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Sorting Activities That Encourage Language Development

Sorting Activities That Encourage Language Development

Sorting Activities That Encourage Language Development

Have you ever noticed how toddlers and preschoolers have a natural tendency to move items from one container to the other or line toys up over and over again. Believe it or not, they are making great numeracy progress by the simple task of sorting. In this blog, we will explore what sorting can look like for preschoolers, the skills that can be developed through sorting, and a few simple sorting ideas.

What does sorting look like for preschoolers?

The simple answer to this question is that sorting takes many different forms and rarely looks the same. I love setting up sorting activities in my 3s classroom because each child will approach the setup differently and use the materials in their unique way. Regardless, however, they will all be working on their early numeracy and fine motor skills. 

For young children, simply moving a collection of manipulatives or small toys from one place to another and grouping them somehow, shape, or form is sorting. The child is taking it beyond matching and entering into the world of sorting when they are grouping objects based on two or more similarities or differences. This demonstrates higher-order thinking, and they have to make many decisions based on what they notice about things. What can they see that is the same, and what is different? How many groups are they going to create? What do they do when an object meets two of the criteria? This sense of decision-making is great for developing their cognitive skills.

What skills can be developed through sorting?

I’ve already spoken a lot about why sorting is important for preschoolers with regard to helping them develop cognitive skills. As they sort, they are having to make decisions based on what they are observing. They have to identify the similarities and differences and then categorize them based on those observations. This observation process, analysis, and decision-making are complex for preschoolers but have tremendous benefits and build their confidence when they achieve success.

There are also so many opportunities to extend the learning potential by asking questions and prompting discussions about what the child is doing. Ask them to describe their categories or tell you why they decided to place certain objects in certain groups. Do they know how many objects are in each group? This will naturally lead to numeracy vocabulary being developed and phrases like ‘more’ and ‘less’ being used. The whole time the child has a strong sense of ownership over their learning because they are the one who has made the sorting decisions. This is really powerful when it comes to engagement and enjoyment.

One of the biggest skills developed through sorting activities is, in fact, the development of fine motor skills. As children move and manipulate small objects, they are working their hand muscles hard. These small muscles are vital for preparing to write in future years. It’s a good idea to vary the materials you use for sorting to allow for a continued challenge. For example, as my preschooler got older, I introduced fine motor tools to sorting activities instead of just using her hands. She particularly likes using the 


Sorting Activity Ideas

You really can use anything for sorting, and sometimes simple everyday materials are just as interesting for children. We like to use pom poms, buttons, toys, mini erasers, markers, nature finds, and all sorts for sorting activities. We also enjoy using Learning Resources® products, and you can head to our blog,  to learn more about our top choices. Recently, we have been enjoying some other sets, which have proven great options for my four-year-old.


My preschooler loves anything play food-themed, so this mini muffin sorting set has been a huge hit. I love that it comes with a challenging fine motor tool for her, the Squeezy Tweezers™, along with little color and number cards. The cards can be placed in the muffin tin to help direct the sorting, which offers an excellent way to extend the activity. However, my preschooler enjoys the freedom just to sort the muffins based on her own decisions. The fact that the set comes with a number and color dice means that it can be turned into a fun game.

This is such a classic material to find in a preschool classroom. Links lend themselves so well to being sorted by color, but the fact that they can be used as a building toy also means that you can make shapes with them to sort as well. One of our favorite ways to use these links is to build pattern chains. I will let my preschooler lead by creating a pattern chain, and then I have to copy her pattern. 

This is an excellent option if you’d like a complete sorting set that you can use in many different ways. The most obvious setup is to enjoy the colored bowls and bears and let your preschooler loose with making all the sorting decisions. This open-ended style of sorting is often the most engaging for little learners. My four-year-old currently enjoys following the pattern cards, especially as she loves getting to sort through the baby, Mommy and Daddy bears to find the right one to continue the pattern.

The set also includes a fun range of activity cards. Her favorite one is most definitely getting to pair up the colored bears with buddies. This activity, on the surface, is a matching one, but we love to use the activity card to prompt sorting the rest of the bears into buddies and little color families. You can alternatively enjoy using the dice or spinner provided to participate in some ‘chance’ sorting, with the dice or spinner determining the color and number of bears to group together. So many sorting possibilities!

Whether using everyday objects or specific sorting sets, be sure to allow for plenty of sorting opportunities in your preschooler’s day. There are so many skills being developed, and best of all, your preschooler will be growing in confidence and improving their numeracy and literacy skills at the same time.

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