Matching one object to another is a complex task, and gets especially tricky when you’re matching something more abstract, like a picture, a color, or a sound. Matching is an essential skill, helping to improve a number of cognitive abilities like visual memory, short term memory, and pattern recognition. Matching also helps with focus: it’s no accident that the classic game of memory, played with pairs of cards arranged face-down, is sometimes called “concentration.”
The foundation for matching develops early, as babies start to recognize distinct features, characteristics, and properties. At around 4 months, your baby learns that specific objects make specific sounds. At 5-6 months, they can distinguish between different vocal tones and start to recognize familiar objects, sounds, and people. Between 6 and 8 months, they can usually look around to find a person who has been named (“where’s Grandma?”), and a few months later they start to recognize people beyond the immediate family.
Here is the progression for matching:
Starting at around 12 months, children are beginning to understand color and may be able to recognize it. They can’t yet identify different colors or say their names, but children of this age begin to show preference for one color over another. Describe things with color: “that car is green,” “that dog is brown.” Children are starting to know that similar colors match, and contrasting ones don’t.
At around 15 months, your toddler may start to truly match in a basic way—in other words, they can identify things that are exactly the same as being different from things that aren’t. If you put out four balls—two that are distinctly large and of equal size, and two that are much smaller—your toddler may be able to select the two small balls intentionally, though may take some prompting.
Matching animals to their sounds
At 18 months, toddlers start matching animals to the sounds they make. Try asking “what does a cow say?” or, if your toddler knows the word cow, make the sound and have them identify the animal.
Starting at 19 months and continuing well into their 2s, your toddler will begin to learn about picture matching. Try laying out cards with matching pairs (animals, faces, flowers). Remember that pictures and drawings are still abstractions: they are two-dimensional representations of something real.
Matching animal sounds to pictures
Between 22 and 24 months, your toddler may start matching sounds to a picture of an animal. This is a big developmental leap: they are using different senses and connecting them in new ways. Lay out pictures of animals, make the corresponding sounds, and ask your toddler to point to the animal that makes each sound.
Matching pictures together
At around 27 months, children can start matching pictures together, which means they will soon be able to play matching games like “memory.”