Ok I’ll be the first to admit, my fish look pretty funny! In fact they make me chuckle when I look at them, but you know what, when I pulled them out my 3-year old didn’t care at all. He exclaimed “Fishies!” And immediately jumped into the activity. It was just another reminder that kids don’t care that they are doing activities with beautiful, lifelike materials… they just want to have fun with us!
I laid out the fish and explained that the big fish were the mommy fish and the little fish were the baby fish. Then, I asked him if he could match the mommy fish with the baby fish. He didn’t hesitate and once he had matched all of the fish he was beaming with pride and exclaimed “I did it!” If that doesn’t make your day, I’m not sure what will!
What if my child is young and not interested in matching or sorting? Your 1 and 2 year old might not be interested in sorting or matching fish yet. You can still make it fun. Lay out the fish and describe what they are, just like I did in the beginning. Make the fish “swim,” talk about the mommy fish and how they are bigger and the baby fish are smaller. Talk about their colors, and then maybe demonstrate how to match the mommy fish with the baby fish. All along your young toddler will be building those brain connections to be able to do this and similar activities in the future.
Lets break down what is happening in this activity:
Early Math: Recognizing characteristics and sorting or matching based on those characteristics is an early math concept. You might remember in elementary school learning about labeling and categorizing as a means to graphing and figuring more difficult concepts. In the case of this early math activity, the fish match, your child is considering both size and color to determine how to match or sort the fish. In the mommy match, they must first separate out the large fish to be the mommies and the small fish to be the babies. Then match based on color. Similarly, they can be sorted based on size, big fish in this pile, and little fish in the other pile.
Problem Solving: These are the types of activities that really build the “I think I can, I think I can… I KNOW I can!” mentality. A few years ago the push was to tell our kids how wonderful and smart they were thinking we were building “self-confidence…” the belief was that if kids felt good about themselves they would be successful. Well the reality was that it didn’t work, and we discovered that children need to build self-esteem by trying things, making some mistakes along the way, solving problems, and finally achieving success. That results in pride… not the pride cometh before fall type of pride, rather the kind of pride that comes from satisfaction in achieving something. We can foster this even more by doing these little fun activities with our kids. We can be their cheerleader along the way, and maybe even give some hints here and there, but ultimately when they can problem solve with these simple tasks they will build the beginnings of confidence that will continue to benefit them as the grow and develop.
Communication: I could literally talk about communication into every activity! Your child is literally a communication sponge! Any activity that we do, well literally anything we do, is a chance to label and expand our child’s vocabulary. This is why it is so important to talk, read, sing, and talk some more with even our infants! In this activity talk about the colors and the size of the fish. Describe what you see your child doing, “You are matching the red mommy fish with the red baby fish. The mommy fish is bigger than the baby fish.” Give simple hints to help your child, “I see the green baby fish is all alone. Where is the green mommy fish.” Pretend play with the fish. Make them “swim” and talk to each other, and even find ways to connect the activity to your child’s life, “This red baby fish has a mommy just like you do.” When in doubt, just talk about what you see!