My husband watched this weekend, in apparent horror, as our four year old took the HUGE bin of Hot Wheels cars and dumped them in the middle of the living room floor.  While I see this quite often at our house, my husband is usually at work or away and misses these lovely events.  I knew what his initial reaction would be, and I made sure to make quick eye contact with him and let him know that it was okay.  He just needed to watch – and learn.

Our four year-old then proceeded to sort through his collection of metal vehicles.  First, he separated the vans, motorcycles, trucks, cars and planes into different groups.  He lined them all up, then he took each group and sorted those by color: reds together, yellows, greens, making arbitrary decisions on those with several colors.  All the cars were lined up, facing my husband, grouped and sorted.  Then, my son dashed off to find his brother and play a little soccer outside.

While we need to work on the “clean up” phase of playing (obviously), what my husband and I just witnessed was a wonderful display of our son’s developmental skills.  Sorting is an essential pre-reading and pre-math skill.  Being able to classify objects into groups based on shape, size, color, or even ability (it rolls, it flies, it bounces…) leads to distinguishing between subtle characteristics of letters, such as “O” and “Q” or “b” and “d”.  Classification is an essential higher-order thinking skill and should be encouraged with young children.

Sorting and classification is not just relegated to toys; trail mix can be sorted.  Bath toys can be sorted.  Have your child sort silverware when helping to empty the dishwasher.  Sort cups according to size.  Sort canned goods in the pantry according to type and size.  Sort rocks or sticks based on whatever characteristic your child can find.

And, if you find a way to incorporate cleaning up into this, please let me know…my nine year-old is STILL working on that one…