Taming the Toys - Ashley England
First things First….
Open- Ended Toys: Toys that can be used in a variety of ways depending on your child, the day, and their
“Open-ended toys result in open-ended play. This type of play can evolve over time while also encouraging
children to create and problem-solve as they explore the world around them.” Colleen Smith
Closed toys: Toys that have a clear ending point. Once all of completed, your child is finished and moves on to
the next activity.
Consumables: Toys that are used up and then recycled.
MINIMALISM OR ROTATION?
“As you decrease the quantity of your child’s toys and clutter, you increase their attention and their capacity
for deep play.”
Kim Payne, author of Simplicity Parenting
Rotation: Children have access to a small selection of to play with. At regular intervals, you’ll swap the
current toys for and the ones you stored away.
Minimalism: Refine toys to ‘tried and true’ favorites, keeping only those that are regularly played with and
enjoyed, with an emphasis on consumables and open-ended toys.
Fun fact: the average 10-year-old owns 238 toys but plays with just 12 on a daily basis.
• Inventiveness and imagination blooms
• Clean up time is easier and less intimidating for littles and for you
• Fewer toys out means more and deeper engagement in play
• Provides opportunities for everyday objects to be reinvented and turned into toys
• Avoid overstimulation and overwhelm
• Children better learn to play on their own with less engagement from you.
• Toys will be used in new, more creative ways
• Teaches independence
• You are better prepared for birthdays and holidays
Before you begin…
• Spend some time watching your kids play.
• Observe what they play with, dump and go items, toys that annoy you endlessly.
• Arrange for a day with them out of the house.
• Pre-game with plenty of coffee and chocolate!
• Set your limits
• Divide and conquer!
The easiest way to organize stuff is to get rid of most of it.
Step 1: Gather
Pull all the toys into one room or area.
Step 2: Decide
• Decide what to keep and what to discard.
o Is it broken?
o Are parts missing?
o Does it eat batteries?
o Does it need your intervention on a regular basis?
o Does it drive you crazy?
• What can be left out on permanent exhibition?
o Think favorite, every day items they never play without.
• What is my space limit?
o What is my maximum capacity?
Step 3: Divide
Divide all the “rotating” toys into a few main categories:
• Thinking Toys: target cognitive development and fine motor development
Shape sorters, puzzles, board games,
• Moving Toys: target gross motor movements
Balls, swings, ride-on toys, tricycles, sports equipment and climbing toys
• Building Toys: target fine motor skills
Stacking blocks, nesting cups, Legos, Duplos, Lincoln logs, magnatiles
• Pretending Toys: target social/emotional development and language development
Dress up clothes, dolls, puppets, stuffed animals, cars
Step 4: Disperse
• Make 2-4 groups with in each category, depending on the number of rotations you want.
• Disperse into your boxes, being sure to put one group of every category in them. These are your ‘sets’
of toys to rotate.
Try to make each group equally engaging with a variety of toy options. This step will show you
were there is lack or excess so don’t forget to jot down your insights.
• Number the boxes to make rotation easy, and jot down a quick description of what’s in each box for
Step 4: Display
• Display the toys from the left out box in your child’s play area so he can see what’s available. Try to
make welcoming and easily accessible, using baskets and or shelves.
• If they ask about some of the other toys you’ve stored away, simply tell them those toys are on vacation and will be back soon.
• Add any interest with artwork and books.
• You do NOT need a playroom. Integrate their toys with your everyday living areas.
Step 6: Rotate
• Rotate toys as needed, based on your child’s interest level. Use rotations as a time to weed out broken,
outgrown, or unused toys.
• Additional rotation ideas:
• Create seasonal boxes with toys specific to the season.
Example: summer boxes may contain water toys, exploring toys for backyard hikes and sandbox
• Create special holiday boxes, like Christmas and Easter.
Example: Christmas may include nativity toys, advent calendar kits, mini Christmas trees, or
holiday-themed craft supplies.
• Create a book rotation.
Divide books by theme, season, or holiday making sure to include a few favorite characters in
each box. Keep out the old standby books out all the time.
Slow the Toy Onslaught
• Ask for memberships from Christmas and birthdays.
Zoo, children’s museum, Houston Museum Natural Science
• Consider giving experiences and consumables over new toys
Sports lessons, movies, outings to Monkey Joe’s or Giggles ’N Fun, magazine subscriptions
• Think outside the box
Garden tools, insect nets, magnifying glasses, science activities, bird feeders, pollinator gardens
• Avoid Knick-Knacky Toys
Trade Chick-Fil-A toys for an ice cream
Decline or donate ’prizes’ to a teacher in public school
Limit these type of toys to a small ‘treasure’ box
Other Helpful Hacks
• Find friends with similar aged kids and make a rotation co-op
• Provide age-appropriate access to art supplies and other consumables
• Get a splat mat and trays for messy things.
• Only keep books you love to read aloud.
• Create art albums for artwork.
• Use corkboards or display frames for artwork.
• Don’t be afraid to set limits and enforce “First in, first out” or “Only favorites”
• Have boundaries for ‘creations’, ie: play with the box until recycling day
Toys for Young Infants, Birth through 6 Months
Babies like to look at people—following them with their eyes. Typically, they prefer faces and bright colors.
