Why are toddlers offered sorting activities?

Why are toddlers offered sorting activities?

(Author MS.Aishwarya Dwarakanath - Montessori guide & consultant)

You would have probably noticed toddlers sorting shapes onto wooden pegs or pasting stickers on different sheets based on the colour or even sorting grains and pulses into tiny bowls. Have you wondered why these activities are offered to them?

Sorting is an important cognitive skill for toddlers to develop. Not only does sorting help toddlers and preschoolers work on their fine-motor coordination and concentration, but it also aids with reading and numeracy later! For example, sorting objects based on their shape helps toddlers visually recognize different letters and numbers. While sorting objects based on dimensions or weight, they are absorbing early math concepts like recognizing quantities and comparing numerical magnitudes.

Young children between the ages of 0 to 6 years learn about their environment through their senses. When they are offered a new object- for example, a ball- they are using their senses to take in all of the physical characteristics of the ball- its colour, shape, size, weight, the sound it makes, how it feels, smells, and yes, how it tastes as well!

Dr Montessori observed children and realized that we must help the child refine their senses at an age when they are naturally inclined to do so. She introduced pairing and sorting activities that would help exercise the senses.
Sorting is an activity that involves repeatedly pairing, classifying and arranging objects based on their similarities and differences. It helps children recognize and isolate objects based on their physical characteristics. These activities do not require external correction as they are self-corrective in nature. The child’s senses will help them judge their work for themselves.

How does the child do the sorting independently? How do they know the basis on which they have to sort? Imagine a young toddler asked to sort fruits by colour. The idea of colour is an abstract concept. It is more intriguing to lick, squash, peel and eat the fruits or throw them across the room to see what noises they make! This is because the child is overstimulated and would prefer exploring all of the stimuli, rather than focusing on something called ‘colour’.

 The answer to this problem is the isolation of the physical property.  Dr Maria Montessori’s sensorial materials help isolate just one physical property allowing the child to immediately recognize and sort similar or different objects. When you ask your child to sort out a mix of red and blue beads/blocks that all look the same, weigh the same and feel the same- the differentiating factor becomes very obvious to the child- colour!

While sensorially sorting objects helps toddlers refine their senses, it is important to simultaneously offer the language needed to recognize what they are sorting. For instance, once your child is comfortable using their visual sense to sort objects based on their colour, we can introduce the names of the colours through a separate name lesson.

Another tip for sorting activities by toddlers is to ensure that you offer strongly contrasting stimuli initially, then move on to subtler differences. Again to take the example of colour- I would offer sorting and pairing boldly contrasting colours initially- like red/blue/yellow/black/white etc., then move on to sorting between lighter and darker shades of these colours later.

Refinement of senses happens over time. Always allow space and time for your child to choose and repeat a work many times. Toddlers may love to work while standing near the shelf or seated on a mat with their material. They love movement and language- so if you incorporate walking or using their body into a sorting activity, it might become a hit! Just place two small trays 3 feet apart and ask your toddler to sort a tray full of forks and spoons into the two smaller trays. You could come up with activities around sorting with almost anything!

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