Category: Learning At Home

Toy Rotation Tips for Kids

Toy Rotation Tips for Kids

A few years ago, one of my online friends remarked that our family must live in a toy store. If you follow us on Instagram, you might think that’s true! But what else would you expect from an early education advisor who believes in learning through play? It’s true that we have hundreds of toys in our collection, but since we did preschool at home with our kids, I consider each purchase an investment in my girls’ education. My friend was floored when I told her that our family of four (and all of our toys) resided in a very small, two-bedroom apartment. For five years, the only way to contain the kid clutter and maintain our sanity was our toy rotation system.

Toy Rotation Tips for Kids | learning through play, toy rotation ideas, parenting tips, weekly toy rotation, play spaces, toy rotation system

Toy Rotation Tips

  • Toy rotation for babies happens naturally as your little one develops new skills. You’ll find your baby outgrows toys at a pretty rapid rate–but don’t get rid of them too quickly! You may be able to use a “baby” toy differently down the road.
  • Rotating is most effective toys is most effective for families with toddlers and preschoolers. You reduce clutter and make play spaces more appealing with fewer toys available at a time. Bonus: your child learns how to tidy up without a lot of help from mom!
  • Setting up your toy rotation system might take a few days. Try not to mind the mess while you’re working–you will save so much time and stress down the road, I promise.
  • Children don’t need access to every one of their toys all at once. After a few weeks of toy rotation, you will see stronger attention spans, more creative play ideas, and increased confidence when it comes to cleaning up after play.

See our 13 recommended learning toys here!


Toy Rotation Tips for Kids | learning through play, toy rotation ideas, parenting tips, weekly toy rotation, play spaces, toy rotation system

Step by Step Process

  1. Set aside a day or two to complete this project.
  2. Purchase a few bins to store toys when not in use. I love the TROFAST boxes from IKEA because they stack nicely and help you contain the chaos. You’ll also want some quart-size and gallon-size zipper bags.
  3. Gather ALL of your child’s toys in one room. If you can do this without your child, great! If not, just be prepared for a big mess. Remind yourself it will be worth it in the end!
  4. Purge the toys your child has outgrown, the toys you can’t stand, and the toys that are broken/missing pieces.
  5. Sort your child’s toys into groups or categories. (See below.) You may find you have WAY TOO MANY of one type and see a category that is lacking. That’s okay. You’ll be more intentional when shopping for gifts in the future!
  6. Choose one toy from each category to start your toy rotation system. Arrange those toys in your designated play area. Everything else will go into toy storage.
  7. Decide which items you want to leave in their boxes and which toys can be fit into zipper bags. (I really only saved boxes for toys I thought I might want to resell in the future.)
  8. Organize your storage area and talk with your kids about the new toy rotation system. Decide how often you’ll want to switch out toys and if your kids will be involved in the choosing. (I was pretty flexible about letting my kids trade a toy for another in the same category during the week because it didn’t happen often.)

Toy Rotation Tips for Kids | learning through play, toy rotation ideas, parenting tips, weekly toy rotation, play spaces, toy rotation system

Toy Rotation Categories

Once you have gathered all of your child’s toys, it will be easier to choose categories that work for your family. Here are some ideas for you:

  • games & puzzles
  • building toys (blocks, LEGO, etc.)
  • transportation
  • fine motor/visual toys
  • imaginative activities (dress up clothes, play kitchen)
  • arts & crafts
  • educational toys

Note: some of your toys will fit into multiple categories. (THAT’S GOOD!)

When we first started toy rotation, I usually grabbed one toy from each category. As we got more comfortable with our system, I got much more flexible about mixing and matching. As you can see in the images, one of our favorite activities was the color bowl, a mish-mash of toys that had nothing in common except for their color. I was amazed by the creative ways that my girls started to play and how LONG they would stay engaged and focused on one activity.

Toy Rotation Storage

As I mentioned earlier, we lived in a small, two-bedroom apartment when our girls were younger. We had a HUGE closet in their room that I turned into a toy storage corner. The rule was that the girls couldn’t take their toys out of the closet without permission, and they were really good about it. (If they weren’t, I would have put the toys up high, moved them into MY closet, or found an alternate location.)

You can see in the image above, I had a bookshelf in the closet to hold all of the toys that were self-contained in boxes and containers. All other loose pieces were contained in zipper bags and shoved in the TROFAST boxes stacked in a tower. (Each category got its own box.)

I used a variety of baskets, bowls, and containers to display the “out” toys in the play area. I found great, inexpensive baskets at thrift shops and bought all the green plastic containers at Dollar Tree. Having small, open containers made it easy for the girls to:

  • see which toys were available
  • move toys around to different play areas in the apartment
  • clean up when play time was over

Sign up for a FREE mini-plan! Our mini-plan gives you a sneak peek at the planning process and includes 3 custom activities for your toddler/preschooler.Once you have all your toys organized, you may be wondering how to utilize them for SMART play.

