Race Report: Gobble Gobble Kids Dash 2017

On November, 2017 I ran the Gobble Gobble Kids Dash with my two oldest boys. Here is the race report.

Synopsis

This was the first official race my three year old ran – he got his own bib & everything. My two year old was technically too young to register, but we let him run some of the race with us as well.

This is part of me exposing them to the sport of running and what it has to offer. My kids have been watching me be a runner as long as they can remember (my two year old asks ‘are you going running daddy’ whenever I put a synthetic shirt on) and going in the stroller for just about as long (this past summer they even got to participate in their first race, riding in the stroller), but this was their first time where they got to be the runner in a real race. I wanted them to experience all the things I love about racing, but hopefully not traumatize them.

While the race ended up being pretty rough, and tears were shed – both boys already look back fondly on it (sort of like our first camping trip). Now when they hear me telling racing stories to friends, they have their own to chime in with.

Goals

  1. The kids got to experience racing – ACCOMPLISHED
  2. The kids had fun – SOMEWHAT ACCOMPLISHED
  3. Finish – ACCOMPLISHED
  4. Boston Qualifier – Not Possible – this was an untimed kids race…

Successes

What am I proud of from race day?

  • My three year old ran his first race – .3 miles
  • My two year old got to run some and cross the finish line with us

Failures

What areas could I improve for future races?

  • Securing breakfast pre-race
  • Dressing warm enough
  • Not brining gloves
  • Making it to the starting line on time

Thankfuls

What that was out of my control am I thankful for?

  • A lot of cheering fans
  • A well produced start/finish line & turkey pardoning ceremony

Frustrations

What that was out of my control do I wish had happened differently?

  • Really cold morning
  • 5 places we tried to get breakfast at were closed

Race Recap

The report for a 1/3 mile race can’t be that long, can it?

Thanksgiving brought with it a cold spell. We had just had the first frost one week early and up until then we’d still been having days every week hit the 70s. That morning when we woke up, however, it was 18 degrees. It wasn’t something we were prepared for – we hadn’t had practice dressing for the cold and were about to run an 8am race.

We bundled up as best as we could in foreign winter clothes, garments we weren’t used to as Californians.

I had previously planned to run the adult race but was coming down with a cold, so opted out the day before. That meant the kids dash was the only thing on our mind that morning.

We left the house at 7, plenty of time to pick up some breakfast on the way at our favorite bagel place, who also happened to be a sponsor of the race. Unfortunately, they were closed because it was Thanksgiving. I guess that makes sense, but it wasn’t planned for.

Ok, backup plan, Burger King. It isn’t great pre-race food, but at least they’ll be open… But of course, they were closed to.

No worries, the race is happening in the historic downtown, there are a bunch of coffee shops down there that will be open because of the big race that is happening… right? 20 minutes of walking around and nothing was open.

We’re now 30 minutes to race time and my three year old is starting to complain he is hungry and cold. I messed up. My choice now is to try and get him to hold out for the race and solve both of those afterwards, or fix them now and forget the race.

Like any good dad I told him to toughen up and that he could eat when he finished the race.

Kidding.

We got in the car, cranked the heat and drove until we found something that was open. A fine dining establishment called Sheetz. He had a few bites of a breakfast sandwich in the car and I carried the rest so we could have it post-race. As fast as Sheetz is at making sandwiches, and as fast as I ran from our car, we got back just in time to hear the race starting. We’d missed it.

We were about 50 yards down the course and as the runners passed us I told my son we should just hop in and start running. He broke down crying. I was able to gather from a few barely-comprehensable \ words that he wanted to go across the start line. So we ran backwards on the course to the starting line and I counted down.

On your marks. Get set. Go!

We’d been practicing race starts and finishes over the summer on the track. He knew to lean down over one leg to start and to throw your hands up at the finish line. This was an immutable part of racing is his mind and to neglect it would invalidate the entire experience.

