of Toy Rotation and Open Toy Display

Have you ever found that your children seem to be overwhelmed, bored, or uninterested in the toys at home?  Have you thought maybe it was time to get some new toys to peak their interest again?

This was me as a new mom with my first. At the time my son was a toddling near-one-year-old and his toys were kept in a large basket in our living room, he always appeared so uninterested in the toys stored in that basket.

My original open toy display.
Don’t you love the over used Instagram filters?! This was circa 2014

Even when I would buy a new toy, the interaction would only last so long before he seemed bored again. It wasn’t much later that I came across Montessori principles and ideas and most notably the method of presenting work to children. In every blog, pin, or Instagram post I saw, toys and activities were displayed outwardly on a shelf, one activity per space. The toys presented to the children were simple, open-ended, and limited in number. And yet the children were always so engaged!

I was astounded! The idea that less could mean more in the realm of toys was a true eye opener for me. I immediately decided to implement these ideas in the best way I could in our home. I didn’t have money for the pretty shelves so I made do with a small bookshelf we had on hand.

small child playing with toy on play car mat

I discovered that when the toys were presented in such an open manner, he was no longer overwhelmed by the large basket of toys. The fewer options he had available the more in-depth he played with each toy.

Children tend to become overwhelmed, avoid their toys, and actually play less when they are presented with a large number of toys in bins and boxes. 

This method of open toy storage and presentation, instead, creates a peaceful, less cluttered look and feel to play spaces. When not bogged down by clutter, children play more and for longer.

Open display with Toy Rotation

Keeping toy presentation simple and limited was easy when my oldest was a new toddler, but before long more birthdays and hoildays passed and his toy collection outgrew our little bookshelf.

Rather than get rid of toys or purchase more shelves (thus creating more toys in his tiny space), I started storing away some of the toys and only putting out for play, a few at a time.

When I found him appearing uninterested in his “out for play” toys, I would move a few “new” (had been stored away) toys out and put others back into storage.

This method of toy rotation has continued over the years and became even more essential when baby number two came because more babies meant more toys!

Even when we moved to a larger home, with a dedicated playroom, we still use toy rotation to keep the number of toys limited.

Tips for Setting Up Open Toy Display in Your Home

If you are looking for a change and are wanting to try open display here are some tips:

Dedicate a Place For Toys and a Shelf for Toy Display

Whether this is a full-on playroom or a corner of the family room, dedicate a space where your children can expect their toys to be found. In this space, I would recommend a shelf of some sort to place the toys on.

The shelf doesn’t have to be expensive or social media-pretty, it just needs to be low enough for your children to reach and provide a place to present their toys.

shelf of toys in playroom

Help your children get used to their toys being in this new home. They will learn this is where they can find their toys and (eventually) they will learn this is where they go when they are finished playing.

Consider Using Baskets to Cleanly Present Toys with Multiple Pieces

Toys such as Legos, blocks, and magnetic tiles can create a challenge when using open toy display. To keep these smaller bits together, I recommend using baskets or low bins. They provide the perfect home for all those tiny pieces.

Wooden baskets are easily purchasable at any local Goodwill and provide a natural, peaceful look to a room. Both cloth and plastic bins are easily purchased at any major box store and most affordably at the Dollar Tree.

Toy shelf in playroom

Try to limit the toys in the baskets/bins to only one type of toy per basket. For instance only a few wooden blocks in one basket and peg people in another.

As your children grow and become acclimated to this style of toy display, you will find them becoming more involved in clean up. The baskets and shelf helps them know where to put toys when playtime is finished.

Determine Toys for Each Shelf

True Montessori principles recommend one toy/activity per shelf. In the beginning, this wasn’t reasonable for me and my little three shelf bookshelf, so I opted for 2-3 toys and I separated them into baskets.

Don’t get too hung up on the “have tos” of the process, instead find what works for you. Just remember the goal is present your child with fewer options so try not to overload your shelf.

collage of playroom set up

I like to put out a mix of items in baskets and single items. So my shelf might include a basket of Magnatiles, then a garbage truck. Another shelf might have a baby doll and a basket of baby accessories. The goal is to keep the activities per shelf limited so they are easily identifiable and accessible.

I rocked our little shelf and Dollar Tree baskets for well over a year and it worked wonderfully. It wasn’t until we moved into our new home in 2016, we were able to dedicate a full room to a playroom. At that time we decided to go ahead and purchase new shelves from Ikea, but remember purchasing new shelves is not necessary. Make what you have work for you!

