Early experiences in sorting and classifying help young children notice how things are alike and different. They will apply this understanding when learning math skills in the primary grades. Here are some ways families can sort and classify at home.

• Looking at favorite family photographs together can lead to many interesting sorting and classifying activities. Begin by sorting pictures into girl and boy pictures, and then try more challenging categories, such as Mom’s or Dad’s family members, brothers and sisters, or where people currently live. If you want to imitate how scientists classify things, try sorting into just two groups, such as cousins versus not cousins.

• Sort shopping lists according to the type of item, such as fresh vegetables, frozen foods, or cleaning supplies. At the store, predict where each item will be located.

• Do you collect rocks — or seashells, or coins, or teddy bears? Think of ways you and your child might sort them. Use containers you have around the house — muffin tins, egg cartons, or recycled yogurt cups.

• Help your child figure out a way to sort and store toys and art materials. For example, suggest keeping all the stuffed animals in one basket and trucks in another. Or sort a collection of plastic dinosaurs by carnivores versus herbivores.

Source: Adapted from the Message in a Backpack, Teaching Young Children 5 (5): 15

© National Association for the Education of Young Children — Promoting excellence in early childhood education