So here we are running on the course, a good 200 yards behind the lead pack. The course went straight for one block, around the court house building and then back that same street we were running down. We were far enough behind that as we neared the turn, the 12 year old boys, the oldest allowed in this race, were coming straight at us with all of the caution and calmness you would expect from a group of 12 year old boys that are amped up on holiday excitement and competitive juices.

Despite us staying to the side of the course, closest to our turn, my three year old nearly got trampled by boys four times his size. Thanks to a few stiff arms from me, he stayed safe.

Only sort of kidding.

As we rounded the court house we actually passed some people. Other young runners who had decided they didn’t want to go any further. Some parents were negotiating, others had picked up their kids. My boy was loving the experience. I’m just glad we weren’t in last place anymore.

I was so proud of my boy during this stretch. He was so focused and working so hard, but he just isn’t fast at all. Even for his age he’s kind of slow, he bounds too much and doesn’t drive forward enough. My two year old has some speed, but he’s unpredictable, just as likely to stop or run the opposite way. Maybe I can get them to train together, the focus of one and the fervor of the other would make a runner that could surpass me.

We turned the fourth corner and were looking straight at the finish line, now two blocks away. My son asked if we were almost done and I pointed out the inflatable black archway that marked the goal. I got to watch as he processed for the first time a feeling I am addicted it. The relief that comes from seeing the place where all of the pain I have willingly subjected myself to will finally end. I took his hand in mine and said ‘we can do it’ and we re-doubled our efforts.

One block from the finish my two year old, who had come with grandpa, saw us and wanted to join. There was a brief moment where I was holding the hands of my two oldest boys, running to the cheers of a surprisingly large crowd. I look forwards to moments like these in the future and hope they’ll indulge me in a few bigger races when I’m well past my prime and they’re in the middle of theirs.

Half a block from the finish and we had a breakdown.

Here is the start of the breakdown. Notice the subtleties of this image. Despite tit being 18 degrees, none of us have gloves – great parenting. I’m carrying a bag of Sheetz food during a race – something I’ve never before seen in a race. Despite both boys crying, we are still mid-stride.

My youngest would decide he no longer wanted to run (I told you he was unpredictable) and laid down on the street. I carried him the rest of the way. My oldest was eventually convinced him to run across the line though.

.3 miles – probably 8 minutes. Felt like

Afterwards they ate their sandwiches. Look at their poor pink fingers, it was really cold out.

We then celebrated, got our finisher bracelets and watched a real live turkey get pardoned. Someone grabbed a nice shot of my oldest sitting on my shoulders. By this time he was having fun.

I had been told there would be pumpkin pie cups instead of water cups at the race and so I had told the boys. There was not pumpkin pie as far as I could tell, but again, young expectations. So when we got home we had pumpkin pie, in a cup. They were so happy.

Later that day, when calling grandma, we asked how he liked the race and he only had good things to say. Mainly he was focused on the fact that he had pumpkin pie.

Data Breakdown

Along with many other ways I messed up that morning, I completely forgot to track this race. It would have been cool to see how fast my oldest boy ran and how evenly he split, but I guess I can do that next time.

What is Next?

I suspect this will not be their last race, I’ll do better being a race parent next time.

Race Report: Run-A-Muk 10k 2017 w/ Stroller

On August 26, 2017 I ran the Run-A-Muk 10k while pushing two children in a double stroller, finishing in 5th place overall with a time of 39:58. Here is the race report.

Synopsis

My first ever race with a running stroller. I was invited by my friend Abram (who is also my brother-in-law-in-law) who was putting together a group of dads that were going to run the race with strollers.

Throughout 2017 I got pretty good running with the stroller, bringing one or two kids on more than 50% of my runs. I had mastered the art of snack management for keeping kids occupied, I had made adjustments to the stroller to allow me to clock sub-6 miles, I had even turned my kids into an onboard cheering unit, ‘run faster Daddy’ their cry whenever I slowed down (even if because of a hill).

