When young children are asked to mathematically sort objects (such as leaves, rocks, shells, or keys), they usually use the most obvious attributes of color and shape, plus size, to categorize the items. When your child plays, he uses sorting and classifying skills as he observes similarities and differences of color and shape, makes comparisons, and organizes this information into piles. This seemingly simple process (that we use every week when we sort the laundry or find things in the grocery aisles) is the foundation for living in a mathematical world. Sorting by color and shape prepares your child for the future application of these skills in making graphs or searching for a book at the library.
The Importance of Color
Color is one of the first ways your preschooler makes distinctions among things she sees. Color words are some of the first words she uses to describe these things. You have probably heard the pride in your child's voice as she names the colors of the balloons at the store checkout, or her delight when she realizes that a banana and pear are different shades of yellow. Helping you fold the laundry, she may naturally start sorting the socks into piles of different colors while exclaiming, "Look what I did!" These are all perfect examples of how children (and adults!) use color as a means for defining and organizing the world.
Introduce your child to the world of shades and hues by giving her some paint swatches to explore. She can sort them into different color piles, match similar colors, and create a sequence or "color train" of hues from light to dark. Bring out the glue stick and she can cut and paste the colors to make monochromatic collages of yellows, reds, blues, etc. Find more games and activities about color.
The Power of Shape
We all use shape as a way of identifying and organizing visual information. Very early, your child begins to make a connection between familiar objects and their shapes. Changes in these can be surprising. For example, at first he may not want to eat round waffles or square cookies. But once he experiences this new shape information (and finds out it is still delicious!), he can easily integrate the new shape into his pantheon of shape knowledge.
When your child explores different shapes, she is using one of the most basic educational processes: the observation of same and different. This concept provides her with a basic process that she will be able to use in observing, comparing, and discussing all she sees and encounters.
Play shape-sorting games with simple household items. Put a collection of objects on the floor, and invite your child to sort them into different piles — for round, square, flat, or rectangular items. Then ask him to go on a treasure hunt around the house to find one more thing that can go in each pile. You will be asking him to apply what he has learned in sorting the shapes to the greater world around him.
Of course, where would the world of art be with out color and shape? Explore your favorite picture books together with an eye for color and shape. Great authors to explore include Leo Lionni and Eric Carle. Help your child see the way the artist has used colors and shapes to create. Bring out the paper and paints (or markers) and encourage her to create her own art in the style of her favorite illustrator!