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Tuesday, March 3, 2020

18 Colour Sorting Activities for toddlers

Learning colours is one of the earliest cognitive skills children develop and it provides a foundation for learning math, science and language skills later in life. Although children can physically see colour from a young age, most start learning to recognise and differentiate between different colours between 18 months and 3 years of age. The toddler years are the perfect time to start actively teaching colours to your children and they should be reinforced until they start school.

There are many opportunities to introduce children to specific colours in every day life, simply through observation. For example: Look at that red car over there... Look the light has turned red... The red man means stop... Do you want to wear your red shoes today? Using language and repetition will help toddlers learn and make distinctions between colours.

If you want to expand on these naturally occurring opportunities each day then you can try setting up specific colour sorting activities. Below are 18 different hands on colour sorting activities I did with my girls when they were toddlers.


These beginner colour sorting activities are great for toddlers starting to figure out the connection between two or more items being the same colour. For beginner colour sorting activities I would start with one single colour and then move onto two and more as they recognise more individual colours. I personally focus on introducing primary colours first.

The very first colour activity I always do when introducing the concept of colours is a colour discovery basket. I pick various items of the same colour and put them together in a basket then leave it on the shelf for them to discover at their own pace. 

To fill the basket I usually use a mixture of toys we already have like megabloks, duplo, sensory balls, bristle blocks and small wooden toys. Most of our baskets are thrift shop funds, but you can also find cheap ones at Kmart or dollar stores.

The discovery basket is more about giving them an opportunity to realise all the objects are alike in colour, even though individually they're different sizes and textures. Sometimes I add in a corresponding flashcard as well. 

This activity can also be adapted for older children to a colour treasure hunt where they go and collect items of the same colour and put them together in the basket themselves.

Another simple way to initiate colour sorting is with a set of colour flashcards. We use the Two Little Ducklings colour & shape flashcards as they can be used to match colours, shapes and objects so they've been quite versatile as the girls got older. I initially start out with colour matching just the three primary colours so it's not too overwhelming. Also I was totally stoked that we actually had the three items in the correct colours to match the cards for these {it's the small things that make my OCD happy}.

Colour sorting a single object by colour is another really simple colour sorting activity. The girls loved colour sorting our grimms threading buttons. We even had fun creating different colour sorted pictures with them.

A nature colour sort is an extra fun way to colour sort because the kids get to go on a nature hunt first. Head outside with a basket and collect colourful nature items like leaves and flowers and then bring them inside and sort them. We used our colour board from Works at Play, but you could also use coloured containers or even lay them on coloured pieces of paper.

Another really simple way to sort with a colour board {or sheets of coloured paper} is to colour sort coloured blocks. We used our coloured nature gems because they're dyed with the same natural paints as our colour board, however you could use any coloured blocks like Lego, megabloks or duplo {just be mindful of the size if your child is still mouthing}.


Using coloured containers makes it easier for toddlers to start sorting a number of different colours into specific areas by giving them a colour coordinated defined space. This is particularly useful for toddlers who are in the enclosure/container play schema and love transferring and filling up containers. Many different items can be used as containers for colour sorting.

Colour sorting loose parts into coloured bowls is an activity my daughter still regularly requests. When we first did it I collected 5 loose parts in each primary colour and put them into a basket with three coloured bowls set up in front. 

For our loose parts I used peg dolls, magnetic tiles, plugging flowers, megabloks and bear counters, but you can use any loose parts you have, just be mindful if they're still mouthing and always use loose parts under supervision.

This house colour sort using magnetic tiles and peg dolls combined my daughter's two favourite toys at the time so it was a huge hit. I set up the coloured houses and then put the peg dolls out with no instructions and she automatically colour sorted them to the matching houses. 

Our houses are all different shapes and sizes because we only had a small set of magnetic tiles at the time, so I was limited to certain shapes in certain colours. If you have a larger set of tiles you could make the houses all the same shape.

The Grimms rainbow is great for colour sorting other smaller objects. I made this colour spiral with the rainbow and gave my big girl a basket of smaller toys in different colours. She sorted them all into the correct colour arch. For this one we only used 6 of the 12 pieces, however there are other rainbow colour sorting and stacking ideas in my Grimms rainbow play ideas post.