This race let me put that all to the test. I write this race report with my tongue in my cheek, it was a local fun race, mainly an excuse to get our families together, but I ended up winning my age division and getting 5th place overall, despite my 90lb handicap.

Goals

  1. Finish – ACCOMPLISHED
  2. Kids enjoyed it – ACCOMPLISHED
  3. Sub 40 – ACCOMPLISHED
  4. Top 3 age group – ACCOMPLISHED
  5. Win age group – ACCOMPLISHED
  6. Top 3 overall – Not Accomplished
  7. Win – Not Accomplished

Successes

What am I proud of from race day?

  • Did not run over anyone or crash the stroller
  • Really strong effort
  • Paced the snack distribution well
  • Strong finish, the last mile was the fastest of the day

Failures

What areas could I improve for future races?

  • Almost took out the archway while leaving the starting gates

Thankfuls

What that was out of my control am I thankful for?

  • A great group of running dads
  • A race director that let me start in the front despite having a stroller & that being against the rules
  • Leftover fitness from my marathon

Frustrations

What that was out of my control do I wish had happened differently?

  • Out & back 10k at the same time as an out & back 5k meant I got bottlenecked behind slower runners at the end

Race Recap

I would be running with my 2 & 3 year old for this race. (~30 & ~25 lbs for those wondering) My stroller of choice is the Chariot Cougar 2. It is a multi function child carrying vehicle that can be used as a bike trailer, running stroller or sled. It weighs in at ~32 lbs, bringing my total weight to 87 lbs). I modified the handle to get it a bit higher and farther out which lets me run at full stride without kicking the back – I found that with the original handlebar I would kick the stroller if I dropped much below 6:30/mile.

Getting into position at the start of a race when you have a stroller is a bit tricky. Usually, without one, I just slip in at the front after doing some strides just before start. With the stroller, I had to line up a bit early to block out enough square footage for my profile and I couldn’t move at all once I was there. A few people stumbled over the stroller, as most people are used to shoulders marking taken space in a start corral and weren’t expecting a wheel.

Fueling is really important for longer races – don’t eat enough early and you’ll risk bonking at the end of the race. For a stroller 10k it is equally important – give your kids their snacks too early and you’re risking a breakdown at the end.

I brought three things for each child: a container of cereal with berries (it is small, so it takes them a long time to eat), a container of goldfish & raisins (their favorite, so promises of it motivates them) and a lollipop (it fully occupies their mouth for as long as it lasts, so there won’t be any crying or complaining). I had planned to use the cereal at the start, the goldfish at the turnaround and the lollipop for the final miles.

Turns out I hadn’t planned for breakfast so I used the cereal & berries pre-race and they had mostly finished it before the race started.

The gun went off and like always in a local 10k, everyone raced out of the gates at a pace much faster than they could maintain. Someone made a quick lateral and almost ate it on our front wheel, I ended lifting the wheel to move it out of the way, but that maneuver caused me to veer off course and almost resulted in me taking out the starting gate arch. I recovered though and nobody (nor any structure) went down.

The first 1/10 a mile is downhill and I was swerving to pass people. The next half mile is really flat and I used a bell I had brought to call people out of the way. I worked my way until I realized the leader was just a bit ahead of me. I hadn’t planned on being that close to the lead but though that now that I was, I should see if I could grab it.

That is when we hit the 1 mile long uphill that climbed just under 200ft. Normally I do really well at uphills, but the thing about gravity, is it slows you down more the more weight you have. Having a 90 lb stroller in front of me down by over a minute per mile, and the other runners started passing me back. I crossed 180 beats per minute and was really working hard.

The next mile was downhill though, 100 ft change, about half as much as the uphill I had just come up. As soon as I crested the hill my speed picked up and I started passing those runners back. I then attempted a very advanced move: putting away the empty snack containers, and getting out a new snack while holding a 5:40 mile. Worked like a charm. Only problem is that snack was supposed to be used after mile 3 and I was only at mile 2.

