Refreshing Playtime: A Montessori Approach to Toy Rotation

Today, let's chat about something not explicitly covered by Maria Montessori but widely recommended by Montessori educators: toy rotation. Why is this important, you ask?

No matter where you are on your Montessori journey, you have just started or you have been practicing for a while, it’s likely that you have lots of toys!

In the modern day, with the sheer volume of toys available (did you know Britons spend over £3 billion a year on toys?!), it's easy for children's environments to become overstimulating.

A study from 2007 found that youngsters were far more creative when they had fewer toys to play with. They also played with each for twice as long, thinking up more uses for each toy and lengthening and expanding their games. They compared toddlers playing with 4 toys and toddlers playing with 16 toys.

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In Montessori classrooms, materials are thoughtfully chosen and displayed on accessible shelves. Although it might seem like there's a vast array of materials, these are intended to serve a larger group of about 20 to 30 children. For your child at home, around 6 to 12 activities should suffice. Remember, this doesn't mean you can't have more; it's here where the concept of rotating toys becomes valuable. It's all about finding the right balance in the number of toys and activities available to your child.

Implementing Toy Rotation:

Toy rotation isn't just about minimizing clutter; it's about creating an environment that fosters independence and joy of learning.

Sorting: Keep purposeful toys that aid development. This includes open-ended toys like blocks and materials that refine the senses. Keep also your children’s favourites even if you don’t think they are Montessori friendly (for example, a set of paw patrols figurines).

Discarding and Donating: Remove broken or unsafe toys, overstimulating items, and those promoting negative values.

Storing the Rest: Rotate toys based on categories, developmental stages, or seasons. This brings freshness and excitement to playtime.

Involving Your Child: For older children, involve them in the process to teach decision-making and empathy. However, be mindful of their developmental understanding of property and charity. Children under the age of 3 might not be able to let go any of their toys willingly.

Choosing New Toys: Select toys based on Montessori principles – real tools, natural materials, and those that teach one concept at a time. Observe what your child is interested in, or what skills they are working on. Based on those observations, give the toys and materials that will support their current development and/or interests. 

Play Area Setup: Integrate play areas into family spaces, as children prefer to be near caregivers. Reserve separate rooms for specific activities like arts and crafts.

Presentation and Display: Make toys easily accessible and visible. Use shelves, low baskets, and floor mats, and remember to keep the number manageable for your child.


How often and when do you need to rotate:

On social media, it used to be trendy to do a Sunday Shelfie, also known as sorting the toys every week. However, toy rotation should be based on observing your child. Essentially, you observe your child playing with some of their toys and keep those ones. If some are gathering dust, it’s probably time to pack them away.

Equally, some toys might rarely go out of rotation. Young children take a lot of time to master a skill, so they might come back again and again to that ball ramp or hammering set.

You can also rotate based on what skills your child is working on. For example, if you notice that your child is posting random objects behind the radiator, it might be time for a posting activity (that doesn’t involve losing socks, keys, and credit cards behind your radiator).

You can also rotate according to the seasons. You can also rotate knowing that a special event is coming up, such as a celebration like Diwali, Christmas, or an outing to the zoo or farm is planned, and you want your child to explore a specific topic. Because yes indeed, you don’t have to wait for your child to express an interest to introduce a new topic.

How many toys to keep:

Again, there are no strict rules. If you come back to that study quoted at the beginning of the blog post, 4 to 12 seems to be a reasonable number. Depending on how many toys your child has access to now, you may want to halve the amount and then halve the amount again.

Don’t forget to reduce the number of loose parts in a set as well. If you have a block set with 100 blocks, it might be better to display 20 blocks in a basket for a toddler and only give the whole set to a 4-year-old who might be more able to manage the quantities.

In conclusion, Montessori toy rotation is not just about reducing clutter; it's about creating a stimulating, developmentally appropriate environment for your child. By selecting and rotating toys thoughtfully, you're fostering a love of learning and exploration.

How do you manage toy rotation at home? What challenges and successes have you experienced? Share your stories and tips in the comments below – let's learn from and inspire each other on this Montessori journey!

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About the Author Carine Robin

Carine Robin has a Master’s Degree in Psychology, specialising in child psychology. She worked for various social services in her home country of Belgium, before moving to Ireland in 2006. It was there that she started working in a nursery and discovered Montessori education. After having her first child, her passion for the philosophy grew and she qualified as a Montessori teacher and managed a preschool. Carine has been running a Montessori based parents and toddler group and coaching families for 9 years. She now also runs an online group for over 14000 parents, sharing her knowledge and passion with people from around the world. In 2018, Carine realised families needed more support and launched her popular online parenting courses and monthly subscription boxes, full of personally designed Montessori materials.

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