Math Mania: Sorting and Classifying

Math Mania: Sorting and Classifying

Analytical thinking and problem solving skills can grow in strength, with a foundation in sorting and classifying activities.  Sorting takes place when a child has the ability to identify a common attribute of a group of objects.

The skills developed while sorting:

  • Identify attributes
  • Sort by one attribute
  • Sort by more than one attribute
  • Observe similarities and differences

Some of the items for sorting activities:

  • Math Collections:
    • Rocks
    • Buttons
    • Leaves
    • Shells
    • Beads
    • Bread tabs
    • Seeds
    • Silverware
    • Fabric
    • Nuts and bolts
    • Playing cards
    • Letter cards
    • Pictures of animals (magazines are a great resource)
    • Pictures of people cut from magazines and catalogs
    • Grocery store sale papers
    • Old catalogs
  • Plastic containers
    • Butter tubs
    • Sectioned serving containers from the deli/fruit section.
      • A sectioned fruit tray
      • Dip tray
      • Meat tray
      • Veggie tray with sections


  1. Sort math collections (buttons, rocks, shells, etc) into cleaned meat trays, paper plates, or pie pans, by size (Large, Small, Tiny)
  2. Use 12-15 different shoes.  Sort them by shoe types: slippers, boots, sandles, dress shoes, etc. Ask the child to draw the shoes they have sorted. For a creative idea, have them design a drawing of a shoe of each type.
  3. For a beginning sorting activity, simply start with two colors.  Designate two boxes, one for each color, and have your child choose things from around the house that are those colors.  How many items can (s)he find in 5 minutes?
  4. Cut out pictures of people from catalogs.  Your child will sort them into some of the following groups:
    1. Man/Woman/Boy/Girl
    2. Grown/child
    3. Male/Female
    4. Hair color
    5. Clothes color
  5. Sort craft pompoms into:
    1. Color
    2. Size
  6. Cut out pictures of household goods from a catalog.  Your child can sort them into the room of the house in which they would be used:
    1. Kitchen
    2. Bathroom
    3. Back porch/patio
    4. Living room
    5. Bedroom
  7. Apple sort:  This is a great activity for fall!  Get several types of apples (green, yellow, red, at least).  If you can not buy apples, cut out apple shapes on construction paper of the same colors and use those. Your child can first sort the apples by color.  Then, for a more sensory experience, sort the apples by taste: sour/sweet.
  1. Cut out pictures of animals or find picture of animals online and print.  These can be sorted into:
    1. Water animals (aquatic)/Land/sky: For this activity, have a large tray or box tip divided into three sections.  Have a picture of the sky, a picture of water, and a picture of land. Your child can place the animals in the correct place.
    2. Bird/fish/reptile/mammal/insect
    3. Colors
    4. Size
    5. Number of legs
    6. Scales/fur
    7. Habitat
  2. Car sort: For this activity, you will need several small toy cars (at least 20), pictures of cars, or cut out construction paper shapes of a variety of cars. In preparation for this sorting activity, take several small boxes, cut one side off, and make “garages” for the cars.  With just a little extra energy, cover or paint the garages in colors of the cars.  This will add to the the excitement of your child and willingness to do this activity.  (S)he may even ask to “play garage” away from school time!! Present the cars to your child and ask for ways to make smaller groups of cars.  If you need to suggest smaller groups, start with color.  Other sorting ideas:
    1. Color
    2. Type of car (truck, racing, sedan, convertible, van, etc.)
    3. Number of wheels
    4. Size
  3. Small candies, fruits, and nuts (trail mix or party mix) sorted into like pieces into small cups or containers.
  4. Cut, from sale papers, magazines, and catalogs, pictures of foods, household items, and toys with a predominant geometric shape (for example: a plate and a ball are circles, a picture frame and a book are rectangles, etc.)
  5. Use small colored candies (M&Ms, Skittles, runts, Nerds, etc) and sort by color.
  6. Sort magnetic numbers and magnetic letters by:
    1. Color
    2. Same letter, same number
    3. Numbers and letters separated
    4. Letters and numbers with curves, with legs, with points, etc.
    5. Capital letters/ lower case letters
  7. Have your child sort his/her toys or stuffed animals by
    1. Size
    2. Color
    3. Kind (bear, doll, rabbit, etc.)
    4. More than one attribute
  8. Count sort:  You will need an over the door shoe holder.  You need the ones found at dollar stores and have twelve pockets.  Label each pocket with a number 1-12. Make an assortment of small items to match the numbers.  You will do one of one item, two of another, three of another, up to 12.  Ideas for items: paper clips, erasers, buttons, rocks,  shells, marbles, socks, mittens, beads, straws, small balls, game pieces, checkers, playing cards, hair bows, small cars, jacks, puzzle pieces, bottle tops, nuts, bolts, pennies, etc.
  9. Sort buttons by one attribute or more than one attribute.
    1. By color
    2. By number of holes
    3. By two attributes (red with two holes, red with four holes, blue with two holes, etc)
  10. Using 2 copies of a grocery sale paper, cut out food items and glue to index cards.  Use these for sorting by:
    1. Type of food: meat, vegetable, dairy, fruit, etc
    2. Color
    3. Cost
    4. Store aisle
    5. Farm/factory
    6. Food/nonfood
  11. Fruit tasting party:  Using many different fruits (be sure and include new and exotic fruits) sort into sour and sweet.
  12. Sort Legos by size or color.
  13. Beginning letter sounds.  Find “beginning letter worksheets,” cut the pictures apart. (You could also use sale papers, catalogs, magazines) Using letters you have taught, label three sheets of construction paper or colored paper, one each with a letter.  Your child will sort the pictures onto the paper with the correct beginning letter sound.
  14. Sort the mail: You will need various sizes of envelopes and card stock cut to fit inside the envelopes.  Have your child match cardstock to envelopes, place the cardstock inside the envelope.  Have stickers available to serve as stamps.  Dress a box to look like a mailbox.  If you can get a play mailman’s hat, put it on your child and (s)he becomes the post master and sorts the mail!
  15. Sort playing cards into:
    1. Red/black
    2. Suits (hearts, clubs, spades,diamonds)
    3. Numbers (value)
    4. More than one attribute (a number and black, a face card and red, etc)
  16. Sock Sort: You will enjoy the help with laundry! Have your child sort the socks!! You may need to help.  Make this fun and not seem burdensome!
  17. Backwards sort:  You sort the collection and your child guesses the attribute.  For example, sort pictures of people from catalogs by hair color and your child tells you the attribute.
  18. Use visual graphics for sorting: Venn diagrams made with circles on paper, hula hoops for hands on diagrams,

To use the diagram, choose one attribute for each side and the items that are both attributes go in the middle. For example, green shirts on one side, yellow shirts on the other, and green and yellow shirts in the middle.

  1. Sort the keys.  Collect old keys. If you ask family and friends, you will be amazed how many old keys you can get.  You child will sort the keys by any attribute chosen.  You can often just say, “put the ones together, that are alike.”  You will be amazed by some of the ideas/attributes your child chooses.
  2. Sort Animal Crackers


The next “Math Mania” post: Graphing!

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