Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Toy Rotations

I was on a quest to help our chaotic environment of toys everywhere. I kept on looking for ways to make playing with toys more engaging, and more meaningful for my kids.  I also wanted to teach the kids to be responsible for their toys, work together, and clean-up.
The past few weeks I have been learning about Toy Rotations.  Here is one of the most useful sites: http://intelligentnest.com/2012/10/11/toy-rotation-step-by-step-guide/
I have also learned a lot from my new job as a Spanish teacher at Language Stars.  They keep a great organizational system that allows many teachers to find, use, and store many items.  Without the system, the whole place would be a mess, and teachers will never be able to find any materials.

I decided to give toy rotations a try:

1. Kids really get to enjoy their toys a few at a time.
2. Gives them the opportunity to learn to share
3. Gives them a chance to use their imagination
4. Keeps the house a little cleaner/ easier to clean, which gives me more time to actually play with them
5. It helps them develop their attention span.
6. It helps me realized that my kids, who I always thought didn't have many toys, actually do have more than plenty. Now I have a list of specific items I want to purchased instead of just walking in stores and buying things that were appealing to them on the spot (but very likely to be forgotten in a day), or things that are on sale that they really don't need.  I look at my categories, and the space that I have and I stick to them!
7. Finally, it helps me de-clutter my home!  If I take an specific toy from a rotation and they don't have any interest in it, even after I show it to them, I know that they have outgrown it and it needs to be going to another home.

1. Once in a while the kids will want a toy that is not out. (It is o.k. to tell them that they will get "it" later.  It is teaching them to wait, and appreciate what they have)
2. It takes a lot of work to get the rotations ready! Specially if you are like me and try to add a variety of activities while keeping a bit of a topic! (Once it is done... there is no need to do it again.  I can always adjust a bit on my master list.)

We are on our third rotation of toys and I can't believe I didn't do this sooner.  My kids and I are having a great time exploring their toys and creating new ways to enjoy them.

Since our home has a china closet in the living room and we do not own fancy china. I decided to make it our "toy closet".   Having that extra space was perfect.  Here is the picture of the closet with the toys.  This shows what I called the gathering stage. Yes! that is all the toys I could find in our home (except strollers, giant balls, wagons, fisher price little people sets, and big like items).  Thankfully we don't have too many.  I know many homes that can fill out a whole bedroom floor to ceiling with toys!  I think we have plenty.   The "toy" closet became like the picture below for a couple of days.... I am responsible for it... and if anyone were to open that door back then, they were looking for disaster.  I was storing my Montessori practical life materials on the top, arts in the next shelf down, and then just everything else that I could fit while hopping the door would close.

Then, I took an inventory. with a computer, and the list of toys, I arranged them by categories... I did not do this with the toys at hand.  It would have become a mess too hard to clean.
Here are my categories: I am trying to give you many examples without retyping my list!
1. Building sets: legos, imaginerium blocks, brick building, pegs, and Lincoln logs.
2. Little figures: miniature guys(we call them little dudes), cars, trains, mini ponies and horses, etc
3. Puzzles: off all kinds we have, I left room for the ones we check out of the libraries too on one of the rotations.
4. Active play (indoors): anything they could push, and jump around with like hopping balls, hula hoops, strollers, shopping carts, wagons, etc
5. Board games: Guess Who ( I made it), Spanish bingo, Candyland, sneaky squirrel, and other games I have made like the princess ones.
6. Stuffed animals: horse barn and mini horses, Clifford dog set, books with stuffed toys, just bears, babies..etc
7. Dramatic play: anything that helps my kids get into a character: dress up and pretend stuff like princesses, firefighter, chef, nurse, vet, grocery store..etc
8. Active play (outdoor): sensory bins that are messy, water and sand toys, chalk for the driveway, etc
9. Science exploration: magnets, sink or flow, studying and growing plants, bug catching,  magnifying glasses, water experiments, etc
10. Music: instruments like maracas, bells, xylophone, cascabel, etc to keep rhythm and dance
I also added in each rotation:
* Sign language Flash cards (we have 6 sets covering the basics and I had forgotten about them)
*Add-on items for the pretend kitchen (to keep the kids pretending to cook): soft fabric food, plastic food, cutting food, pretend bugs to cook, paper pieces, cotton balls, etc.
* Little people sets:  Here we have a few like the farm, circus, pirate ship, Noah's ark, homes, etc. This are great for the kids to play together.

I enlisted the kids one free morning to help me get all the toys out into our living room. It is my favorite room of the house simply because it is completely empty.  We needed a lot of space.  I put post-its and try to line everything by the right categories on the wall.  My advice: do it by yourself.  My kids had a blast opening EVERYTHING!  oh! well they had fun!

Kids napping... then to work:
I put out 6 large plastic bins and label them from 1-6 and placed one item from each category in each based on my toy rotation master list (see below).   Then I stored them in the closet (now organized) and ready to be use. See, the truth is, I am going backwards to give myself and the kids the tools to enjoy their own toys and keep the house appealing and comfortable. I needed to teach them to play again, to put things away, and to share.  I am proud of all of us. It is working wonders.

On the three top shelves I still have my Montessori materials for practical life plus some art supplies.  Now I can see them! The bottom three are my 6 bins for the toy rotations.  Thy are label with numbers. 

I am not sharing my list because I know that it is unlikely that anyone has the same toys we own.  These categories worked for me.   In any sense here is a picture of my inventory which is hanging on the door of the toy closet (see above):

We are on week 6 now.  We started on week 5  just because the kids wanted those toys first.  I used dry erased marker on a sheet protection to make notes.  The check marks show what is out on the family room. I crossed out things that stayed in the bin (I packed a few extras)

The toys we have out right now. It doesn't seem like a lot but they have:
1. Building sets: Pegs and boards for stacking.
2. Little figures: cars set and garages
3. Puzzles: community worker, and little red riding hood.
4. Active play (indoors):hammering, and blue tunnel
5. Board games: We have a community workers felt set.  We made up this game.  I write about it later.
6. Stuffed animals: Clifford dog set and books
7. Dramatic play: firefighter and nurse vests with helmet (firefighter) and doctor set.
8. Active play (outdoor): sensory bin in sand with mini dump trucks (not pictured)
9. Science exploration: none in this rotation.  I am working on it.
10. Music: new CD from the library
Also we have the construction and firehouse sets of Fisher price little people.  My kids just love this toys.

UPDATE: as I am about to clean up all the toys from rotation bin 6, I am thinking about all the fun we had this past week.  My kids liked to put on the firefighter and nurse vest to pretend to rescue the victims of a fire (the victims off course are the Clifford dogs who get stuck behind the sofa cushions... We even used the vacuum electric cord as a pretend hose!  One of the kids is the firefighter (with vest and helmet), the other is the nurse (with Dr. set and nurse vest) that checks the victims... I am usually the desperate dog owner that calls them to rescue my puppies!  Can you tell we were having fun?)   This was a fun week.  To top it all, they got to see firetrucks on a fire drill at the museum!  Not planned at all but so much fun.

Hope this can inspire you!

If you have looked at my prepared Montessori activities before this post you will noticed that I was using the shelving unit that is now assigned to the toy rotation.  Since that area of the family room is now taken, and I still want to offer an open designated area for the Montessori activities, I am going to move them to the shelving unit by the other side of the room.  I will post pictures on a new post.  

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Thank you for sharing!