By this point of the race I was in 5th place and as it would turn out I wouldn’t pass anyone or get passed for the rest of the race.

Mile 3 and we turned around. The race had started on a road but eventually dropped to just the bike lane & sidewalk. Cars were still using the road, and despite them being careful, it meant that crossing the line was a major no no.

Heading back, I was in the same bike lane I had just been, except now I was running straight at the 129 people. Thankfully most people were very kind and hopped up onto the sidewalk to let me keep running – hopping up onto the sidewalk with a stroller wasn’t really possible. I did pass the other stroller-dads and we gave each other some good cheers.

The path back was the exact opposite, up the smaller hill first and then down the bigger hill. I held steady around 180 bpm and kept chugging along. Sometime around mile 4 I handed out the lollipops and prepared to give it all I had to see if I could catch anyone else. I gave it a good race effort & ended up crossing sub-5 a few times on the downhills.

I was zeroing in on the 40 minute mark, which was 6:30 per mile. I had thought would be appropriate based on a recent marathon effort at 6:30 per mile – this was shorter and the equivalency charts predicted me at 6:00 per mile, I added ~30 seconds for the stroller.

At the finish chute I got bottlenecked behind two 5k runners. They had slowed down to celebrate and I didn’t want to ruin their moment by passing them, but the clock was ticking down, 39:50, 39:51…

I ended up crossing at 38:58 and hitting my 40 minute goal. I guess it wouldn’t have mattered if I didn’t, but I’m glad to be able to have come in just under time.

Post race, the kids go the experience the joys of all sorts of snacks and a medal they took turns wearing. I think this was a great way to expose them to racing and it went along nicely with a race they watched me run earlier in the year and a kids race they would both run later in the year.

Here is our full group, four dads, 8 kids it tow and two others on the way. A great time.

I ended up winning my age group, here is me with the other age group winners post-race.

Data Breakdown

I’ll keep this analysis brief.

My pace bounced around a good bit, but that is because the extra weight of the stroller made uphills hurt more than usual and downhills help a bit more. The fastest speed I hit was 4:47 and my fastest mile was the final one, which came in at 5:56. Average was 6:28, which is where I wanted to be.

Heart rate wise, I quickly spiked to over 180, which is where I want to be for a 10k. I let off the gas a bit as I peaked the first hill, after that brutal climb with the stroller, I was glad to catch my breath, but shortly thereafter started working my way back up. From mile 3-6 I stayed pretty steady in the high 170s for an average of 177. I think I could have been a bit higher.

What is Next?

I really liked doing a stroller race, it was fun having the kids with me, the stroller added some extra mental stimulation and the handicap meant I had more competition to run with in a race I would have handily won otherwise. I’ll definitely consider it in the future for local races I’m running for fun.

A word of advice though, not all races are good for having a stroller. This one worked out because there were only ~150 runners and it very much had a local vibe. The website mentioned it was stroller friendly and we contacted the race director ahead of time to clear it. I’d suggest doing the same if you intend to run fast with a stroller as opposed to staying in the back, which is what some races expect.

How The Kroleski Family Does Toys – Our Rotation Process

Being the aspiring minimalists we are, my wife and I brought our first child home to our small apartment that had very few baby toys in it – everything fit in/on a toy box that sat on our bay window seat.

studio-apartment-room-window
Our first apartment with the toy box on the window seat.

Over the three years that followed, despite our best intentions, our house has accumulated many more toys. Though they are individually great – the trouble with toys, as is the trouble with most things, is that their value does not scale linearly. More toys does not equal more fun or more learning. There are diminishing returns. Eventually even negative returns where more toys results only in more mess, stress and frustration.

all-of-our-toys
This is almost all of our toys, spread out on the floor. It was really overwhelming to me to see it like this.

A knee-jerk reaction might be to get rid of most everything – to go full minimalist. While that reaction will provide some benefits, we feel it would be throwing the baby out with the bath water.

