Toddler Choices – Ages 2 – 3 – Toddlers are not known for their flexibility of course. The “terrible twos” is all about asserting control. But, letting your toddler make a color choice for a shirt for example, “do you want the red shirt or white shirt today?” helps to teach colors as well as build flexibility.
With two-year-olds it is best to provide two-choice options, try some of the choices below and teach new qualitative concepts as well as building flexibility:
Size- “Should we play with the big or small blocks?”
Shape - “Will your doll sit in the round or square chair?”
Length of time - “ Do you want me to read a long or short book?”
Categories- “ Should we read the book about trucks or animals?”
Object type - “Who will you take to bed, Teddy Bear or Rabbit?”
Texture - “Which blanket do you want, soft or fluffy?,”By two and a half to three years, children can handle three choices and you can vary the choices within a category to build even more flexibility; you can also add higher level concepts:
Height – short, medium and tall or high, medium, low
Quantity – few, many, a lot
Volume – empty, more, full
Flavor – chocolate, vanilla, strawberry
Design – stripes, solids, dots
Card Sorting Game – Ages 3 ½ – 6 – In an earlier post I talked about how to help children sort their toys, cars or stuffed animals by different categories (color, size, shape) during clean-up time. But sorting games are also fun. “Old Maid” cards can be sorted into piles by the color of hair or clothes, by boy vs. girl characters; playing cards can be sorted by color, number or shape. By changing the sorting “rules” children learn that the world can be organized in many ways, with no “right or wrong” way;“we just played the color game, now let’s play the shape game.” Take turns choosing the way to sort.
Sorting Strategy Games – Ages 5 – 12 – You probably have not thought about this, but many childhood board games involve sorting. “Guess Who?” is a great way to teach sorting options to young children because the questions allow eliminating categories – boy or girl, brown or blue eyes, blond, brown or red hair. Other games that help expand on the use of sorting as a strategy for solving problems are:
Why? Psychologists actually use card sorting tasks as one measure of executive function: the capacity to be organized, purposeful and flexible. Young children may have trouble with changes in routines or might be rigid about clothing choices because the pre-frontal lobe, which is essential for flexible thinking, is just starting to mature. As I have mentioned before, the pre-frontal lobe is part of the human brain that will mature into adulthood. Dr. Adele Diamond, an expert on pre-frontal lobe maturation, has been using sorting tasks as a way to measure cognitive maturity for many years. Building mental flexibility will help your child to get along with others, solve new problems in creative ways, and welcome new life challenges. In addition, flexibility of thought is associated with Fluid Intelligence, a capacity that psychologists view as very important to success in adult life.