Toddlerhood is a time when most children naturally enter into the sensitive period for order.
Color sorting is one of the impromptu home-based activities I create following my toddler's interest -- i.e. when I notice my toddler spontaneously lining up toys and household items on her own accord or pointing to and naming colors, I know she's in the process of identifying colors around her and would quickly put together color sorting activities.
These are some easy DIY color sorting materials I've put together from everyday items around the house. This is an inexpensive and quick way to fulfil my toddler's need for creating order and interest in sorting at home. Also see my earlier post on size sorting activities with everyday materials.
How the Color Sorting Work is Initiated
Color sorting is intuitive, so I let my toddler explore the resources on her own. It is also self-correcting, as a child can see when an error is made. This process of self-discovery, problem-solving and rationalisation is important, and cements the foundation of Montessori education.
For young toddlers, I typically start with color sorting of 2 primary colors, then increase the colors for more challenge, before moving to introduction of secondary colors.
For greater sorting success, I try to isolate the one category to sort by. For instance, for color sorting work, I use the same type of object (i.e. Skittles, not Skittles and M&Ms) but vary the colors. In addition, I try to closely match the colors of the objects with that of the sorting containers/items.
I find using novel items around the house a great way for sensorial provocation as this exposes my toddler to materials she usually doesn't experience. Heuristic play is a great enabler for sensory processing and learning.
There are plenty of materials and ideas for sorting containers and boundaries. At home, these are easy ones to use or DIY:
- Colored cups
- Colored bowls
- Construction paper (for large sorting surface)
- Envelopes (for smaller sorting surface)
- Sticking masking tape on the floor to mark out boundaries
- Cut construction paper to fit container lids
10+ Everyday Items for Montessori-inspired Color Sorting
1. Pom pom balls
Pom pom balls are common art and craft materials, and usually come in a myriad of colors. They're perfect for color sorting activities, and a scooper or tweezers could be provided to add fine motor practice.
Apart from colors, assorted pom pom balls also work great for size sorting.
2. Loom Bands
Hair ties or hair clips would be great substitutes for loom bands too.
Loom bands are stretchy and fun to explore for toddlers, in addition to sorting by color.
3. Wooden counters
Poker chips make great substitutes for board game wooden counters too.
When displayed in this manner, my toddler didn't actually go straight to sorting by color -- she was stacking the wooden counters. It's perfectly normal for children not to engage in activities the way we visualise, remember any form of play schema used is beneficial for learning.
4. Masking Tape
I found solid color masking tape rolls from Amazon and my toddler enjoys practising her scissors skills on them.
We cut out a couple of pieces of tape and I decided to utilise them for a sorting (also a free art expression) activity.
For children learning sight words, it would be fun to spell 'red' and 'yellow' on the sorting paper, and having children trace the words with masking tape bits.
5. Dot Stickers
A perennial favourite of Busy Toddler, dot stickers are so useful! When I first introduced dot sticker activities to my toddler, she was obsessed with the sticker peeling and sticking process.
Once she figured out how the dot stickers worked, her enthusiasm waned.
(Not pictured) One solution would be to illustrate the dot stickers -- add in a black dot to make pupils of the eye, or draw a smiley face. This trick reignited my toddler's interest in dot stickering.
For bilingual parents, here are some interesting ways CHALK Academy used in dot sticker activities to teach multiple languages to children.
6. Sealing Clips
This is an everyday household item we use -- to seal food packaging. My toddler enjoyed exploring how sealing clips work, in addition to using them for sorting.
For children with advanced fine motor coordination, you could also offer smaller strips of sorting paper to them so they could attach the sealing clips onto the paper instead of just putting the clips on the paper.
7. Felt Scraps
I usually collect construction paper scraps and felt scraps from craft work and my toddler's regular cutting practice. These scraps can be repurposed into sorting materials.
After this color sorting work, I stored these felt scraps in my toddler's play dough tinker box so she could use them as pretend ice cream sprinkle toppings.
8. Play Dough
Play dough is superb -- you could make any quantity of sorting counters from them!
My toddler is into using cookie cutters lately so this activity of stamping hearts onto play dough was right up her alley. Once she was happy with her yield, I brought out construction paper for her to sort the play dough hearts by color.
This is an activity that's best not left on the shelf as play dough dries up and hardens with prolonged exposure to air.
9. Popsicle Sticks
These are easy to find at Dollar Tree or any art and craft supply store. They usually come in a number of colors, hence sorting work can be extended to multiple colors with advancement in children's sorting ability.
An extension of this sorting work -- It's fun for children to use the popsicle stickers to make shapes (squares/hexagons etc) or alphabet letters.
10. DUPLO Lego Bricks
This idea of using lego bricks for color sorting originated from Happy Tot Shelf.
It is preferable to isolate the same shape/size of the lego bricks for this sorting work to make this activity more Montessori-inspired.
11. Wooden Blocks
Open-ended toys like wooden blocks serve many purposes -- among which, sorting.
Once again, I isolated the same size/shape of wooden blocks for a more Montessori-inspired approach to this sorting work.
Other Everyday Materials for Color Sorting
There're tonnes of everyday materials around us that can be creatively repurposed for color sorting work. Others I thought of:
- Lacing beads
- Dried beans
- Dyed pasta pieces
- Nature-sourced materials like leaves (green/red/yellow/brown)
- Water beads (adds in a fine motor aspect!)
- Open-ended toys like Magna-tiles and Squigz
On the topic of color -- If you're a bilingual parent too, you might also like my earlier post on teaching colors in Chinese to toddlers using sensory-based activities.
I hope these easy ideas inspire more color sorting activities for your children and help to develop and engage their rational minds.
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Note: I am not trained in Montessori, so all of the above information is derived from my own research and understanding of the Montessori method as well as my education and experience working with young children.
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Hi! I am Yunnie. I am the newly minted mama to a little baby girl and a mum friend to everyone on this special (and many times scary) journey of motherhood. Also a graduated bride with a penchant for weddings.