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Welcome to Preschool Math, a series that will highlight articles on developing patterning, sorting and number sense with your preschooler! Read the patterning article here.

Sorting, or putting items into like groups and categories, is an important early learning math skill. You can sort in so many ways–color, shape, size, quantity, specific attributes, gender, age. The possibilities are endless!

Sorting is simply grouping like objects together. An example is sorting apples into groups by color. Sorting is an important math skill because children start to discover how things are alike and different. Read on for ideas on how to make sorting a part of your life throughout the day and more specific sorting activities!

When introducing the concept of sorting to your child, use words such as sort, group, categories, and similar to describe what you are doing. An easy example to see if your child understands the basic concept of sorting is to give your child two colors of an item (such as red and green goldfish crackers). Place them in front of your child, all mixed together, and ask, “Can you put these into two groups of things that are the same? Make two piles of the same items.” If you child simply moves them into one big group, that’s okay! Creating a collection of objects is the first stage of learning how to sort.

One of my favorite books to read with children when introducing the concept of sorting is called A Pair of Socks. I love to gather up random socks (with and without matches) and let children sort the socks, finding matches, after reading the book. Another activity that goes well with this book is a simple matching game. Playing a game such as memory is a great sorting activity. You can even incorporate pre-reading skills into your matching game by trying this environmental print matching game.

A simple, FREE way to do sorting activities is to use natural materials. Some materials that can be sorted (in multiple ways!) are:

  • rocks
  • sea shells
  • leaves
  • feathers

There are many fun and affordable toys specific for sorting. A friend of mine got my son this amazing sorting toy (seen in the picture at the top of the article). It is a pie, with a divider and many various sorting examples. We also have this Montessori inspired sorting toy that I purchased from Etsy.

The best thing to do with items like the ones I mentioned are to give them to your child without any preconceptions as to what they are “supposed to” do with the toy. Let your child explore the items and see what they do! You might be surprised at the creative ways your child uses them–and they might be able to sort without being previously taught!

Simple ways to make sorting part of your day:

  • Have your child help sort and match socks.
  • Sort clean laundry into groups of who they belong to. Then sort them even more into groups by making piles of shirts, pants and undergarments for each family member.
  • Create specific places for toys to be put away–blocks have a specific box, Legos have a specific place, animals have a place, and puzzles have another. When your child is putting away the toys, they are doing some sorting by what type of toy they are!
  • Let your child sort clean dishes and silverware; bowls together, plates together, small plates together and then forks, knives and spoons in each of their places.