For children entering a sensitive period for sorting, it is beneficial to provide abundant opportunities aligned to this interest of creating order in their worlds. Sorting work refines children's senses and hone logical thinking, paving the way for learning of numerical concepts and classifications at a later age.
There are myriad ways for children to sort, the most common ones being by color, size and shape. Other ways of sorting include temperature, weight, phonetic sound and category (e.g. farm vs wild animals, day vs night pictures).
How I Initiate the Sort
- For children beginning to sort, I found it helpful to trace the objects' outlines onto cards. I lay out the cards in the order of smallest to biggest and demonstrate placing each object above the card with a corresponding outline. Then I return the objects to the container and repeat placing them on the cards. I do the lesson with slow and deliberate hand movements and in silence. Children may catch on and even complete the demonstration.
Children with more sorting practice may sort and grade directly without the use of the tracing cards.
When necessary, I provide guidance by prompting "Which is the next smallest/largest?" until the last object is reached.
Start with 3 sizes for sorting, introducing the concept of small, medium and large. After children master this quantity, I would introduce more objects for grading and sorting.
10+ Everyday Items for Montessori-inspired Size Sorting!
In this post, I would be sharing activity ideas for sorting by size, using inexpensive materials, namely everyday household items and nature-based loose parts. Children would delight in the exploration and manipulation of these different and well-rotated tactile objects as they practise sorting.
1. Sorting Cutlery by Size
I used a teaspoon, 2 tablespoons and a ladle for this easy setup. Other kitchen utensils that could be used for sorting: bowls, plates, tupperware, jars.
2. Sorting Measuring Cups by Size
This can be a challenging sort for children as the visual difference in sizes of measuring cups is small. It would be beneficial to demonstrate the sort for the child to observe as many times as needed before the child tries it on her own.
I demonstrated this sort by taking out the measuring cups from its nested position, laying them out to visually assess and arranging them from left to right according to size.
For children who have mastered this sorting work, you could challenge them to sort in different iterations -- from big to small, small to big, nest them and stack them.
3. Sorting Measuring Spoons by Size
Measuring spoons are much smaller than measuring cups, making it even more challenging for visual discrimination of size. It is best to introduce this only after children have mastered sorting with the bigger measuring cups.
This activity provides the opportunity for an early introduction to fractions. You might like to point out the fraction labels on each measuring spoon.
This activity could also cross into dough play. Have children fill the measuring spoons with play dough and stack the dough cups. Doing so increases visual perception and tangible feel of differences in size.
4. Sorting Cookie Cutters by Size
In my setup, I'm using a set of really blunt and weathered metal cookie cutters that has been in my household for ages. I would however recommend the use of silicon or plastic cookie cutters for children to safely manipulate, explore and investigate these items.
5. Sorting Vegetables by Size
I used 3 whole ginger roots for this setup. Ginger root could easily be broken up by hand to yield different sizes. I like that there's no food wastage as the used ginger remained in good condition after the sorting and exploration.
Hardy vegetables like broccoli (cut into differently sized florets), carrots (cut into differently sized chunks) and varying sizes of potatoes would make a good sorting set too.
6. Sorting Rocks by Size
This is a great activity to initiate following an outdoor trip into nature, particularly for little avid collectors of rocks.
It would be more ideal to use rocks of the same color and texture, but I had limited rocks so I made do. If possible, keep other properties of the objects constant and vary only the size of the rocks for a more Montessori-inspired, child-friendly sort.
7. Sorting Twigs by Size
Another sort using nature-based resources.
These loose parts inspired my toddler to not only sort, but rearrange the sticks to form shapes. That is a teachable moment to learn about shape formation and notice differences in shape outcome with equal/unequal sides (e.g. 4 equal sides make a square, while 4 unequal sides would form another shape such as a trapezium).
8. Sorting Pinecones by Size
This is another setup utilising nature's treasures -- pinecones.
This activity provides the opportunity for children to learn science, specifically why pine cones differ in sizes (gender and type of trees). I found Earth Rangers' website informative on this subject matter with clear, vivid images.
9. Sorting Seashells by Size
This sorting activity would nicely round up children's visit to the beach. If insufficient or unsuitable seashells were collected, you could supplement with seashells from craft stores like Michael's.
Seashells, Crabs and Sea Stars provides identification information and fun facts about seashells, making it a suitable pairing book to learn about seashells in greater depth after the sorting activity.
10. Sorting Toilet Paper (TP) Rolls by Size
This is a setup that utilises 2 TP rolls, with 1 cut into 3 varying lengths.
Post sorting, you could insert a felt tree crown cut-out to the TP rolls (cut shallow, parallel slits in each roll) to craft trees of differing heights for small world play.
11. Sorting Egg Crate Segments by Size
This is a setup utilising an empty egg crate cut into varying sizes.
This sort also provides the opportunity for counting and one-to-one correspondence practice.
Other Easily Accessible Items for Sorting:
- Play dough shaped into differently-sized balls
- Foods like cookies, tortillas and breads that could be broken up into smaller pieces
- Books, newspaper cuttings and magazine cuttings
- Craft supplies like ribbons, straws and paper scraps
- Stationery like paper clips and binder clips
Helpful Resources about Sorting
- Ways to introduce sorting and importance of sorting for children by Jen Peaceful Parenting
- The Pink Tower (traditional Montessori size sorting) information written by Montessorium
- The Brown Stairs (traditional Montessori size sorting) information written by Montessori Mom
I hope these easy ideas inspire more size sorting activities for your children and help to develop and engage their 'mathematical 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.