Classification is the way we group items and categorize what we see and experience. Classifying and sorting into groups is also a large part of the first grade math curriculum. The outdoors offers an abundance of learning tools for children, and classifying in the natural world gives your child an added lesson in scientific observation. So, next time you spend some time outdoors with your child, take a view at your surroundings and observe how many ways you could group the objects that you see. You’ll be amazed how many commonalities can be found once you start to classify!
Bring your chalk along with you as you visit a neighborhood park or your own front yard. Ask your child to name what they see in the park. Then encourage her to group what she sees into categories. Ask your child what title she would give each category (for instance, “Things that are green”, “Things that are bumpy,” etc).
Using the chalk, write the category on the ground in a wide open space, whether it’s your driveway or the sidewalk at the park.
Now do the same with two or three more categories your child comes up with. If your child is not a reader yet, feel free to make an illustration of the category on the ground alongside the word.
Now it's time to sort and find objects that fit the categories listed. You can either place the actual object under the category title (for example, a leaf under the category of “Things that are green) or write the object’s name or draw its picture (for example, a stop sign under the category of “things made of metal”).
Once the categories are substantially filled in, look at what objects you found for each group. Which category had the most “things”? Which had the least? Which “things” fit into more than one group?
Rewrite the list of objects that appeared on multiple lists and make a Venn diagram (explained in the next step) to take this classification activity to another level.
To make a Venn diagram, draw two large circles on the ground that overlaps in the middle. In one circle, avoiding the overlapping part, write the first list of objects, and on the second side of the circle, write the other. Objects that can fit in both categories are written in the overlapping part shared by the two circles.
On the walk home, talk about the discoveries that your child made. What outdoor “things” overlapped in two categories? Where these “things” found in nature or man-made? Or both? Encouraging your child to share her observations is a great way to reinforce the exercise and ensure that your child will be a master classifier in no time!
Alicia Danyali, BS Elementary Education, taught primary-level students for four years at the International School of Amsterdam, The Netherlands. The last four years of her teaching career, she taught at the Washington International School in Washington, D.C. She recently completed writing a series of children's picture books and is a mother of one young son.