A young child doesn't yet know how to sort by color.

How to Teach a Toddler to Sort Items

by Maggie McCormick

Sorting is a skill that most children learn between the ages of 2 and 3. Most kids eventually learn it on their own, but us type A parents can't resist giving our little darlings a push up the academic ladder. Though sorting comes second nature to us, you'll be surprised how your child views things in different ways. You may find that he sorts things in a way you had never thought.

Introduce your toddler to the ideas of same and different. To be able to sort, he needs to understand how things relate to each other. Look for many opportunities to point out items that are the same or different. For example, when reading a book, you could say, "Look, there are two bunnies. They're the same." In the store, you might hold up two balls and say, "Here's a red ball and a blue ball. They're different." As he gets older and understands better, you can ask him whether two items are the same or different.

Point out groups of similar items. The dinner table is the perfect place to do this, as foods are often separated on his plate. You might say, "Look, all the strawberries are together and all the peas are together." Try changing a few things up, too, by putting one strawberry next to the cheese instead of with the other strawberries to see if he notices that it's out of place.

Sort toys together. When you're playing, look for ways that you can start sorting his toys. You might put all of the blue blocks in one pile and all of the yellow ones in another. Enlist his help.

Encourage him to sort on his own. Once he's got the concept down--or at least you think he does--try getting him to do it by himself. Give him a pile of toys and two containers and ask, "How are we going to put these away?" He might start throwing things into each of the boxes all willy-nilly, or he might separate them into cars and trains. If you're not sure why he's putting them into the boxes, ask. It will surprise you to learn that the ones in this box make loud noises and the ones in that box are quieter.

Incorporate sorting into everyday activities. Things really start to cement when they relate to daily life. The more your toddler sees how important it is for you to sort things, the more he'll want to learn to do it himself. Ask him to help you sort groceries or laundry and see how fast he starts sorting things on his own.

Items you will need

  • Toys

About the Author

Maggie McCormick is a freelance writer. She lived in Japan for three years teaching preschool to young children and currently lives in Honolulu with her family. She received a B.A. in women's studies from Wellesley College.

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