Skip to main content

Activities for Young Children- Sorting by Shape and Other Attributes

Rose Mary, an Occupational Therapist since 1987, is experienced with pre-term infants, early intervention, school therapy, and home health.

The first attribute that young children are able to discriminate is usually color. They recognize and sort by colors before they can sort by shape, size or other attributes. I have thoroughly covered learning colors in my hub Pre-School Activities- Sorting by Color.

Children are able to recognize shapes before they can identify shapes. This means they can group circles together, squares together, etc., before they can answer “What shape is this?” or “Show me the square.”

Use lots of repetition and modeling for young children for learning shapes. If they randomly guess, then they are showing us that developmentally they are not there yet for naming shapes. You can engage the child in activities such as sorting by shape, and say things like, “You put all the circles together.” You can name the shapes when they place shape pieces in puzzles or shape sorters.

I am sharing activities that I have used with young children as a Pediatric Occupational Therapist for learning shapes and other attributes. I am also presenting other activities on my wish list for learning about attributes, and sorting by shape and other attributes.

My sister has picked up a lot of toys and games for me to use in therapy from Goodwill, but it took a lot of effort over time. When I’m looking to buy a new therapy toy, I’m looking for a good price. If something can be adapted for different activities with different ages and functional levels of children, then sometimes I’ll pay more. Also, if it’s something both my brother (also an Occupational Therapist) and I can use with clients, then we’ll go in together and pay a bit more. So the additional activities I’ve selected get my seal of approval in one respect or another.

Variety of Activities Sorting by Attribute

Large beads, animal beads, laminated shapes, memory match cards

Large beads, animal beads, laminated shapes, memory match cards

Activities covered in this hub:

Sorting by shape:

  • Laminated shapes
  • Shape puzzles
  • Large colored beads
  • Shape stackers
  • Shape sorters
  • Parquetry Blocks
  • Story & activity books about shapes

Other Toys for Sorting by Basic Shapes:

  • Oreo shape sorter
  • Egg shape sorter
  • Cupcake shape sorter
  • Sorting boxes
  • Row sorter

More Toys for Sorting by Shape and Other Attributes:

  • Noah’s ark
  • Doughnuts
  • Chocolate Candy
  • Trail Mix
  • Fruit Pie
  • Toy Foods
  • Memory match
  • Beads and buttons
  • Cereal
  • Utensils
  • Small animal figures
  • Carrots for bunnies, bones for dog, and bananas for monkey
  • Animal barn
  • Bug sorter

Laminated Shapes

Sort cut-outs by shape. You can make this activity yourself. Buy brightly colored poster board. Cut out circles, squares, and triangles about 3” to 5”. Laminate pieces for durability, and trim to shapes.

If the child differentiates colors, use this to help with getting started on sorting shapes. Start with the yellow squares and blue circles. Place one square and one circle about 12” to 18” apart, then place 1-2 additional circles and squares as an example. Have the child place 4-5 circles and squares. As the child progresses, you can then try multiple colors for each shape.

Shape Puzzles

What kid doesn’t like puzzles?

For very young children, I would start with a puzzle of 3 to 5 shapes.

Start with circle, square, and triangle, and maybe rectangle and oval.

For children with visual impairments, choose a puzzle with a plain solid background board, and bright colors for the shapes. You want to have high contrast between the colors of the puzzle board and the pieces. For example, brightly colored pieces, and a light colored board. A patterned background would be confusing. Avoid anything that looks “busy”.

Scroll to Continue

Shape Puzzle

Child playing with shape puzzle with knobs. Large pieces and good contrast with colored pieces and light colored background.

Child playing with shape puzzle with knobs. Large pieces and good contrast with colored pieces and light colored background.

For children with fine motor delays or poor manipulation skills, choose puzzles with large shape pieces, and large knobs.

Puzzles are also available with basic shapes incorporated into simple pictures, such as a house with square, triangle, rectangle, and oval. Or a train with basic shapes like circle, square, and triangle.

Sort Large Beads by Shape

I have the Melissa & Doug Primary Lacing Beads. This set has 30 large beads, ¾” to 1” in 6 colors: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple. There are 5 shapes of each color. Have the child sort the beads into shapes: squares, spheres, barrels, etc. The set includes lacing str