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When will your little one grasp the concept of sorting?

Categorization, an early mathematical skill that serves as a pathway to pattern recognition, often starts becoming evident in toddlers between the ages of 19 and 24 months. During this stage, toddlers may show an inclination to match identical items and divide them into separate groups, each consisting of three to five items. 

Let’s see what it looks like in action: 

Begin the activity with two pairs of familiar items, resulting in a total of four objects in a combined heap. Kickstart the sorting game by shifting one item from each pair into two different, new heaps. Then, gently guide the child to match the remaining items with their corresponding partners in the appropriate heaps. Sorting could be done either on the floor or using handy storage options like baskets or pails. 


Platter featuring bananas, strawberries, and grain puffs

To take the game a step further, scramble the sorted items and watch if the toddler can recreate the sorted heaps independently. As their skills improve, you can introduce more objects to each group and increase the number of sets. 


Toddler arranging items in red, blue, and yellow groups

As they approach 24 months, toddlers may start distinguishing objects based on their attributes such as colour, size, and shape (like all red items, all round items, all big items). 


Here are some more strategies to encourage sorting skills in a toddler:

Highlight objects in your home that are already grouped according to certain categories, such as books on a bookshelf, shoes in a basket, cushions on a sofa, or crayons in a box.

Speak out loud what you notice: “look, all the books are together on that shelf – they all share features like pages, pictures, and words.”

Make similar observations while you’re out for a walk or at the park. Examples like a parking lot filled with cars and a sequence of trees in a park are worth pointing out.

Encourage your toddler to sort during clean-up times: “all the balls belong in this basket – can you find a ball and put it in the basket?” or “let’s put all your shirts in this pile and pants in that one?” On a nature walk, collect leaves, pinecones, and stones in a bag, and then encourage the toddler to sort them into different groups once you’re back home.