Living by the beach, much of our home decor is beach themed. On top of a cabinet in our living room, we keep a large vase of seashells – some were originally purchased as party decor, others have been added over the last 8 years of walking the neighborhood beach, and a few are shells we’ve brought home from tropical vacations. Big M is constantly asking to play with the shells, and yesterday, I finally agreed… with a little math activity called, Sorting Seashells.
Sorting Seashells – A Summer Math Activity
This is an easy, super affordable activity. If you don’t already have a shell collection of your own to play with, I found this assorted bag of 50 shells for $7 on Amazon. I also recently found a bag of plain, white shells at Dollar Tree. I incorporated some of those in this activity as well, and gave them quick pops of color with Krylon spray paint. You could also substitute anything natural of varied size, shape and texture for the shells: rocks, leaves, flowers, etc.
Spray paint (optional)
Trays or plates for sorting (optional)
Cost: Free to Less than $10
Prep Time: Less than 5 minutes
Clean-up Time: Less than 5 minutes
Laying out a handful of the shells, I asked Big M what she could tell me about the shells that was the same, and what she could tell me about the shells that was different. She pointed out some as being the same shape or color, and some being bigger or smaller than others. I pointed out that some were also smooth, while others were rough. I told her we could use all those words as categories to sort the shells.
She gave me her new, furrowed brow, puzzled look – “What does sort mean, mama?” I told her it meant to group certain shells together by something that makes them the same, while separating them from other shells that are different.
We used the stamped design on our back patio as separation for sorting our categories, but you could use paper plates or a tray as well. I suggested we start with sorting them by shape, since this only created two categories, fan-shaped shells and conical shells.
I asked her how else we could sort the shells… she suggested by color. She had pink spray-painted shells, white shells, yellow shells, and light and dark brown shells.
Last, we sorted the shells by size. She was quite taken with the teeny, tiny conical shell, which she actually found on our beach late last summer. We had three groups: small, medium and large.
While we were on the subject of size, I asked her if she could line some shells up that looked the same by size… I helped her get started with her favorite, teeny tiny conical shell and she took over from there!
After playing and sorting shells for a good half hour, she said she was done and could she go blow ‘Ariel bubbles’, her name for her bottle of bubbles with a Little Mermaid head as the handle. From that point, Lil’ M took over with the shells, finding great fun in dunking them in her bucket of water.
I’m sure we will play with shells again soon – next time we may need to sort by texture, and use the shells to make patterns.
Want more Math Ideas for Preschool?
If you enjoyed this post, be sure to check out our latest eBook, ABCs and 123s, featuring 40+ hands on, play-based learning activities featuring letters and numbers for your preschooler!
What are your favorite choice of materials to teach sorting to your preschooler? What are other great preschool math activities? If you enjoyed this activity, you might also enjoy Excavating Dinosaurs, to practice counting to 12, and Build a Bridge for 21 Elephants, one of several simple STEM activities in our Architecture and Engineering for Kids series.