English: Buttons with just three holes. Italia...

Buttons with just three holes. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


  • 100 buttons of various shapes, colors, number of holes, sizes
  • Paper
  • Crayon, pen or marker


  •  Draw three large circles on the paper
  • Ask your grandchild to look at the buttons and pick out a way to sort them into the three large circles b some way the button could be described
  • Start by suggesting that they sort them by color: light, colored, dark
  • Ask them to think of another way to sort them. Another way might be by size: small, medium and large
  • Another way to sort them might be by shape: round, square, odd shapes
  • Another way to sort them might be by the number of holes in the button: none, three or four

What Should Happen?

As your grandchildren start thinking about different ways to sort the buttons, they may come up with their own ways, such as whether buttons are like the ones you see on different types of clothing: jackets and blouses, skirts and pants, coats.

Or the type of surface of the button: shiny, flat, textured.

Or the age of the people whose clothes they are on: children’s, teenagers’, adults’.

They will be introduced to the concept of attributes, different ways of sorting the same objects by some way you could describe the object.

Why Is This Useful?

Deciding on a way to organize objects is useful in putting them away and finding them again later.

For instance, books in a library are not organized by the color of the cover or the size of the book. They may be organized by the title, the last name of the author or by subject.

If organized by subject, they are likely organized by the Dewey Decimal System, which assigns numbers to various subject areas so they will be easier for everyone to find in a library, and within that category, the first three letters of the author’s last name.

When you only have a few objects, say 20 or 30 books, you can just look through them all quickly to find the one you want. But, when you have a large number, say more than 100, an organizing scheme helps find exactly what you want, quickly.

It also help to understand which characteristics are relevant in a given situation. You may want to sort books by size if you have different sizes of shelves to store them on, for example, by author’s last name, title or subject for retrieval, or by awards, like being on the New York Times’ best seller list when trying to decide which ones to read first.

Your kitchen is another good example of deciding how to group items. It may be organized, for instance, with glasses near the sink, coffee mugs near the coffee maker and plates and silverware near the dishwasher, so things are easy to find, easy to put away, and close to hand with other things you use.

Deciding on a way to organize objects is also useful when you don’t have all the objects when you start, but will want to introduce new ones as they are available.

This is true of books. With the Dewey Decimal System, new books can easily be added to the subject area where they belong.

It is also true of the 118 chemical elements in the periodic table, a system that organizes elements according to their atomic number or number of protons, their electron configuration and common chemical properties, some of which have been discovered because the organizational system pointed to where there should be an element.

Thanks to Expert Village for this activity.


Carol Covin, Granny-Guru

Author, “Who Gets to Name Grandma? The Wisdom of Mothers and Grandmothers


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