As a former classroom teacher and homeschooling mom, I want to help your toddlers and preschoolers get ready for Kindergarten! Individualized education is my passion, and I love working with parents. 

I cut through the parent overwhelm (so many ideas on Pinterest!) and target your child’s next skills with a variety of simple and fun, hands-on learning activities in one of four categories that you choose: gross motor, fine motor, literacy & language, or science & math.

Your family’s personalized learning plan begins with two questions:

  1. How does your child learn best?
  2. What does your child need to learn next?

Fill out this quick form to get a FREE mini-plan for your child!

Jingle Bell Sensory Bin + Activity Ideas

Jingle Bell Sensory Bin + Activity Ideas

“Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way…”
“Jingle bell, jingle bell, jingle bell rock…”
“I love those J-I-N-G-L-E bells, oh!”

Christmas is on its way, and our toddlers and preschoolers could not be more excited! But trying to keep their little hands away from the Christmas tree might be a full-time job, and that’s why I love bringing out engaging activities like playdough and sensory bins. This jingle bell sensory bin has been a big hit at our house, and it might be simpler than you might think.

Jingle Bell Sensory Bin + Activity Ideas | Christmas Sensory Play Ideas, Tactile Activities for Toddlers and Preschoolers, Learning Through Play

(Reminder: Rolling Prairie Readers uses affiliate links at no additional cost to you.You can see our full disclosure policy here.)

As I mentioned in this post about sensory bin storage, we keep a big basket down in our basement with all of our sensory bin materials: dried corn, peas, and beans, uncooked popcorn, and various shades of rice and noodles. (You can click here for instant access to our favorite tutorials about dyeing rice and noodles.) 

I had dyed a bunch of noodles green for St. Patrick’s Day. The variety of textures between the wagon wheels, rotini noodles, and shells is a lot of fun for tactile play. I thought it would make the perfect base for this new jingle bell sensory bin. (And noodles are a LOT easier to clean up than rice, which was the base of our last sensory bin!)

Jingle Bell Sensory Bin + Activity Ideas | Christmas Sensory Play Ideas, Tactile Activities for Toddlers and Preschoolers, Learning Through Play

We have a set of multicolored bells (similar) that are a great size for my 6-year-old’s hands. I also added a few extra accessories to the bin:

  • green and red cups (these are our favorite)
  • ice cube trays
  • a plastic tablespoon
  • and a jar (glass or plastic, whatever your kids can handle)

You can also work on patterning and fine motor skills with this sensory bin! Place the bells in the ice cube tray (use tweezers, if you like), and then lace the bells on a shoelace or pipe cleaner.

 

If you try this jingle bell sensory bin, let me know your thoughts in the comments below!


30 Winter Activities | Free School Holiday Survival Guide {flourishwithyourfamily.com}

While your kids are home from school this winter, try out this list of 30 “boredom-busting” activities for the whole family!

Here’s what’s included:

  • a weekly calendar template with tips for creating a flexible family schedule
  • a “menu” of more than 20 low-prep activities to keep your children happily engaged
  • lists of recommended seasonal books to grab at the library
  • a family reading log
  • our favorite resources for learning at home
  • AND 30 winter boredom busters!
Math Apps for Kids: Smartick

Math Apps for Kids: Smartick

About a month ago, Smartick reached out to me to try their math app with my kids in exchange for a review. Since we are always on the lookout for great educational experiences for our girls, I agreed! If you are interested in math apps for your elementary and middle school students, keep reading. (No affiliate links are used in this blog post.)

How Smartick works:

15 minutes a day approach: short daily sessions at maximum concentration. This helps create a study habit and routine, it avoids burnout and keep children motivated and coming back for more. Smartick recommendation is that children do their session at least 5 days a week to truly experience the benefits of the program.

Smartick is available to use with a computer or on an Apple/Android device. I set up our account on the laptop and then downloaded the app to our iPad mini.

Math Apps for Kids: Smartick Review | learning activities, fun games, technology for children, elementary, middle school {rollingprairiereaders.com}

Children can customize their avatar on Smartick. My girls also loved buying additional gifts (virtual clothing, typically) for each other using the rewards their earned doing their math exercises.

Math Apps for Kids: Smartick Review | learning activities, fun games, technology for children, elementary, middle school {rollingprairiereaders.com}

Addie saved up her rewards to buy this little dog she named Riley. The dog stayed healthy and happy as long as she was logging on regularly and playing her games.

Math Apps for Kids: Smartick Review | learning activities, fun games, technology for children, elementary, middle school {rollingprairiereaders.com}

The game monitors both time left (upper right) and progress (left). Children choose their answer and then press the blue button to submit it. This is an example from my fourth grader’s session.

Math Apps for Kids: Smartick Review | learning activities, fun games, technology for children, elementary, middle school {rollingprairiereaders.com}   After completing the session, children have the chance to make corrections. What a great opportunity to reinforce to new skills!

