Pre-School Activities- Sorting by Color
Learning About Colors
Before young children can identify or name colors, they can sort by color. By that I mean they can identify objects of the same color and group them together before they can tell you what those colors are. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, most children are not expected to know 4 basic colors until age 4. Pre-school activities therefore should include sorting by color. Regardless of age, if your child does not know colors, then work with him or her on recognizing and grouping items together that are the same color.
I am sharing my favorite pre-school activities (with personal photos of my actual gear) for working on color recognition and sorting by color with young children. In my practice as a Pediatric Occupational Therapist, and supervisor of Occupational Therapy Assistants, I use these activities frequently with older children with delays, like some with autism or mental retardation, or otherwise with delayed developmental skills. Regardless of diagnosis, we are trying to facilitate normal developmental milestones.
When working with a child on sorting by color, it is okay to reinforce colors by naming them for the child, but don’t badger them to name the colors if they are not ready. One way of knowing if a child is not ready is that they take wild random guesses, when asked “Show me the red one.” or “What color is this?” Instead, model for them, by saying things like, “Wow, you put all the red ones together.” or “Here’s another blue one for you.”
Various Objects Sorted by Color
Sort Pieces Laminated from Poster Board
Doesn’t get much easier and cheaper than this for having an activity for color sorting. I bought poster board in red, blue, yellow, and green. My sister cut out about 8-10 circles, squares, and triangles in each color. She then laminated them at my clinic.
I usually start working on color sorting with the red and blue circles. I place one red and one blue circle about 12” to 18” apart, then I place 1-2 additional circles for each color as an example. Have the child place 4-5 circles for each color.
If the child can sort red and blue circles, you could then try 3 or 4 colors, but stick with the same shape. As the child progresses, you can then try multiple shapes for each color.
Sorting Fish and Shapes by ColorClick thumbnail to view full-size
Versatile Fish- Sort by Color
Sort Fish by Color
These foam fish have upper or lowercase alphabet letter on one side, with the entire alphabet covered. They come in 6 colors, red, blue, lavender, orange, yellow, and green. They snap together like interlocking puzzle pieces, so the child can spell words. They have holes and string for lacing. Letter and color sequencing cards included with the set.
To use fish for sorting colors, sort into piles (as for laminated shapes above) or sort into baskets of matching color (as for eggs below).
Sort Eggs into Colored Baskets
This is my most successful activity for sorting colors. Even my lowest functioning autistic kids will usually do this activity, even if they have refused all other color sorting activities. My eggs are smaller than the typical Easter eggs. I got the 6 baskets and 6 eggs of each of the 6 colors from Goodwill for about a dollar.
I lay out all of the baskets, and place one egg in each matching colored basket. Give the child one egg at a time to place in the corresponding basket. If the child seems confused with all of the baskets, you can present only 2 to 3 colors of eggs and baskets.
Sorting Eggs & Bears by Color
Bears for Sorting- Everyone Loves the Bears
I love these bears. I also use them for number concepts and counting.
Sort Colored Bears into Matching Bowls
I love my Bears & Bowls! They come in 6 colors. You can get them with coordinated color bowls or cups. You can also get sequencing cards to copy. My only complaint is the red and orange colors are too similar. I use my bears for activities to learn number concepts too.
I package my bears in Ziplocs with two colors per bag. For example, blue and purple, red and yellow, and green and orange. I start with 10 bears in each of 2 colors and have the child sort the 2 colors into the correct bowl. I may then give the child 2 more colors to sort.
Once I know the child is successful with 2 colors, I may start the next session with 3 colors, but still sticking with 10 of each color. You get the idea, increase number of bears &/or the number of colors as the child progresses.
Lauri Pegs & Pegboard
A foam pegboard is a staple for most Occupational Therapists
Sorting Pegs into Pegboard by Color
I have a small Lauri foam pegboard and pegs, which come in 5 colors. You can get much larger pegboards, but for young children, I think the small pegboard is perfect. The pegs will stack into each other. Many of my clients enjoy making “swords” with the pegs. My only complaint is that autistic children are sometimes bothered that there 36 holes in the pegboard, but only 25 pegs. All in all, this is a very useful tool, at a very reasonable price.
Quercetti & Lauri Pegboards
Match Colors on Quercetti Pegboard
I love my Quercetti pegboard. This is another activity I can get even my lowest functioning clients to engage with. There are 48 pegs, with 12 each of red, blue, yellow, and green. There are 16 patterns to match, on 8 cards. On one side of the card is a simple picture like a ladybug, a dinosaur, and a house. On the other side of the card there are simple geometric designs. The geometrics work best for younger children.
The storage tray for the pegs is divided into two compartments. I have the kids put the red and blue pegs on one side, and the yellow and green on the other side.
Colored Cubes & Pattern Cards
Sort Cubes by Colors
Most Occupational Therapy clinics have colored one-inch cubes. These cubes are used in a lot of pediatric assessment kits. They come in bright colors. Card sets are available for design copy. Some designs are 3D, but for others you can imitate the design by placing the cubes right on the card.
I also have a set of brightly colored half-inch cubes that I got from Hobby Lobby. You may also be able to find ¾” or 1” cubes there too.
