Sorting and classifying buttons is fun!
Out of all the objects to ask kids to sort, I think buttons are the best to begin with. Not only are they so many different shapes and colors and textures and design, they are easy to come by and often allow the user to reminisce about the places these buttons came from, or their sweet grandma, perhaps, who gifted these buttons.
Sorting teaches kids many great skills. In addition to logic, thinking, visual and mathematical skills, it also brings about attention to detail and decision making, color recognition, texture differences, and responsiveness. Another thing it will do is showcase a child's personality and preferences. If you put any 3 kids at the same table with the same pile of buttons, you will find many different ways to sort the same exact objects.
Wouldn't that be a fun experiment?
On this particular day, I gave a moderate pile of buttons to my first grade gal. I did not give her any instructions. I told her to just "play" with them for 5 minutes.
So she did. She ooh-ed and aah-ed over many of the different colors, shapes, and textures. Some were shiny, some were dull. Some were raised and others were concave. Still others were convex. Some were shaped like a torpedo. One was shaped like an artichoke (her words, not mine. :o) and there were several glorious, glorious colors represented.
Her first reaction was to create shapes using the buttons. She was very choosey as to which buttons she chose. She did not use them all. She's definitely my perfectionist, less-is-more daughter. She made a cross, a letter "a", and then was on to creating different shapes.
A time of exploration is essential.
After that, I simply asked her some questions regarding the beautiful pile of buttons.
"What do you notice?"
"They all have different designs," she said. "But not all of them have designs. Lots of different colors. Some have two holes. Some have four. Not all of them have holes.
"Is that it?" I asked
"Yep." she said.
I prodded some more. "What do you notice about the shapes of the buttons?"
"Oh! Um...some are flat, round, square, oval...well, not any of these are oval. But I know oval buttons exist."
I reminded her to only notice the buttons in front of her.
"This one is shaped like a cylinder. This one looks....(she frowns)...like an artichoke!"
We laugh. It is delightful to find something familiar in this pile of buttons.
I ask another question:
"Do they all attach to a shirt the same way?"
To this she responds, "No. Some have flat tops with a clip behind so you can attach it to the shirt from behind."
Now I set her free and asked her to sort the buttons any way she chose to.
This is what she came up with (color):
Then, I asked her to find another way to sort them. She chose to sort them into three piles: No holes. Two holes. 4 holes.
Other ways could have been texture, ways of attaching, shapes, to name a few.
Sorting is a fun way to encourage critical thinking! Try these other ideas with kids of other ages:
Sorting ideas for the very beginner (preschool-K): crayons, play dough piles, silverware, etc. Sorting will be very simple and will likely involve 2 groups of colors or shapes.
Sorting ideas for grades 1-2: buttons, fruits, vegetables, food (placed in food pyramid), toy collections, etc. These sorting activities will usually involve visual aspects and common uses and will involve at least 3 different groups, but ideally 5 or so.
Sorting ideas for the older student (grades 3+): kitchen utensils; office supplies, hardware, different types of screws and nails, levers and pulleys, geometric shapes etc. Sorting activities for the older student will usually involve sorting for the ways the item can be used, visual and mechanical aspects, how they benefit everyday life, how they affect the world around them, etc. The number of groups sorted is not as important as the depth of thinking involved.