We are attempting to get the best of both worlds via a toy philosophy and rotation process that I will describe below.

First Principles

I should mention early that toys are just one of the ways our children spend their play time (time excluding sleep and meals). As we thought about it we realized it probably only makes up ~15-30% of their time – variance by age & season. Books, crafts, outdoor activities, indoor physical play (wrestling, dancing, etc.), talking and simply looking out the window make up the rest of the time. Screen time is negligible.

Since this post is focused on toys, however, it might seem as though they are a more significant part of our life so I wanted to include that comment.

Now I will set some context for the world toys exist in and the purpose we intend them for. Here are three sets of factors we kept in mind while creating our optimized solution.

The Purpose of Toys

To discuss the purpose of toys we must discuss the purpose of child rearing. (We could go so far as to discuss the purpose of life, but I suspect this post will be long enough as is.)

In the Kroleski Family we view it as our parental responsibility to teach our children the skills they need to thrive in this world and fulfill the mission they were created for.

I personally think of it as having ~18 years to train a deep learning system before setting it loose on the world.

This is a top life priority for my wife and me. She is a full time mom (+housekeeper) and even though I spend the majority of my day working in an office, child rearing is not an afterthought.

With all of that in mind, toys help us in a few ways:

  1. They are an appropriate object to focus energy on – as opposed to something they shouldn’t touch, a vase, a knife, etc.
  2. They serve as tools to help us equip them with important skills and concepts – fine motor skills, cause & effect, creativity, focus, etc.
  3. They are fun and entertaining – which is a good thing in itself and also helps the parents be able to focus on other things at times.

I should note here that I am limiting my discussion to toys. In our house this doesn’t include books, craft items (crayons, playdough, paint, etc.), certain furniture-like objects (rocking horse) or outdoor gear (bikes, camping gear, etc.) – each of which has their own (though somewhat similar) system.

toys-rotation-construction-trucks-and-beans

Other Factors to Consider

Toys and children present some other limiters, trade offs and circumstances that must be kept in mind as well:

  1. Some toys are only appropriate or engaging during certain developmental windows
  2. Children can become overwhelmed quite easily as they are still developing focusing & coping capacities – toys can cause this both individually and collectively through overstimulation.
  3. Children can become fixated on toys as objects of desire which can be disruptive to the child rearing process
  4. Parents play with children and enjoy variety
  5. Many people enjoy giving gifts and toys are a mainstay gift for children – this includes friends and especially grandparents
  6. Children and parents tire of doing the same thing for long periods or repeatedly
  7. There is an opportunity cost of not presenting children with new challenges

Our Minimalist House

Finally, we must account for their environment. These toys are physical objects within our house, where we try to maintain a particular sense of order. We generally seek to live by the following principles:

  1. Everything is in its place when we go to bed at night so we wake up to a clean house and a fresh day
  2. Less visual distraction allows for more focus – flat surfaces are not there to host stacks of objects
  3. Stepping on oddly shaped & sharp objects is less desirable than not stepping on said objects
  4. There should be room for silence – it encourages reflection

Our Working Solutions

With the above in mind, we’ve implemented the following solutions. This is very much a living solution that will change as our children grow, we face new challenges, we bump into the limits of our current plan’s foresight and/or any of the factors above shift.

Toy Philosophy

We generally don’t view toys as something that are owned by/ associated with specific children. There are not “Hunter’s toys” or “Theo’s toys”. All of the toys in our house are items that we share. The only objects in our house that really have specific child association are their special blankets they each received when they were born.

We do enforce the idea that when someone is playing with something, another person is not allowed to take it from them without asking. Sharing, asking and proposing trades is encouraged but ultimately temporary.

This system of non-ownership is fine in the house and allows some nice benefits, but does start to break down when we are at the park as not all children have the same view about their toys. I am still working out how to resolve this but generally sharing principles apply while at the park and I work to make sure our children don’t go home with someone else’s toys.

