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14 Hands-On Seriation Activities for Preschoolers

What is ordering and seriation in child development and how do you teach preschoolers to size objects in order?

These seriation activities for preschoolers are simple and hands-on. They are suitable for teaching your kids at home or at school.

What is Seriation in Early Childhood?

Seriation is one of the mental skills children learn in early childhood. It is developed alongside other cognitive abilities such as matching, sorting and learning about cause-and-effect relationships.

Seriation is a form of ordering – or arranging things – according to a graduated order, more commonly referring to arranging in terms of size.

Unlike temporal ordering (sequencing) which arranges things in the order in which they happen in time, seriation orders them according to graduations in size.

It is also possible to seriate items according to:

  • colour (such as from lightest to darkest blue)
  • taste (sweet to sour)
  • sound (soft to loud)
  • touch (smoothest to roughest).

These ordering activities basically answer the question “What comes next?

In his work on child development, Piaget gave the term seriation. [source]

Examples of Seriation

Some examples of seriation that you will see in everyday life:

  • Measuring cups that fit inside each other
  • Nested cups or blocks for kids to play with
  • Children standing in a line in height order
  • A colour palette card in a paint shop with gradations of a shade of colour
measuring cups that fit inside one another

What are Seriation Activities?

Seriation, or ordering activities, involve challenging children to place certain items in order, according to a criteria, such as longest to shortest, thickest to thinnest, smallest to biggest, etc.

These activities can take the form of:

  • Concrete activities (placing sticks from longest to shortest)
  • Picture activities (place the pictures of the apples in order from smallest to biggest)
  • Abstract activities (number the items on the worksheet from longest to shortest, or place these numbers in order from biggest to smallest).

How do you Teach Seriation?

At a preschool level, kids should be taught this concept mostly through hands-on activities, with physical objects.

A worksheet is meaningless to a child who needs time to grasp a concept. Start with playing and ordering objects, then move onto pictures of objects. Worksheets can be introduced later on.

It’s also not necessary to make every learning opportunity a “lesson.” Simply by adding measuring cups and spoons during water play, for example, kids will be learning the concept of seriation while playing, which is how most concepts are learned.

Remember to teach children new vocabulary by verbalizing what they are doing while playing. Use words like:

  • Tallest
  • Shortest
  • Longest
  • Thinnest
  • Thickest
  • Biggest
  • Smallest
  • Loudest
  • Softest 
  • Roughest 
  • Lightest
  • Darkest 

To make the activities easier for younger children:

  • Offer less items to arrange
  • Start the sequence and ask children “what comes next” or “what comes first” (before the others)

To make the activities more challenging:

  • Offer more items to order
  • Offer all the items mixed together and ask the child to unjumble them in order
  • Make a sequence, and leave a few spaces randomly, for the child to fill in

14 Ordering and Seriation Activities for Preschoolers

Use these simple activities to teach kids the concept of ordering and seriation. Substitute for different items wherever necessary.

14 super fun and easy seriation activities Pinterest image

1. Sticks and Straws

Collect sticks outside and arrange them from shortest to tallest or vice versa.

A variation is to use straws and cut them to different lengths.

2. Fruit and Veg

Offer a few of the same type of fruit or vegetable and place them in order of smallest to biggest. Use the same fruit so children can compare “apples with apples”, so to speak, instead of being confused by varying shapes of different fruits.

a row of peppers in order of size

3. Tidy Up

Teach kids to pack items away neatly, in order. For example:

  • In the outdoor kitchen, hang the cooking spoons from smallest to largest
  • Hang the clothes in order of length in the cupboard or on the rack when playing dress up
  • Pack the blocks on the shelf, starting with the largest on the left and the smallest ones to the right

4. Nuts and Bolts

Offer nuts and bolts in all sizes, to be arranged in order.

This activity can also be used to teach one-to-one correspondence if you ask children to screw the right-sized nut onto the correct bolt.

5. Nested Cups

Play with nested cups and let children arrange them by stacking them in various ways:

  1. On top of each other from largest to smallest to form a tower
preschooler stacking cups on top of each other
  1. Nested inside each other
  2. Next to each other in a line in order
child sorting colorful cups on floor

6. Painting

Offer just one colour of paint in varying shades and let children experiment with the shades on paper. 

7. Texture Play

In a bag that is not see-through, place sandpaper with different degrees of roughness inside and ask children to pull out the smoothest first, then the next and so on. 

8. Everybody Line Up

Place the family members or children in class in a line, from shortest to tallest.

Then rearrange everyone from tallest to smallest.

9. Wooden Dolls

Play with those little wooden dolls that stack inside each other. You can also find wooden nesting eggs.

10. Shake and Listen

Using a few identical containers (tins or bottles), place a different amount of beans, lentils or rice inside each. Shake each bottle, listen to the sound and order them based on how many beans they think are in each container (the least to the most).

11. Leaves

Collect leaves in the garden and arrange them in order. Try to collect the same type of leaf.

yellow leaves lined up in order of size

12. Container Sort

Provide plastic bottles of all sizes and sort them according to height.

13. Base-10 Blocks

Play with small base-10 blocks (that come in multiples of one). Stack them next to each other in small piles to compare their heights. 

They will improve their concept of number at the same time as they discover that 3 is 3 ones, 2 is 2 ones, etc.

14. Measuring Spoons

Play with measuring spoons and measuring cups during sand play. Make mud pies with the measuring cups and compare the sizes.

Source:

Hendrick, H. 1990. Total Learning: Developmental Curriculum for the Young Child. Third Edition. Macmillan Publishing Company: New York.


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