Sorting activities can range from super simple to more complex – making it great for toddlers (starting around 15-18 months) all the way up to early elementary. It also keeps little hands and bodies busy, which is always a plus!
Benefits of Sorting Activities for Language Development
One benefit of sorting that you might not think of is that it encourages language learning skills. That’s because it mimics the way that our brains naturally learn and “file” new vocabulary in our brains. When we hear a new word for the first time (as a child or an adult), our brains use a technique called fast mapping to decide where to store that information. Then as we hear that term again and again, our brains refine where to file that word (slow mapping). This process is essentially a massive sorting and categorizing task that our brain does in a matter of seconds. It’s pretty amazing!
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Color Sorting Activities
One of the first sorting activities that you could try with your toddler is a color sorting activity that also has a matching element to it to make it a little easier.
You might want to target these language concepts:
- Color vocabulary
- Put in/on
1. Color Sorting with Jumbo Jingle Bells
We used plastic containers with a piece of construction paper taped into the bottom to sort red and green jingle bells as a Christmas activity. I put the bells all throughout our hallway/foyer area so Sylvie got some energy out on a cold day. I was surprised how much she loved this activity!! I think it mostly had to with the jumbo jingle bells – she thought shaking and kicking them down the hallway was super fun.
2. Color Sorting with a Sensory Bin
Putting colored items in a sensory bin is also a great way to target color sorting. In our Christmas Sensory Bin, I put pom-poms and Christmas erasers that were green, red, white and brown in a bin of rice.
3. Color Sorting with Stickers
This post from Busy Toddler features a great activity for color sorting using dot stickers and construction paper. This was one of the first matching/sorting activities I tried with Sylvie because she is obsessed with stickers, and dot stickers are so cheap and easy to manipulate!
4. Color Sorting with Legos
If you have Legos, Duplos, or Mega Blocks at your house, the activity below from This Little Home of Mine would be perfect to try too! (Click here to see the set of Dulpos we got for Sylvie – I like the container they come in that makes for easier clean-up)
Sorting Activities while Doing “Chores”
You might as well get them helping out around the house as early as possible. And if you make it into a “sorting game” – they might be more willing to help! (maybe)
You could target these language concepts:
- Household vocabulary such as fork, knife, spoon, various toy names, clothing items
- Location words: in drawer, on top, take out, on shelf, in box/basket, etc.
5. Sorting the Silverware
When it comes to sorting the silverware, Sylvie definitely does more playing than sorting at this point (21 months), but she finds it interesting. I figure it is laying the foundation for “helping with chores.”
We label the different types of silverware, talk about opening and closing the drawer, and bringing over the chair. If you don’t feel comfortable with your tot standing on a chair, learning towers are awesome! My friend has one and she includes her children in cooking activities and general kitchen helping everyday.
6. Sorting by Tidying the Toys
Ugh, how many times a day do you look around and see toys scattered across every floor?! I still end up doing most of the tidying, but again, making it into a game of sorts can help a bit.
Try setting out two familiar containers that your little one can put toys into. For instance, all Sylvie’s Duplos go in the green box they came in and all her balls go into a round container. She knows this because that is where they always are (this might not work as well if your child has one giant toy box).
Lots of modeling and talking about what you’re doing can help too. “I’m putting in a green Lego.” “Here’s a ball; put it in the box.”
Sorting by Texture Activities
The trick with sorting by texture (soft/hard, rough/smooth) is finding the items to sort. Sometimes I will do a lot of the same items like soft pom-poms vs. hard blocks. But it can also be really fun (and more challenging for the child) to walk around your house gathering items that you can put into your sorting activity.
7. Sorting Soft vs. Hard Items
Here is an example of teaching soft vs. hard items from Gift of Curiosity .
8. Sorting Rough vs. Smooth Items
This sorting rough vs. smooth activity with rocks also uses a “mystery bag,” which adds even more fun! You can check it out at Learn with Play at Home.
Sorting by Size
9. Sorting Big/Little Pom-Poms onto Contact Paper
I thought this was such a clever idea! Unfortunately, Sylvie is afraid of contact paper?!?!? So strange. Hope your little ones like it. You can check out the post at I Can Teach My Child.
10. Sorting Big/Medium/Little Hearts into Bowls
We combined a Sensory Bin activity with sorting for this sort-by-size activity.
11. Sorting Big/Little Bears into Bowls
This sorting activity with counting bears will take you no time to set-up, which is always a plus! I love that she used different size jars for the bear sorting – so simple but so genius! (You could also use different sized bowls if that is easier!) You can check this one out at PreKinders.
12. Sorting Big/Medium/Little with Bows
Such a cute sorting idea around the holidays! This idea was featured at Learning 4 Kids.
Sorting by Location
13. Sorting Animals (or Transportation) by Land/Air/Water
When I worked as a Speech-Language Pathologist in a preschool program, I made something like this out of large construction paper that I laminated and then had the students tape on pictures of animals or vehicles based on here they lived/operated. I love this felt version by Slinky + Moose.
Sorting by Beginning Sound/Letters Activity
14. Sorting for Early Literacy Skills
This sorting activity from The Imagination Tree would be great for preschoolers or early elementary children. It may help for you to exaggerate the beginning sound to help them figure out which basket each object belongs in.
I hope that you enjoyed these ideas! I love to hear from readers – please leave a comment below.
Does anyone else have a child who hates contact paper?
What is your go-to sorting activity? (feel free to leave a picture or a link!)
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