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Children sit next to each other on a classroom carpet. One child has her hand extended, thumb raised.


Susan Roberts

Susan Roberts

April 24, 2020

In the spring of 2019 the professional development workshop Big Ideas for Early Mathematics was presented by the Erikson Institute. The focus was on precursor skills which provide a foundation for future mathematical skills. An important precursor skill is sorting.This is a quote from the technical assistance handout the Childcare Resources coaches gave to centers after the workshop:

Exploring sets

“Sorting things into categories is one of the ways mathematics enters into our daily life. At “clean-up time,” children discover that forks and knives belong in one place, plates belong somewhere else, and glasses and cups belong in yet another place. As children and adults talk about what makes one set of things go together and why other things belong elsewhere, they are doing important talking… and thinking. Talking about attributes and qualities such as size, shape, texture, and color encourages children to look more closely at things. This also is a great way to develop children’s vocabulary.”

- Erikson Institute

Talking about attributes of objects, sorting and categorizing are skills parents can do with their children every day. These simple activities are not just busy work. They are helping their child develop important pre math skills. These activities also help with pre literacy and pre writing skills such as vocabulary development, visual discrimination, focus, critical thinking, and fine motor skills.

Share these home activities with your parents:

Ages 3 and under:

Match color or shape of a limited number of objects. Start with one difference (ie, color) and then move on to two (color and shape). Use large blocks, balls, socks, plastic cups, etc. As your child begins to understand, add more objects and more attributes (ie, different sizes of blocks, different shades of blue)

Ages 3 and up:

Sort toys by various attributes such as books vs puzzles, blocks vs animals. This is actually called clean up time! Then categorize by specific attributes. People vs animals, blocks vs Legos, little books vs big books, etc.

Categorize with objects such as buttons and beans. This presents lots of choices and makes the activity more challenging. Buttons can be categorized by color, size, number of holes, shape, material they are made from, etc. The divided paper helps to organize the objects. Beans can be categorized by color, shape, etc. An egg carton can be a useful sorting and storage container for small items.


Talk all of the time, about everything, all day long!

Small items that can pass through a toilet paper roll can be a choking hazard for children under 3.

Always supervise children using small objects.

Two small groups of children's toys sorted by color. One group is red, the other is yellow.
Two small groups of children's toys. The group on the left is animals and insects. The group on the right is humans.
A pile of buttons being sorted into various categories of color and size.
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