16 - 18 Months

When will my toddler learn to sort?

Toddler sorting different balls and containers by color

Sorting is the beginning of pattern recognition, a foundational math skill. Somewhere between 19 and 24 months, your toddler may start to learn how to sort and match sets of identical objects into three groups—each with three to five objects.

It looks like this:

Start with just two sets of two familiar and identical objects and put them all in one pile (four objects total). Start the sorting process by putting one object from each group into its own new pile. Then, encourage your child to add each matching object to its partner. You can sort into piles on the floor or containers like baskets or buckets. 

Food tray with bananas, strawberries, and puffs

Mix up the objects all over again and see if your toddler can do it on their own this time. When your child is ready, you can increase the number of objects in each group, as well as the number of sets.

Toddler sorting items by red, blue, and yellow
In photo: Several playthings from The Play Kits

When they’re closer to 24 months, they may learn to spot the difference in attributes like color, shape, and size (all of the red objects, all of the round objects, all of the big objects).

Here are some more ways to practice sorting with your toddler:

  • Point out objects around your home that are already sorted into broad categories, like books on a shelf, shoes in a basket, pillows on the couch, or crayons in the crayon box. Narrate what you’re seeing: “look, all those books are on the shelf together—they all have pages, pictures, and words.”
  • Discuss the things you see when you’re out and about in the same way. A parking lot full of cars and a row of trees in the park are clear examples.
  • Cleaning up is a great opportunity to practice sorting: “we put all the balls in this basket—can you go pick up a ball and put it in the basket?” or “can you put your shirts in this pile and your pants in this one?”
  • Collect leaves, pine cones, and rocks in a bag on a nature walk, then sort them by type when you get home.


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Posted in: 16 - 18 Months, Communication, Math, Sorting, Child Development

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