Sorting is often one of the first math skills taught in an early childhood classroom, and it is often forgotten after it is taught. Sorting is the concept of grouping similar items. The challenge is that often times teachers say “sort these bears by color.” “sort these blocks by shape” “sort these toys by type.” What is wrong with this? The teacher is doing most of the thinking. There is no need for a child to explain or discuss their thought process because they don’t have to really think.
What we need to do is have children explore sorting on their own and then ask questions. Can you explain how you sorted these items? Why does this piece go in this group? Where will this piece go? Can you sort them a different way? By allowing children to make their own judgement on how the items need to be sorted, AND asking probing questions we get children thinking mathematically.
Provide your child will a bin of items. They can be all the same type with various attributes such as a bin of Lego blocks that are different color, size, thickness etc, wooden blocks, marbles, or other items that are considered the “same”. Or they can be totally different items such as a lost parts bin (don’t you have one of these? a collection of where does this go things), items found in nature, or the bottom of your child’s toy box. Here the thing… it doesn’t matter what you use as long as your child can start to find connections between the items.
When children start sorting they are creating rules. This goes here because… This can’t go here because…
Rule one as the adult… do not assume you understand their sorting rules… ASK! We need to get children talking about math. They need to express their thinking and explain their logic. Remember there is no wrong way to sort as long as he/she can explain their thinking!
Math terms to use:
- sorting– grouping items by attribute
- classify– arrange in groups
- attribute– a characteristic of something
- groups– items that work together
- and more!