Toys are transient. The vast majority of toys in our house were once played with by someone else (including myself or my wife when we were respectively children), all of them will get played with by multiple siblings and eventually most will all find a new home where they can be played with. I believe this mindset helps develop a better relationship with ‘stuff’ while also allowing a more full appreciation of the specialness of the present moment.

We don’t use toys as motivators. There is no concept of ‘if you do X you will be able to play with Y’ or ‘if you do X, we will get you Y’. I suspect this one gets harder as children get older, but it is something we plan to avoid.

toy-rotation-train-track-being-wrecked
Theo enjoys the trains, but more in a Godzilla way.

We do not use toys as a way to show our love. We do use them to some degree as means to facilitate play time together, which is how we do show our love. I am intentional around this topic because I think using objects as a sign of love can create a mental fixations on objects which can result in negative consumption behaviors later in life that are hard to break free of.

We avoid making a big deal about new toys. I’ll describe our toy process more below, but new toys are generally just introduced into the fray unwrapped and ready to play with, the same way used toys or existing toys are. I believe that making a big deal about new ownership of a toy trains the brain to overdevelop stimulus pathways that will result in future desire to purchase things, even when those things aren’t needed. I want to help my children have grander motivations.

Toy Selection

The bar a toy must be above in order to earn its stay in our house is fairly high. It must be fun to play with, able to teach something, safe, quality made and properly working. A toy might lose its keep if it breaks beyond repair or repeatedly demonstrates it isn’t capable of facilitating play. (I should note that ‘beyond repair’ is pretty hard to reach in our house because I am a fixer.)

We often supplement toys with non-toys that meet the same bar – rubber spatulas, measuring cups, delivery boxes, camping flashlights, pots & pans, etc.

toys-on-back-porch
An example of the boys playing with non-toys. Water fun using our makeshift porch pool & some pots, pans and measuring cups.

We prefer toys that do not make electronic noise. We are fine with whistles and drums, but steer away from beeping, singing and such. There are exceptions. The boy’s uncle created the first one with an electronic music box that played classical tunes. It doesn’t suffer us the experience of incessant, undesired or seemingly random commencement as most electronic-noise toys do, so it was granted stay.

We generally maintain the less is better and so try not to have a toy if another toy already serves that purpose. We aren’t running 100% lean right now though. An astute observer might notice that there are over a dozen different balls in the picture above. Our middle child really likes playing with balls and we allow a bit more there because sometimes a specific size, shape, color, texture or bounce pattern will get extra engagement on a given week. We might thin it out eventually but haven’t done so to date.

Maintaining a high bar on toy selection becomes difficult when faced with the reality of gifts – especially if you as fortunate as we are to have lots of loving and generous people around you. People close to us generally know our minimalist tendencies and try to respect them, which helps reduce overall toy input volume. We also work to try and redirect gift giving towards other things like clothes or focus it on specific types of toys we think are good. That said, sometimes grandma just really wants to get her grandson a certain toy and we practice mercy around this (to an extent).

Because the boys get plenty of new toys from others, we rarely feel anything else is needed. I’ve now been a parent for nearly three years and have yet to buy a new toy. I did purchase that train set from someone I was buying a stroller from – the boys had enjoyed playing trains with their cousin, the price was amazing and I knew we would be able to create some crazy-fun track setups – I was right.

toy-rotation-aswesome-thomas-train-track
One of our awesome train setups. I’ve only introduced about half of the tracks so far, the more complex pieces will come out as the boys get older and can use them.

The Toy Rotation Process

We practice a rotation process with toys so that only a small amount is available to play with at any given point.

All toys permanently live in a a few storage containers in the basement and every week some small portion of those toys, comes to visit us in the house. (This shelf is showing the normal state of all of the things that are spread out in the picture at the top of this post.)

toy-storage
The closet in our basement store toys on one shelf & camping gear on another. The top shelf normally has our sleeping bags on it (unstuffed) but I removed them for this picture to help with lighting.
The Process

On Sunday night, while the children are sleeping, one of us parents will collect the toys from the house and switch them with items from the basement.