Math Apps for Kids: Smartick Review | learning activities, fun games, technology for children, elementary, middle school {rollingprairiereaders.com}

Here, you can see that Addie got 99 questions correct, missed 8, corrected 4, and earned 14 “ticks” (rewards). Smartick also offers bonus ticks for playing consistently. By pushing the blue house, you can enter the virtual world.

Math Apps for Kids: Smartick Review | learning activities, fun games, technology for children, elementary, middle school {rollingprairiereaders.com}Both girls enjoyed accessing their Smart Club treehouse. They could write notes to each other and buy each other gifts. (I did not allow them to “friend” other children through the game.) Saving their “ticks” for animals and clothing gave them a goal to work toward and motivation to keep playing daily.


A Tale of Two Sisters:

  • Katie LOVES math and has enjoyed another (free) math app occasionally when the mood strikes her. I fully expected her to LOVE Smartick.
  • Addie is more reluctant when it comes to math, but she does love her screen time! I thought having a new game on the ipad would be motivating for her.

After explaining the Smartick process, I told my girls we would commit to playing for 15 days before deciding if we wanted to continue. They both agreed, and we got started with their first day.

Math Apps for Kids: Smartick Review | learning activities, fun games, technology for children, elementary, middle school {rollingprairiereaders.com}


Using Math Apps: Our Smartick Experience

Addie went first and struggled a bit as the session included concepts we hadn’t yet covered in her math lessons. As a perfectionist, she hates getting things wrong. I sat next to her and encouraged her to do her best. If she got a question wrong, the app showed her the correct answer and the reasoning behind it. Once she finished, she had the opportunity to go back and correct those missed questions for one additional “tick.”

Once her session was finished, she got to explore her virtual world and set up her avatar. Katie was immediately interested in all the options and asked for her turn with the game.

We logged Katie in under her account and got started with her first session. I was surprised to see my ultra-confident “math kid” immediately panic with the timer. She frantically pressed the “I don’t know” answer for each question. We paused the game and talked through her feelings, and she told me she was worried she would push the wrong button. I showed her the double check feature: choose the answer first and then “submit” it when she’s ready.

After her session, Katie also enjoyed setting up her virtual world and visiting the clubhouse with her sister. With both girls, I had to set a secondary timer to tell them when their “extra” time was up, or they would have continued for more than an hour.

Math Apps for Kids: Smartick Review | learning activities, fun games, technology for children, elementary, middle school {rollingprairiereaders.com}


Smartick Pros:

  • I LOVED that the girls had to do their math session before they could play in their virtual world. It was a strong motivator to get them interested in playing each day. Since Smartick is built on consistency, I appreciated this!  
  • The parental controls were easy to set up. I let my girls “friend” each other but no one else. I could see that it would be fun to trade gifts and communicate with classmates or cousins who were also using the app.
  • I was glad to see a variety of skills covered in each session (and in the tutorial section as well), including concepts not covered in our curriculum. Addie loved the problem-solving questions presented at the end of her turn. For a child who leans toward not liking math, she certainly enjoyed watching the extra tutorials and playing math games after completing her main lesson.
  • Smartick’s communication is top-notch. I received an immediate e-mail after each girl’s session with feedback about speed and accuracy. They also have a support team available via their website. It’s clear to me that the founders have a desire to see children be successful with the app and fall in love with math.

Smartick Concerns:

  • I’m going to be honest with you–Smartick is not cheap. Subscriptions start at $34.99 per month and go up from there. Realistically, that’s more than our budget can afford as a regular expense. However:
    • Smartick does offer a FREE 15-day trial. It’s a very generous opportunity to see how your children will benefit from the technology before making a commitment.
    • Smartick is built on the idea of consistency. If one of your children uses the program five days a week, the cost comes down to less than $2 per use, which is cheaper than other similar games.
    • Smartick offers a wonderful referral program. You can save $27 by referring a new customer, and your friend saves too!  

Math Apps for Kids: Smartick Review | learning activities, fun games, technology for children, elementary, middle school {rollingprairiereaders.com}

Gamification elements keep children engaged and improve concentration levels. All games in Smartick and scientifically designed to reinforce cognitive skills: perception, attention, memory and logical reasoning.

  • Another concern:
    My children were tempted to rush through their session (which is timed) in order to get to play in their virtual world. Since neither  girl had a particularly “bad” day , I’m  honestly not sure if children have to perform at a certain level to unlock the fun games and activities. On a few days, I had to chat with one of my girls about doing her best work after getting her status email from Smartick.

Final Thoughts

Smartick is a wonderful program. The technology is top-notch, and my children enjoyed their experiences. Overall, I feel the cost is prohibitive for our family, but I the value is comparable to a tutoring center for remedial support or enrichment for an asynchronous child needing more challenge in math. I would suggest trying the free 15-day trial to see if it’s a good fit for your family!

Does your family use math apps at home?