Matching and sorting are early stages of math development
Common everyday activities that involve sorting are the beginning concepts of children developing math skills.
The matching and sorting process begins during infancy. This is when babies begin to notice which sounds they make will bring an adult running to them, and which ones are not so effective. A cry, chuckle or a smile all receive specific responses and the child begins to organize these responses to make sense of it, and to gain some control of their environment.
Children continue sorting and classifying by organizing their understanding of language, people and objects in their environment. Each new word and experience is attached to an encounter and cataloged with it, so that the child begins to construct an understanding of how the different parts of their environment relate to themselves and to each other. This process of making sense of the environment is a child’s first step in the math activities of matching, sorting and classifying.
Naturally, when children explore their environment they notice how things are alike, and how they are different. They begin to sort them by characteristics that have meaning to them, characteristics such as color, size, shape, texture and sound. Children then begin matching objects that have the same characteristics. It is easier for children to begin matching pictures after they have had experience matching concrete objects. As children begin to master their matching skills, they will try more complex math activities.
Once a child is matching more than two objects, they are sorting. Sorting involves separating objects into groups according to their similarities. Children may have their own ideas of how these objects are related. Helping with household tasks such as putting away silverware, groceries or laundry will encourage their sorting skills and will help them better understand the sorting process.
Michigan State University Extension says that generally the process of sorting involves three steps:
1) Children decide which characteristic to sort by
2) Children will physically sort the objects
3) They will be able to describe their rational for sorting.
Describing their rational encourages children to think about other characteristics to sort by. Children typically will begin sorting by one characteristic at a time, for example putting all the blue blocks together. They will then progress to two or more attributes, the entire round, blue blocks.
Matching and sorting, as will all other math activities are best learned when they are part of a child’s everyday life. Children need to see math being used in the real world. When they put a puzzle together, they are matching shapes. When they are putting on their shoes and socks, they are matching objects. While helping to clean up their toys or helping with laundry, children are sorting objects. Common activities that children experience during play and daily tasks provide many opportunities for them to learn math concepts.