The process involves putting things away in zip lock bags by type to help keep things orderly – all cars go together as do puppets, etc.

We then select a few new toys that we think will be good for the coming week – I’ll write more about the selection process below.

On Monday morning the boys wake up to a fresh set of toys. It is sort of a special morning where they go to see what they have to play with for that week. It captures much of the excitement of what you might expect of a child on Christmas morning but in a way that seems healthier.

toy-rotation-table-closeup
A close up of a few of the items. I’m noticing now that everything on this table was a gift.
toy-room-setup
We have a strange alcove room in our house that we’ve deemed the play room – we put the toys out in there and they slowly make their way into the living room throughout the day before going back at clean up time before bed.

Here are two pictures of recent rotation to show you the amount of toys that get rotated in. We use that blue and white basket to rotate them and generally all toys go back in that basket at clean up time in the evening.

Toy Rotation Benefits

We see this rotation process as having a few benefits:

  1. Toys stay fresh. Since toys go away, when they do come back they are more appreciated.
  2. The amount of toys to play with at any point is limited, which helps encourage focus.
  3. The amount of toys to clean up at the end of the day is limited, which helps ensure success
  4. As parents we have a lever to guide our children’s play based on things we think they will enjoy and that will challenge them
Toy Rotation Tips & Tricks

1) Coming Up With A Good Rotation

At first we just grabbed a few things but over time we’ve become more intentional about what goes into a week’s rotation. We consider what the week will be like – for example, if it will be raining and we will spend lots of time indoors – what toys have been out recently, what might help stretch a child and what they have been interested in lately.

We, informally, regard toys as being of different tiers. We always try to include one of our ‘top tier’ toys, such as the legos, wooden blocks or space tops. We also include a few other toys that are ‘middle tier’ and ‘bottom tier’ to help provide some diversity.

Hunter making some lego airplanes. We’re still working on the concept of aerodynamics – that plane in the back would have trouble flying…

Toys will periodically get moved around based on the development of our children and how engaging those toys were.

I also try to make sure there is something for each child. As I said above, we don’t really believe in toy-child association/ownership but I do know that each of my children has certain preferences.

2) Experiment Often

We also typically include a few experimental toys – things we aren’t sure they are old enough for or that they didn’t like previously. We want to see if anything has changed.

To give you one example, I (somewhat selfishly) tried for a long time to rotate some of my old Star Wars action figures into the mix because I really wanted to do Darth Vader voices and such as I played with the boys. They never really took on but I kept trying every few months. On one such month, my eldest child, who was on an space shuttle kick, saw Boba Fett and exclaimed “It’s an astronaut!” That is now one of his favorite toys and I get to tell him all about Boba Fett (we focus on the astronaut part of things and not the killer-for-hire part).

I have a ton of other anecdotes about times where a seemingly never played with toy became a hit for a reason I couldn’t have predicted. That is some of the reason I am ok having what I consider to be an exorbitant amount of toys in our house – you never know when one will catch on. Thanks to the rotation process, the toys that haven’t caught on aren’t causing clutter in our living space, they are in storage space out of mind.

3) Putting Toys on Ice

We often put toys on ice for a period. That basically just means it won’t be rotated in. Some toys are great for a specific development state and sometimes we have no child in that state, so we might let a specific toy sit for six months and then introduce it gain.

Toys can also go on ice if they become frustrating to either a child or an adult. Our space tops toy was a great family activity, we parents could launch the tops and the boys enjoyed chasing the spinning tops. Eventually our eldest wanted to launch the tops but didn’t quite have the strength, which caused a lot of frustration for him. We put it on ice for a bit until and then tried again after he had grown a bit more and he was then able to operate it. Putting it on ice helped ensure the toy is still loved while avoiding a frustration that we didn’t feel was of the productive/beneficial kind.