Have the child separate the cubes into colors. You should start out with 2 or 3 colors, with no more than 10 of each color.
Sorting Cubes & Beads by ColorClick thumbnail to view full-size
Sort Large Beads into Colors
I have the Melissa & Doug Primary Lacing Beads. The set consists of 30 large beads, ¾” to 1” in 6 colors, with 5 shapes of each color. You can have the child separate the beads, putting all the reds together, all the blues, all the greens, and so on. Lacing string is included, so you could have the child make a necklace with only the purple beads, only yellow, etc.
I bought large colorful beads at the dollar store. They are fine for sorting, but the insides are not sanded, and the string gets caught and will not go through. But you could buy 2 packs and have plenty of beads to sort.
Sort Clothespins by Color
I have colored plastic mini clothespins that I love because the kids love them. I bought a package with two dozen pins from the dollar bin. I usually have the kids clip them onto the rim of a plastic bowl. I found that most kids automatically segregated the colors.
I also have a set of tiny wooden colored clothes pins from Hobby Lobby.
Colored Clothespins & BeadsClick thumbnail to view full-size
Sort Beads by Color on Pipe Cleaner
This is another inexpensive activity. I bought a package of pipe cleaners, or chenille sticks from the dollar store. I fished out colorful pony beads from a bead assortment that a friend gave me. This activity of course requires more fine motor control than the other activities. If the child is easily frustrated, and does not handle small objects well, this is not the activity to use.
Connect Four & Connect Four Travel Size
Sort Connect Four Chips
All kids seem to love Connect Four, whether they know how to actually play the game or not. I have young children place the chips, sorting into red or black rows. One of my COTAs (certified occupational therapy assistant) spray painted the chips red, blue, yellow, and green, and has kids sort the colors into different rows.
I also have the travel sized Connect Four. It may be better suited for small children as the chips are smaller for small hands, and they don’t have to reach as high to put the chips in. Of course, as with any activity with small pieces, this game should not be used with children who tend to put everything in their mouths.
Connect Four & Travel Version
You could have the child sort colorful cereal, such as Fruit Loops. Get creative and make a face or design in frosting on a cupcake or pancake for the child to copy. Use specific colors to make a design, or just make rows of each color.
More Color Sorting Activities
My clients love the sorting pie!
My brother bought this, and we really like it. You can sort the fruits into 5 colors: red, purple, orange, green, and yellow. Once the child masters colors, they can progress to sorting by fruits: bananas, berries, apples. There are plastic tweezers for fine motor practice with tool use, but the child could certainly use their fingers. I also use it for number concepts.
Learn About Colors with Books
Learn About Colors through Books
I have several children’s books about colors. Some books are simply about colors, while others are children’s stories that just happen to incorporate colors into the story. Reading about colors in a children’s book, and discussing the book can be a pressure-free way for a child to learn about colors.
I have a Sesame Street Look and Find book that features color concepts. All of the items to find in each scenario are in the same color.
You can also find children’s activity books that feature colors and strategies for learning colors.
Learning About Colors with BooksClick thumbnail to view full-size
I Don’t Own These, but I Think They Have Potential
Sort & Learn Discovery Boxes
I don’t have this, but I think it has potential. There are 4 boxes, red, blue, green, and yellow. Each has an assortment of items of matching color. There is a small ball and crayon for each color. Additionally, there is a red apple and red bird, a green pear and a green turtle. You get the idea.
Sorting Primary Color Rings
I do not have this, but I think it is a good option. I would just use my laminated circles, but if you don’t have access to a laminator, this could be a great option.
Socks & Laundry Baskets
Sort colored socks into corresponding color laundry basket. Twelve socks in each of 6 colors. Socks are made of chipboard, which are not ideal for mouthing, but it looks like the size of the socks are adequate so as not to be a choke hazard. Baskets could be used to sort other red, blue, purple, orange, yellow, and green objects.
Rainbow Sorting Crayons
This one is a little pricy, but has good potential. Looks to be 8 figurines for each of 6 colors. Sort items such as carrot, popsicle, bear, cat, fish, pumpkin, and boat into crayon of corresponding color. Not a good choice for children who still put things in their mouth.
Warning of What Not to Get
Last year I went to the Lakeshore Learning Store and was going to treat myself to at least $100 in goodies for my birthday. I saw the magnetic color sorter, and thought I was in love. I was ready to spend a substantial chunk of my allotment on this activity. You use a magnetic pen to sort marbles into the matching color paint can. Guess what? The marbles magnetized to each other in random colors, that all dropped into the can! I left without it, broken hearted. I wondered if somehow it would “get over” this problem. I have since talked to a parent who bought it, and assured me this problem does not go away.
Melissa & Doug make a much cheaper, but similar activity. My brother (also a Pediatric Occupational Therapist) just got this one from Amazon. I checked it out. The first two beads stuck to each other, but were easy to shake apart, unlike the Lakeshore version. The balls are fairly small, and this activity might be too difficult for very young children. My only complaint is the cord for the magnetic pen is a little too short, but I suppose this could be remedied. The plexiglass front made it difficult to photograph. I included a "better than nothing" photo for now, until I can get my brother to do a better one.
Melissa & Doug Magnetic Color Sorter
This one works well.
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