Your Simple Guide to Toy Rotation (the Montessori Way)

Your Simple Guide to Toy Rotation (the Montessori Way)

Not only can fewer toys make a play area less cluttered and peaceful, but it can actually increase the child’s interest in the toy selection that is available. I am a trained Montessori guide and I want to share with you a simple guide to toy rotation, the Montessori way! I’ll share with you how to do a toy rotation, the benefits of toy rotation, and how it all ties back to the Montessori approach. 

Close up of a wooden rainbow toy and a wooden knobbed puzzle with text that says "How to Rotate Toys"
Montessori shelf with toys displayed

What is a Toy Rotation? 

Toy rotation is taking the time to have a manageable toy selection available for your child while also having out-of-rotation toys. By not having everything available all the time, we will be able to see what types of toys and activities our children enjoy playing with. We may notice that one of the toys we put out doesn’t get chosen, but that’s fine! We now have some good information when we do another toy rotation. When we rotate toys, we don’t need to change out every toy, we could just remove one or two things we see aren’t getting used very often. 

A great way to get a child more engaged and connected to their environment is to remove toy clutter. If you are feeling overwhelmed by the amount of toys your child has, just imagine how it must feel to them. Toy rotation is an effective way to minimize the feeling of being overwhelmed because there are too many toys. 

Benefits of Toy Rotations

More engagement

By not having everything available all the time, it will be like Christmas morning every time you do a toy rotation! Putting out differnet toys and taking time to rotate materials will help create more engagement with what is available. Whenever it seems like the environment is boring or not keeping the engagement of the children in that environment it is probably time to rotate and change things up!

Easier to Tidy 

Naturally, when there are fewer things in a space it will be easier to tidy. We want our children to be able to grow to be more independent tidying up their space. The best way we can help them is by limiting how much there is to tidy. By implementing a Montessori toy rotation system it will be easier to tidy your space. 

Supports Independence 

The Montessori philosophy supports the idea of fostering independence. True independence comes when there is the ability to do something for oneself. As amazing as children are, they are still developing and ordering things in their brains. They may not be able to systemize their environment, and they shouldn’t have to. One of the roles of the adult is to prepare their environment in a way that supports independence. The practice of toy rotation will help support independence because it allows for a more reasonably prepared environment that a child could manage more independently, depending on their age.

Supports the Child’s Development 

Children need order. I know, I know, you may be thinking how could a child who is so messy and disorganized need order? Without going into too much Montessori theory, Maria Montessori recognized that young children have a strong sense of order, especially between the ages of 0 to 6 years old. During this developmental stage, external order is very important. We can support this need for order by offering different toys at different times that will support the child’s development, as well as keeping them orderly. As a child move into the 2nd plane of development, 6 to 12 years old, they are less worried about the external order and begin ordering their minds in a new way. Although they are less particular about that external order, we know that order is still important for them to be able to function well in the environment. 

Why do you limit the amount of toys available? 

Have you ever had that feeling when you are picking out something to wear but because there is a closet full of things and you have so many choices you wind up feeling like you have absolutely nothing to wear to the event?! How is this even possible? Children can feel this same way when it comes to choosing something to play with. We want to limit the number of toys available, not becuase we don’t want our children to have a variety of things to engage their minds with, but because we want to offer a developmentally appropriate amount of choices that are visually appealing and engage the child. 

Basket, rack with 4 books in it, a plant.

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How Often Should I Rotate Toys? 

There is no set schedule for when you should rotate toys. The timeline of rotating toys will vary based on the child, their age, interests, and environment. It’s a good idea to observe and see what things on your child’s shelf are being used and what things could benefit from being removed for a short time to offer some new things. We don’t always need to rotate in a bunch of new toys, instead, we could swap out just one or two items and leave the rest the same. 

How to Set Up a Shelf “The Montessori Way”

In a Montessori environment, there are a few guiding principles you can keep in mind when setting up your environment.

Open Shelves

There are many different ways to store toys, yet I would recommend creating a space with some open shelves. This way the current toys will be visually accessible and serve as an engagement tool as well. When a child can easily see what is available, they will likely be drawn to interact with it. 

Montessori shelf with four sections. Toys left to right: skwish rattle, basket of balls, spinning drum, small wicker basket with lid

Left Undone 

When placing toys on a shelf we can leave them undone. Let me give you an example. When puzzles come, sometimes they have those wooden boards to build them on. You would think to set out the completed puzzle on the shelf. However, a more engaging way to prepare this for a child is to offer it undone. We could have the puzzle board it comes with on the shelf and then a small basket with the loose puzzle pieces on it. Now the child’s toys will be calling out to them to come and finish that puzzle, it is almost like there is a call to action. 


When choosing the order of setting toys or materials out on a shelf you can sequence them from left to right based on difficulty. We want to offer a variety of activities that support new skills. 

Bookshelf with books, plant and toys.

Visual Space

When placing toys on a shelf, we can leave some space between objects. This visual space is not just wasted space, it actually has a purpose. The space between the materials is a separation of objects and activities. It creates visual order and clarity around separate toys or activities. As I mentioned earlier, having a lot of toys isn’t always more engaging for a child. Having a limited number of toys be clearly accessible and visually appealing will likely be more engaging for a child and they will play for longer periods of time. If you want to read more about the importance of beauty and order in an environment, check out this blog post. 

Complete and In Good Working Order

We want the toys we offer to be complete and not have missing pieces. They should also be in good working order. If repairs are needed, you can take them off of the shelf in the meantime and rotate in something else. 

Montessori Pop-up Toy


As a Montessori mom of twins, I am definitely experimenting with the Montessori principle of limitation in our home. We don’t need to have one of everything for each child in the home. We can implement the principle of limitation into our toy rotation as well. We can look at the purpose or type of each toy we are offering and give a good variety of toys. How the principle of limitation may work in a toy rotation system is by not having all building toys or all imaginative play toys out a one time. Instead, keep a variety of open-ended toys available. 

What Kind of Toys are Montessori? 

There are Montessori materials that are part of the Montessori method which was developed by Maria Montessori. There are also, what I would call, Montessori-friendly toys. Montessori-friendly toys would have some of these elements:

  • Open-ended
  • Support hands-on learning
  • Offer sensorial experiences through exploration 
  • Offer new experiences 
  • ​Support creativity in exploration 
  • Self-Correcting 
  • ​Realistic 
  • Made of natural materials
Montessori object permanence box with a wooden ball
Object permenance

Toy Storage Recommendations

Part of the toy rotation work is finding ways to store the toys that are not being used. I recommend having some shelving or a toy cabinet in an area that doesn’t give easy access to the child(ren). Depending on the size of the toys, either store them in totes or open on a shelf in a storage area. Use the storage space you have available to create a designated area for the toys that are not in rotation. 

Montessori shelf with toys displayed.
​Baby Toys 

You may categorize baby toys into a few groups of toys: Teethers, Grasping toys, Visual Mobiles, Tactile mobiles, etc.

General Recommendations

Store things in clear storage containers. Organize by age when relevant. Find a space out of reach to store toys not in rotation away from children.

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