Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Toy Library: Four Years Later

Four years ago I posted about the "toy library" we were using in our home and the toy rotation system I use with toddlers.  When recently reading Aubrey's blog, Montessori Mischief,  I was reminded that an update on the toy library was long overdue.  Like Aubrey, I believe my kids shouldn't have too many toys but seem to repeatedly acquire more than intended.  Like Aubrey we do regular purges but Aubrey does a much better job purging than I do.  I deal with that by amending my statement "I believe the kids shouldn't have many toys" to "I believe the kids shouldn't have too many toys at once." 

I am frequently asked if we still use a toy library.  We sure do!  Above is what our toy library looks like today.  It is a picture of the hallway at the top of the stairs on the second floor of our house.  The toy library is the door in the middle.  Me Too's room is the door on the left and Kal-El's is the room on the right.  MOST of our toys are in this closet.  We don't store toys in the boys' rooms, although they each have their personal stuffed animals and some special items in their rooms.  I think Me Too has some Bakugon stashed in his room.  Kal-El has his special "spy gear."  They each still have some favorite "dress up" items in their closets (here is my post on our dress-up collection at its zenith).  They still aren't too old to put on a fireman's jacket or a knight's armour.  

If your kids are still toddlers or preschoolers you'll probably want your toy library or rotation system to be close to the main living areas of your home.  The last time I wrote about this the kids were not only four years younger, but we lived in a different home. It was a single-story home that didn't have adequate closet space outside of bedrooms.  I prefer to keep most toys out of the bedrooms, but in that home we assigned some closet space in the boys' rooms for their toy libraries.  The first year we lived in our current house the boys were still so little (three and four) that I kept the toy library on the first floor in what is now the "art closet."  When the kids are toddlers and preschoolers they tend to want to play as near you as physically possible.  As they get older they become more independent and want more privacy.  At some point the boys kept saying "I want to play with this in my room."  (They were still young enough at that time that I didn't want them climbing the stairs while holding a bin of toys so they had to ask for help.)  That was my cue to move the toy library upstairs.  

You can read more of my thoughts on toys and the effects of our toy library on the boys attention spans and school time in the FAQ section of this blog, particularly in questions 8-10.  You can find the FAQ section through the link or at anytime through the tabs at the top of the blog just under the header.  I can't emphasize enough that limiting toys and rotating toys has a positive effect on your child's attention span and the quality of their play. I am always asked if I get "tired of helping kids trade toys."  What people don't realize is that kids play with toys a lot longer when there aren't 30 other toys lying around to distract them.  So, I was never trading toys every ten minutes. Also, the couple of times a day I would trade a toy was a lot less tiring than picking up every toy they own every night before bed.  I also want to emphasize that if you homeschool it is much easier to keep the school room "fascinating" and "the place to be" if there isn't an in-house toy store somewhere else in the house to wander off to.  

All the nitty-gritty details about how the system works are in my original post on the subject.  We still run the system in the same way.  The only thing that has changed is that the closet is no longer locked.  When we moved three years ago I installed a "storage-room" locking doorknob on this closet (This is not the one I bought but the website explains the anatomy of the knob well. Mine was only $10-$20 at the hardware store.).  When it was locked, the boys had to ask me to unlock the door to make trades.  After many years of toy library experience they were ready for more responsibility and I started leaving the key in the lock about a year ago.  It is handy to have because every once in a while the boys let things get a little out of control and need a reminder of proper procedure. All I have to do is remove the key. 

As you can see, I use more text labels than I did when the boys were babies but we still have some picture labels in the mix.

This picture provides a view of the larger variety of bins and labels we have.  Most of their toys fall into one of three categories:  building things, battling one another, or action figures.  As you can see in the picture above, we literally have a bin labeled "battle" full of things that are handy in a battle. Yup, we're that family.  Try not to judge us too harshly and in return we'll try not to raise an eyebrow at your bin labeled "rainbows and fluffy bunnies."  Nerf, Lego, Hot Wheels and Star Wars figures are the heavily used toys here.  However, you'll also find cool flashlights, magic tricks, grabber/reachers and a big collection of ninjas.

