Seeing patterns in our world is important for our brains because they are always pattern seeking; from the familiar face we look for in a room full of strangers, to where certain toys go when it's time to clean up. Patterns help us feel secure; I know I will get lunch after I pick up my son from preschool, and my body feels out of sorts if I don't get that meal around that time. My son knows where to find his favorite toys because we have a routine of putting them back in the same place. If we just tossed them on any shelf in any room of the house his pattern would be lost. The security of seeing the same caregivers at certain times of his day is a pattern he's grown accustomed to. If he had someone different everyday his pattern would be lost. Children thrive on their routines and familiar caregivers, it makes learning easier when they know what to expect next in their day.
Sorting and classifying help create patterns. We sort when we separate the knives from the forks, and the washcloths from the hand towels. Children sort while playing with cars of a certain color or category (racing, rescue, etc.), using blocks of certain shape and size for a special building, separating animals by family for an impromptu zoo, or lacing beads of a specific shape, and color.
The objects and toys that children use play a key role in practicing classification and sorting skills, but some promote sorting practice better than others. Legos are a great example, they can be sorted by three different variables; color, shape, and size. Children usually sort by color first, working their way up to multiple variables. Learning to sort by multiple variables aides in direction following, and understanding a sequence of events, an important step in learning how to read.
Sometimes when you're building a house for bugs, only the butterflies are allowed inside (an example of sorting by one variable).
Sometimes only the red ladybugs can go down the slide (an example of sorting by two variables).
Sometimes the spiders want a more colorful house, so they only use the small, blue, squares to build their walls (an example of sorting by three variables).
When you play with your children, or when you watch them play, take notice of their sorting. How many ways are they able to classify? Do they have the opportunity to classify by more than one or two variables with the materials they are using? Just like play, sorting is a natural thing children tend to do, and it begins one block at a time.
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