The girls colour sorted grimms friends and pom poms using grapat rings as a guide. Even though they're made by different brands, the grimms friends colours match up really well with the grapat rings and they fit perfectly inside. We also happened to have some pom poms which almost perfectly matched some of our grapat rings too.

Colour sorting buttons into containers was one of my big girls favourite activities. These coloured shape buttons were part of a board game we owned and I teamed them up with some matching paint cups and tweezers. You can get similar buttons from Amazon here.


With almost all play activities we do, I love to add sensory elements to make things a little more interesting, and colour sorting is no exception. The following activities are three different sensory colour sorts we've done in the past. Each activity uses a different sensory base to add some textural stimulation to the colour sort.

Colour sorting dyed pasta is a fun way to add a sensory element to colour sorting. I dyed our pasta with food colouring and vinegar and this particular batch lasted a few years {just keep it stored in a ziplock bag}. I simply presented it in a big bowl with small coloured IKEA bowls for her to sort {these are the older version of the IKEA kids bowls from a few years ago}.

Colour sorting letters from sensory rice into paint pots was another really fun way to add a sensory element to colour sorting. I partially buried the letters in the rainbow rice and she had to find them and sort them into the coloured paint pots. 

I added in plastic tweezers for some bonus fine motor practice, but wasn't worried if she didn't use them. This same activity could be done with coloured shapes, numbers or magnetic chips.

I did this playdough colour sorting activity when my daughter was 18 months old. She loved playdough {still does} and really wanted to play with her big sister's linking plastic discs so I combined them into a really quick colour sort. I limited it to only 2 colours so it wasn't too overwhelming {and also because I can't handle having multiple colours of playdough opened at once}.

To be honest as the time I thought it'd just become a free for all mess of playdough, but she actually colour sorted them. Then picked them back out, put them in the bowl and sorted them again 3 more times. She made a few mistakes, but self corrected before she actually stuck the discs into the dough. She also pretended to do some wrong just so she could say "uh oh nah dat one, over dere" 


Once toddlers get a bit older and have more control over their fine motor movements, for example they can open and close tongs and grasp small objects in their fingers, then you can start to add fine motor elements to colour sorting to help build up those fine motor skills. My favourite way to do this is by adding items like tweezers or tongs, but we've also tried some other out of the box ideas.

For this fine motor colour matching geoboard invitation we used an IKEA plate stand, some hairbands and Melanie Shanks peg dolls. Baby girl carefully threaded the hairbands over 2 pieces of dowel to make colour houses and then matched the peg people with the right house. 

This was also great for building up her hand muscles as she had to work hard to stretch the bands over the dowel sticks and then stretch them open to slide the peg dolls inside. The Ikea plate stand is one of our favourite Ikea items for the playroom.

The idea of this egg carton colour sorting invitation is that the child uses the plastic tweezers to pick up and transfer the pom poms into the corresponding colour in the egg carton which is a great workout for their fine motor skills. To make it I coloured each section of the bottom of an egg carton with alternating felt pens and found matching pom poms. I made it with four different colours and three of each one so it wasn't too overwhelming.

A while ago Kmart released a wooden money box for $7 and I knew I had to have it straight away. My girls were still a fair way off learning actual money values, but I knew it had great potential to be hacked into a sorting box. 

To create this kmart colour sorting box hack I simply turned the backing board around and put different coloured dot stickers above each section. I then gave my daughter some coloured paddle pop sticks so she could colour match them to the correct compartment. This activity was extra tricky because the slot to stick them through is quite narrow so they had to be maneuvered just right to fit.

With the same hacked kmart money box the girls sorted our plugging flowers. This is great for pincer grip practice as well as they have to grab them quite tight to get them through the money box slot. We also counted them as we sorted them.

This jelly colour sort was an activity both my toddler and 4yr old enjoyed together. To make it I mixed some gelatine and water and filled the four compartments of a dip tray, then added a few drops of food colouring to each one and let it set in the fridge. Once it was all set I added coloured toothpicks to the centre and the girls pushed them into the corresponding jelly. 

This was a great activity for working on pincer grip and hand strengthening as they pushed the toothpicks into the jelly sections. Be mindful it does get quite messy though! We did it outside and once they'd finished colour sorting it turned into sensory play squishing and mixing all the jelly.

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