Sorting Hearts for Valentine’s Day for Toddlers
Today I want to share an activity that has been one of the most loved activities for Valentine’s Day for lots of young children.
Using a new tool, like tongs, measuring spoons, or a small scoop, will make this play routine just interesting and challenging enough for many, many busy toddlers to sit and focus their attention.
If a child has motor delays AND a low frustration tolerance, this activity may be too challenging, but for many other toddlers, it’s an excellent task for improving participation, attention, and task completion – all cognitive skills that help very young children learn language (along with everything else!)
Some of my little friends with autism love it because sorting and organizing are their strengths.
Here are the step- by- step instructions. I can’t wait to see how it works for you!
SORT OBJECTS USING TOOLS
A container: Find a container with 12 or so openings such as a muffin pan, an ice cube tray, or an empty egg carton. A separate flat container, such as a plate or tray, may be useful for placing the objects on as they are manipulated with tongs.
A tool: Provide some kind of tool for the child to use. Child-sized tongs (I recommend Learning Resources Easy Grip Tweezers available on Amazon) are ideal, but not necessary. A larger spoon, a measuring spoon (1/4 cup size), or any smaller scoop are good options.
Set Up: Choose the same number of objects as openings for one-to- one sorting. For example, if the egg carton has 12 slots, pick 12 objects for sorting.
Primary Goal: The child will place one item in one slot with less assistance over time to build attention, task completion, motor, and cognitive skills (one-to-one correspondence).
Secondary Goals: If you’re working with a child during this activity, you’ll also target joint attention since you’ll want him to include you. A child will also be improving motor planning and visual perceptual skills.
Instructions: Set out the container and tray of objects with the tongs. Rather than telling the child what to do, use the tongs to pick up an object and show the child how to place it in one spot in the container. As you model placing each item in one spot, say something simple to narrate your actions such as, “Look! It’s a heart! See? The heart goes in here.” Grab another heart with the tongs and place it another slot saying something similar such as, “Look! Another heart. Where does this one go? Right here. Heart in.”
Give the child the tongs and say something very simple such as, “Heart in.” Provide cues like pointing if the child seems unsure of what to do.
Many toddlers will need physical assistance to achieve initial success with this task. Praise the child when he places a heart in an opening.
Quickly point to the tray so that the child selects another heart to sort. If he doesn’t, provide assistance to help him pick up the next heart for sorting.
It’s usually not a good idea to require that the child verbally request a new object to sort. We can lose a child’s attention because he may not be developmentally ready to talk during this kind of focused fine motor activity.
Troubleshooting Tips: If a child becomes overly frustrated with learning to use the tongs, try an ice cream scooper or another spoon for transferring the objects to the container. If that modification is unsuccessful, allow the child to place the objects into the slots with his hands. Over time, reintroduce the tool.
Moving Toward Independent Play: Once a child has mastered this task, help him learn to play independently by setting up this activity and then leaving him for a few minutes to sort on his own. I usually do this activity during a session with mom and then send it home in a large Zip-lock bag for continued practice and carry-over at home.
More Practice: Offer different versions of this activity for children who need additional motor practice with tools and for children who enjoy this task. Provide a different tool the next time you do the activity or switch out your materials. If you begin with hearts for Valentine’s Day, try cotton balls (like snow balls!) for winter. If you’re in a warmer climate, try small rocks or seashells.
Need some therapy ideas that hold the attention of little ones with autism? Check out my therapy manual The Autism Workbook. These activities and strategies will WORK to help kids with autism learn to understand and use words.
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