Babies can reach, be fascinated with what their hands and feet can do, lift their heads, turn their heads toward
sounds, put things in their mouths, and much more.
• Things they can reach for, hold, suck on, shake, make noise with—rattles, large rings, squeeze toys,
teething toys, soft dolls, textured balls, and vinyl and board books
• Things to listen to—books with nursery rhymes and poems, and recordings of lullabies and simple
• Things to look at—pictures of faces hung so baby can see them and unbreakable mirrors
Toys for Older Infants, 7 Months Through 1 Year
Older babies are movers—typically they go from rolling over and sitting, to scooting, bouncing, creeping,
pulling themselves up, and standing. They understand their own names and other common words, can identify
body parts, find hidden objects, and put things in and out of containers.
• Things to play pretend with: baby dolls, puppets, plastic and wood vehicles with wheels, water toys.
• Things to drop and take out: plastic bowls, large beads, balls, and nesting toys
• Things to build with: large soft blocks and wooden cubes
• Things to use their large muscles with: large balls, push and pull toys, and low, soft things to crawl over
Toys for 1 Year Olds
On year olds are on the go! Typically they can walk steadily and even climb stairs. They enjoy stories, say their
first words, and can play next to other children (but not yet with!). They like to experiment—but need adults to
keep them safe.
• Board books with simple illustrations or photographs of real objects
• Recordings with songs, rhymes, simple stories, and pictures
• Things to create with: wide non-toxic, washable markers, crayons, and large paper
• Things to pretend with: toy phones, dolls and doll beds, baby carriages and strollers, dress-up
accessories (scarves, purses), puppets, stuffed toys, plastic animals, and plastic and wood “realistic”
• Things to build with: cardboard and wood blocks (can be smaller than those used by infants—2 to 4
• Things for using their large and small muscles: puzzles, large pegboards, toys with parts that do things
(dials, switches, knobs, lids), and large and small balls
Toys for 2 Year Olds
Toddlers are rapidly learning language and have some sense of danger. Nevertheless they do a lot of physical
“testing”: jumping from heights, climbing, hanging by their arms, rolling, and rough-and-tumble play. They
have good control of their hands and fingers and like to do things with small objects.
• Things for solving problems: wood puzzles (with 4 to 12 pieces), blocks that snap together, objects to
sort (by size, shape, color, smell), and things with hooks,
buttons, buckles, and snaps
• Picture books with more details than books for younger children
• A variety of music
• Things for pretending and building: blocks, smaller (and sturdy) transportation toys, construction sets,
child-sized furniture (kitchen sets, chairs, play food), dress-up clothes, dolls with accessories, puppets,
and sand and water play toys
• Things to create with: large non-toxic, washable crayons and markers, large paintbrushes and
fingerpaint, large paper for drawing and painting, colored construction paper, toddler-sized scissors
with blunt tips, chalkboard and large chalk, and rhythm instruments
• Picture books with more details than books for younger children
• Things for using their large and small muscles: large and small balls for kicking and throwing, ride-on
equipment (but probably not tricycles until children are 3), tunnels, low climbers with soft material
underneath, and pounding and hammering toys
Toys for 3- to 6 Year Olds
Preschoolers and kindergartners have longer attention spans than toddlers. Typically, they talk a lot and ask a
lot of questions. They like to experiment with things and with their still-emerging physical skills. They like to
play with friends—and don’t like to lose! They can take turns—and sharing one toy by two or more children is
often possible for older preschoolers and kindergarteners.
• Things for solving problems: puzzles (with 12 to 20+ pieces), blocks that snap together, collections and
other smaller objects to sort by length, width, height, shape, color, smell, quantity, and other
features—collections of plastic bottle caps, plastic bowls and lids, keys, shells, counting bears, small
• Things for pretending and building: many blocks for building complex structures, transportation toys,
construction sets, child-sized furniture (“apartment” sets, play food), dress-up clothes, dolls with
accessories, puppets and simple puppet theaters, and sand and water play toys
• Things to create with: large and small crayons and markers, large and small paintbrushes and
fingerpaint, large and small paper for drawing and painting, colored construction paper, preschoolersized scissors, chalkboard and large and small chalk, modeling clay and playdough, modeling tools,
paste, paper and cloth scraps for collage, and instruments—rhythm instruments and keyboards,
xylophones, maracas, and tambourines.
• If a child has access to a computer: programs that are interactive (the child can do something) and that
children can understand (the software uses graphics and spoken instruction, not just print), children
can control the software’s pace and path, and children have opportunities to explore a variety of
concepts on several levels
• Picture books with even more words and more detailed pictures than toddler books, beginning chapter
• Things for using their large and small muscles: large and small balls for kicking and throwing/catching,
ride-on equipment including tricycles, tunnels, taller climbers with soft material underneath, wagons
and wheelbarrows, plastic bats and balls, plastic bowling pins, targets and things to throw at them, and
a workbench with a vise, hammer, nails, and saw
For Further Information
• 50+ Open-Ended Toys That Will Keep Your Kids Busy for Hours
• Organizing Playroom
• Artful Parent’s Open-Ended Toys:
• Today Show’s Best Gifts by age:
• Play at Different Ages & Development Stages
• Choosing the Right Toys for the Right Age
• Open Ended Toys for Pretend Play
The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC)
Happy You, Happy Family