Maintain Interest by Creating Imaginative Spaces

This isn’t an exact tip for open toy display but it is one that has helped encourange the deeper degree of imaginative play. One of the things my kids love so much is to play kitchen, restaurant, grocery store or any pretend play that involves their kitchen and food.

Ikea wooden play kitchen set up for play

Seeing how much they loved it, I decided to arrange their playroom to include the kitchen and a small storage shelf by one another. The kitchen was met by this shelf, creating the illusion of a counter.

small boy and girl playing at their pretend kitchen

They loved it! In fact they still do and this is how the kitchen has been set up since. Now I move it around the playroom every so often but these two pieces are always together to create a pretend world for them.

Don’t be afraid to create new spaces for the kids by moving things around, using playmats, or grouping toys together to create a scene or story.

Melissa and doug play barn set up

Rotate Toys Every 1-2 Weeks

Back to this concept of toy rotation. Now, I know what you are thinking… Why? Who has the time? What’s the point? Well, let me tell you.

When it comes to toys, I find that my children play for longer and with more excitement when they are offered fewer toys rather than loads of toys. It seems when there are bins and bins of toys, they aren’t able to decide what to play with first. So instead of participating in the deeper, more imaginative play, they are just hopping from bin to bin trying to take it all in. Eventually, they walk away overwhelmed and having played with hardly anything.

It is important to me that they were active in play times. This is where most of a child’s development occurs so I wanted to encourage that deeper, more imaginative play. I knew to limit the number of toys “out” was the answer to creating a more productive play time.

Playroom toy organization

Rotating toys doesn’t mean you will be swapping toys every day or even doing a complete swap every week. It may simply mean bringing down 1-2 new toys and removing 1-2 “old” toys.

I like to bring in a few “new” toys every other week or when I see the kids starting to seem uninterested in what is currently out. In some cases, it has been nearly a month before new toys are brought down.

Storing the out-of-play toys can be a tricking to-do, especially when space is limited. In our home, we use a shelf in the closet of our daughter’s room. At this point most all of her clothing is housed in a dresser in her room, so space was available.

Storing Toys Not Being Used

To store the toys, I have them in plastic pull out drawer sets. These drawers are labeled and when I rotate toys, I pull out new toys and place the old toys back in the drawers. Rotating the toys is as easy as bringing a few items upstairs and taking a few replacements downstairs in their place.

Toy storage and rotation using plastic drawers for storage

Whatever storage system you decide to use, just remember to keep the stored toys out of the main play areas. This will help decrease the chances of little hands finding them and doing their own toy rotation.

Toy rotation

Do you find yourself wanting to give this system a try but feel like your house is drowning in toys? If yes, then you should give my Easy One Day Toy Purge a read. This will help you minimize and organize your toys and implementing open toy display and rotation will be an easy transition.

I hope this guide is helpful in managing the toy clutter in your home. If you set up any new spaces share a picture below! I would love to see your play spaces!

10 Comments

    • Justina

      Thank you! It amazes me every time how much deeper my kids play when I bring out toys from storage. Let me know how it works for you guys!

  • Darcey

    I’ve just done something like this for my daughter’s toys. It’s made a big difference to have things more organized. I still need to put some more toys away, but I’ve organized everything in small bins or left in the open and that way she can see everything and it’s not overwhelming. I’ve noticed that she isn’t so bored and there’s been a difference in her play. Even moving toys in different parts of the house makes a difference. It’s like having a whole new toy. Thank you for sharing.

  • Mary | This Indulgent Life

    We somewhat do this, but we don’t have much space living in Hong Kong homes so we do have a basket lol. He typically dumps it out to get what he wants. The couple shelves we do have store his books. I wonder what Montessori would do if you live in a really small place…?

    • Justina

      Using a basket is wonderful. For our home the problem became that the basket was much too big for my son to navigate on his own. Truthfully it was more of a toy box. The wonderful thing about Montessori is you can absolutely make it work with whatever size space you have! The general idea is to make toys/activities easily accessible and available to the children. In a way that would enable them to interact with them without any need for adult help (such as getting them off the shelves). You might try setting up an activity or two on the floor, each in their own basket, and see how he responds.

  • Asia

    Thank you for this. I have a 3 year old and 9 month old girl. I know once the baby is older they will play so I don’t want to throw too much away but at the same time the amount of toys my 3 year old has is completely overwhelming. Great informative post!

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