Play to Learn: Shape Sorter Toys and Child Development

Hey everyone! We know kiddos get bored with toys over time. They want to see something new and exciting, and it’s hard to come up with creative ways to make a toy fun again. Well it’s your lucky day, because as pediatric therapy specialists, we’re here to help spur your imagination, as well as your child’s, with strategies to make toys and child development fun! You can even turn common household items into fun ways for your child to learn. 

This week, we’ll talk about how you can use shape sorter toys to help your kiddo progress!

toy closet

Shape sorters* generally come in all shapes, sizes, and textures. Even though shape sorters seem like “educational” toys, all the general toy recommendations still apply. That means letting your child lead and making it fun. You can also use it as an opportunity to model some great language, so we’ll make general suggestions — listed in parentheses — as you read along.

Shape Sorter Toys Encourage Child Play Therapy and Development

You can start by showing your kiddo how to pull the shape sorter truck by its string, and then encourage them to try it. (A truck. You’re pulling it!) Then you can show them how to push the truck around the room. (He’s driving. The truck is going fast!) 

You can also initiate play with the shape sorter by showing your child to put in and take out the shapes, this can be done without fitting the shapes into the matching holes. (Put in, take out.

Introducing this “put in, take out” concept is helpful for your child to learn the function of the shape sorter. It provides a building block for future combination play of matching the shapes to the holes.

child with shape sorter toy truck

You can also show your little one how to spin the barrel of the truck or it’s wheels. (It’s turning!) This is a fun cause and effect activity where your kiddo is rewarded with a fun sound of the shapes crashing and moving inside the barrel of the truck. 

You can also use the bucket shape sorter to make fun noises. You can teach your kiddo to shake the bucket when the top is on to move the shapes inside the barrel! Try getting them to shake the bucket with both hands while standing to work on their core strength and standing balance. 

Your little one can also shake the bucket while sitting. This will also work on their core strength as well as their righting reactions necessary to keep their sitting balance.  (Note: Working in some trunk control is never a bad thing – Editor and PT, Drew!)

Fill the shape sorter up and let your child dump them out the back. (The shapes came out!) You can also ask your child to fill up the shape sorter, and you dump them back out so you can repeat the exercise again and again.   

This technique can also teach them how to take turns, and it’s a great way to include other kiddos to teach everyone that sharing is fun! This also further ties into the “put in, take out” concept to provide that building block for future combination play. 

speech sorting

Shape Sorter Toys Help Jump Start Combination Play in Children

Try encouraging your child to put the shapes in the shape sorter. You can name the shape and it’s color as they are matching the shapes to the hole to further expand this play. (You put in the yellow square, not the blue circle, silly!) 

If putting the shapes through the holes is difficult for them and is getting in the way of having fun, you can put them halfway in and let your kiddo push the shapes the rest of the way. (The circle is out. The circle is in!) 

If you need to use this technique, try to also encourage them to use their pointer finger to isolate those important muscles! This can help child development of fine motor skills and manual dexterity while they’re having fun with toys.

speech games

Try stacking shapes on top of each other to make a tower, if possible. (It’s a tower. Look – It fell down!) This is another great cause and effect activity and never, ever, grows old! You can encourage your little one to try to build the tower themselves first too. This works on their fine motor skills and their ability to control their movements so they don’t knock the tower over. 

You can also help hold the tower to build it taller, and encourage your kiddo to squat to the floor to pick up the shape then reach higher to build the tower. Just like that, this became a strengthening activity, too! 

Bonus activity: build the tower on a chair or couch so your toddler has to go up on their toes to reach it! This can work on their balance and leg muscles needed to run and play.

An important step to take to help your kiddo move from combination play to symbolic play is moving away from the “rules” of the shape sorter and introducing some imagination! You don’t have to only use the shapes with the shape sorter! 

You can drop the shapes into any container you have around the house, salad spinners can be especially fun! (The shapes are in. Watch them spin and go round and round!) 

Or you can try using toys other than shapes through the holes in the shape sorters. Pegs, puzzle pieces, popsicle sticks, and anything else that fits will work!

Use Your Imagination to Promote Symbolic Play in Child Development

The truck shape sorter can be fun to pull out again when your child’s play skills have advanced to substituting one object for another. You can pretend that the man works as a garbage man. Have him put the shapes in his truck, get in his truck, drive to a different location, and unload them out the back. 

By introducing step by step play, this can help children learn routines and how to follow directions which are very helpful as they continue to grow. This is another great activity to incorporate memory into play. You can teach your kiddo the steps listed above for the garbage man to follow, and have them demonstrate it back to you, all while playing!

sorting block

Try pretending that the shapes are different foods. You can play “chef” and use the shapes to cook up some yummy soups, smoothies, and salads. Imagination is key during symbolic play. As always, if your kiddo comes up with an even cooler idea other than smoothies and salads, let them!

These are some fun ideas you can use to encourage your kid to play with a toy they already have, in new ways to challenge their play and make it more fun! Have fun playing pretend and watching your child learn!

We also have tons of awesome information on our resources page, including toys and activities to help your child learn and grow. 

Follow us on Facebook to stay up-to-date on blog posts like this and more! And as always, if you believe your child would benefit from therapy services, contact us to schedule an appointment today. 

Written by Cheryl Michalesko, edited by Drew Haverstock, PT and Sophia Aspin, PT, DPT

* Third-party links in this blog are provided as a convenience and for informational purposes only; they do not constitute an endorsement or an approval by Milestone Therapy of any of the products, services or opinions of the corporation or organization or individual.