This is still A LOT of toys.  Probably too many.  This closet is pretty big.  You can step into it and, as you may be able to see on the right-hand side of the picture, the shelves are L-shaped which means we have a few more bins yet not pictured. However, some of the bins (particularly on the top shelf) in this closet are actually completely empty or nearly empty (probably the home of future toys though).  Also, I took this picture following a routine straightening in preparation of a big culling of the toys. We haven't done it yet, but I think we might be able to let go of 1/4-1/3 of what is in this closet when we go through it.  The boys were camping when I cleaned it and I didn't want to donate things when they weren't home to participate. The boys actually seem to enjoy going through the closet with me and getting rid of things.  I think it might have something to do with the timing.  I choose to purge the toys in December (right before Kal-El's birthday and Christmas) and again in June (right before Me Too's birthday, although we are late this year).  I think this has caused the boys to associate purging the closet with "growing up" and the anticipation of making room for new things.

In the interest of keeping things in perspective, please note that we do have a small cabinet in our family room where the board games and puzzles are kept. There are also a couple of large items that won't fit in the toy closet.  Full disclosure, those are:

  • Lengths of Hot Wheels track.  They are in an under-bed bin in the guest room and not much good without the actual Hot Wheels that ARE in the toy library.
  • A large bin of duplo Legos.  They boys use these 80% of the time when they are playing.  They prefer them to the normal "small" Legos immensely.  This seems to be because the bricks are more basic, so many small Lego are particular to "sets", and also because they can make the same things they can with the small Lego but BIGGER.  They like everything to be BIG.
  • Large wooden blocks from Community Playthings.  Best purchase ever.  I actually just got up just now and took picture of what Kal-El built this morning so you could see.  These are used almost every day and usually in combination with another toy, in this case, military vehicles.


  1. LOVE, Love, love. What do you do when friends come over to play? Do you unlock for all to choose? Or do they collectively choose one toy? I'm eager to know how to handle that one!

  2. Ah! Community Playthings...another wonderful resource :) Such beautiful wooden toys and equipment!

  3. I'd like to see what the playroom looks like. Or more specifically what did it look like when they were a bit younger. My boys are 3 and 5 and I do rotate, but I still struggle with keeping too many toys out.

    1. Hi LInnea,

      I'm sorry, I must not have written this post as clearly as I had hoped. My point was supposed to be that we don't have a playroom. All of the toys except the toys I noted are in the toy library. No playroom. Sorry, I'll try to be more clear. My brain is fuzz lately.

      This post has pictures of the the boy's toy library when they were the same age as your kids:

  4. I showed this to Legoboy when you first posted it - just to see what he thought. He says, "I just want my Legos. We can pack up my other toys."

    It's not like had much; but he did put a high percentage of that away for when younger children come to visit; and we are down to 3 plastic drawers of "toys". And lots - and lots and lots and LOTS of Legos. We also have a LOT of games and puzzles and BOOKS, and art materials, and music-related items. He did pack away his building blocks, but stored for visitors. I suppose he can build most of what he needs with Legos though....

    Just a transition phase. And I'm all sappy over here about it ;)

  5. Which set of blocks did you get from Community Playthings? I like to get my son's (he is 16 months) secondhand, but haven't come across any wooden blocks yet. I would like to know the size of the set you have pictured so I know how many blocks to keep an eye out for...

    1. We have set F151, the introductory set and I supplemented the set with a set of 4 unit block ramps and a set of 4 unit roof boards. FYI, if you plan on using them on husband bought a piece of 2 foot by about 4 foot thin wood in the same material as the roof boards that the boys usually use as a base for their work (not the day I took these pictures though). It was only $10 or so.