She sorts seashells...

Is your child a collector? Turn those rock, shell or bug collections into a fun math activity. (OK, maybe not the bugs.)

You'll Need

  • Shells
  • Tray
  • Paper
  • Pencil

Learning Stages

By Becca Ross
Kindergarten & First Grade Teacher

Becca is a schoolteacher and blogs at She loves to cook, bake, garden, sew, quilt, teach and simply spend time with her family. She strives to find art in everyday things.

Classification, data collection, analysis and early algebra. Would you be surprised to hear these skills are taught in Pre-K and Kindergarten classrooms? You can use some of my classroom ideas to practice these concepts at home with materials you may already have around the house.

If your kids are like mine, they are collectors. Sorting activities are a great way to get kids thinking mathematically. Adding a natural element such as shells gets them thinking scientifically, plus they get to put their collections to good use. For this activity, we used our shell collection.

Young children in the Pre-K through Kindergarten age range will probably be able to describe an object based on the attributes of color and type. Start by deciding on one simple way to sort a pile of shells. Sorting by size, shape, or color is a good place to begin. Try sorting by the different attributes one at a time. Add a new twist as children show they are proficient in sorting. Have the adult in the group sort the shells and see if the child can guess the rule the adult has sorted by. After that, see if you can work together to sort and classify the shells using more than one attribute (such as color + shape: orange and round, red and round, orange and long, etc.).

Counting the number of shells in each group and writing the number is a great way to introduce data representation. Kids can begin by writing words or drawing pictures to use as labels. If your child is up for it, introduce a small graph on which to show data.

In the classroom we often use sorting trays similar to chip and dip bowls; muffin tins are also great for sorting. Sometimes in the classroom we make our own sorting mats by folding a large sheet of paper into four quadrants. This makes it easy to write labels right on the paper.

However you decide to sort is worth the time! It’s mathematical, scientific, fun, and provides kids a way to show off their collections!

A few great books about sorting

  • Sorting by DK Books
  • Sorting by Lynn Peppas
  • Blue Hat Green Hat by Sandra Boynton
  • The Button Box by Margarette Reid