These ideas are inspired by the Montessori methods, and cost practically no money. It encourages the child to learn how to sort, and how to manipulate with her hands and fingers the different types of materials.
To make the materials, all you have to do is keep an empty box, and some plastic containers. Our containers are from infant food like applesauce, and they’re great because they come with little lids too, which helps tremendously when storing things. But you can use yoghurt containers as well.
You will need large pasta shells (uncooked, in case that’s not clear!), some large pebbles or rocks you can collect with your child(ren) on your next nature walk, or even large dry beans. Buttons work as well.
Word of caution: it’s always a good idea to watch your child play with items that are small enough to put in their mouth to prevent choking.
Place the box with the items inside on a child-sized table. Start with just one item at first, like the pasta shells.
Demonstrate to the child how you can take the shells out of the box and make a pile on the table.
Show the child how to take the shells out of the box and place them into a plastic cup.
Observe your child. She will manipulate the items according to her own will, which is fine. There is not right or wrong way to play with these materials. Sonja, who is 14 months in this picture, started by moving the pieces in and out of the box and in and out of the containers at random. She also tried to pour them. This inspired me to show her how to pour dry rice, but that’s another post.
As boredom sets in, mix up different types of materials. In our case we placed the pasta shells and the rocks in the same box. I demonstrated how to make different piles with each item, first on the table, then in the plastic containers.
Sonja didn’t follow suit, but that is ok. I will demonstrate again next time and observe how she may, or may not, learn to sort.
Once sorting becomes an activity, the choices are limitless. When my older boy was 2 1/2, we used an egg carton and placed different sized and different coloured lego pieces into each egg cup. We learned counting and colours that way. Dry beans of different colours work as well.