4) Requesting Rotations

Our eldest child, now 2 1/2, understands the rotation process and periodically asks for something specific. We’ve generally been encouraging of this as it helps teach him patience, delayed gratification and allows him an easy way to participate in a decision process that affects him. It also helps us make sure we create an engaging rotation for that week.

5) Slippage

Inevitably, there will be weeks where there are more toys at the end of the week than the beginning. Sometimes this happens because we get out a specific toy to help with a specific thing during the week, sometimes we grant a request early, sometimes a new toy is introduced to the house, and often we get out toys when company is coming to make sure there are enough and appropriate toys for whoever is coming over.

We don’t stress over this too much, we know that it will only be a few days before they rotate back and we have a small amount again. In rare cases, there are way too many things out and we’ll put a few back.

6) Don’t Always Play The Hits

It is important, though sometimes difficult, to rest the best toys. Sometimes we want to leave the legos out for an extra week because the boys have been doing so great with them. I think that if you wait until a toy goes stale, you’ve messed up the whole system. I push myself to rotate it while it is still hot, bring something else in and then know that it will come back hot next time.

7) Borrow Toys From Others Too

Along with rotating toys from the basement, we do a fair bit of borrowing/trading toys with other families, mainly our in-laws who live near by. I find it especially easy since we already have an established practice of rotation – having random toys appear and disappear isn’t strange for our children, they don’t know the difference if the toys go into our basement or someone else’s house.

Borrowing toys creates the same benefits as rotating toys in that it allows children to play with new things for a period. It has the added benefit that it doesn’t increase the storage space needed in the basement for you since you are drawing from a pool stored at other houses.

I’ve heard about companies that are popping up in this space – I think that is a great idea. I’m not sure the business model is sustainable based on the availability & size, but if you don’t have friends with kids to trade with, a service is a great place to start.

8) Certain Toys Have Specific Homes

We have a few items that live in a specific place. The magnetic letters live on the fridge, the toy workbench lives next to my work bench in the garage, the water toys live on the porch in the summer and get put away in the winter, etc.

Update January 2018

A year later and I wanted to reflect back and share some updates I’ve learned since the original writing.

In the philosophy section I mentioned a few things we’ve worked hard to fight for that are a bit unique. We now have a few toys that belong to a specific child, this is especially true of gifts during the period right after they receive them. We generally try to limit this and even with their specific toys, require sharing.

Though we have tried not to make a big deal out of new toys, my oldest (almost 4) is now starting to understand the concept of gifts at birthdays and is starting to ask for things. We’ve directed that attention towards him being able to work to earn money to buy things he wants. Recently he earned a bunch of money helping do yard work which he spent on two sets of Legos, one for him and another for his brother (unprompted actually!). We’re encouraging of him learning the value of hard work and right now toys and sweets happen to be the best motivators.

In the toy selection section I mentioned I hadn’t bought my children any new toys. There have now been a few more exceptions. There were some specific toys I’d seen them do well with and wanted to introduce but couldn’t find used, in these cases I’m find buying something new.

Thinking of buying toys, I think of a true cost of toys in terms cost per hours of play. I’ve probably spent close to $300 on Magna-Tiles & Legos, some new some used, but those toys get played with 20+ hours per week and last for generations. Their true cost is actually much lower than some cheap novelty that will break after one day.

You can do a similar calculation with storage size vs hours of play to see which toys are worth their space. It is also important to keep in mind the toy selection standards I mentioned above. The cheapest per hour and smallest amount of space is always free shows streamed from a tablet but using that as the only (or even primary) source of entertainment for kids doesn’t live up to our standards.

The only thing I updated about the rotation process is that I changed it to Wednesday. I found Monday was the easiest day of the week for my wife because the kids were worn out from a fun weekend and she was fresh from having me be around to help. Wednesday rotations helped get over the mid week hump.