Sorting is such an important early math skill. As adults, we sort all the time! We sort the mail into keep and trash. We sort the laundry, the bills and the utensils in the drawer. Our brains sort bits of information into categories for easy retrieval.
Young children are just learning to sort when they start preschool. We always start with learning to sort by color, and then move onto other sorting, such as sorting by beginning sounds, sorting by quantity and sorting by pattern.
Since it is the beginning of the year, we start with a very simple 3-color sort, with divided trays marked for each color. We have a set of little apple counters in red, yellow, and green that are perfect for this activity. The clear trays are from the dollar store and we use them all the time!
You can see in the picture above that learning to sort by color does not necessarily come naturally to our youngest preschoolers. This invitation to play (basket of apple counters, with the color labeled tray) is set up at our math center. Most of our younger students (3-years-old) were drawn to it because of the little apples. They spent time feeling them and bounding them on the table and rolling them around. After a while, they started to pile them into the divided tray, with no concern for the colors at all.
After they had enough time to explore the materials, we talked them through a basic sort. We named the colors of the apples and I posed the question, “Can you find a red one?” Yes? Let’s put it on the red box. The children picked up on it quickly.
After we finished doing the red ones together, this preschooler talked herself through sorting the yellow and green apples into their compartments.
She was so proud of her finished sort! She said, “Look! I did them all!”
Our older students (4-years-old) have mastered the 3 color sort, so we set up this invitation to play in the sensory table. You can read more about it here.
We will continue to set up invitations to sort by color and play, like this one on the light table, throughout the year until learning to sort by color becomes second nature. Then, like every year, I am sure I will forget how far the students come during their two years with us at preschool!
Affiliate links to some of the products that we use when learning to sort by color: