Learning With Magnets (Letters & Numbers)

Learning With Magnets (Letters & Numbers)

Sorting magnetic letters might seem like just a math activity, but it is so much more than that!

To begin with, just the act of playing with and holding the magnetic letters helps teach the child.  The letters will look different, whether by size, shape, color, etc.  On top of that, the letters will feel different in her hands.  The letter ‘x’ isn’t going to feel exactly the same as the letter ‘a’.  While she may not start out knowing what the letters are, her senses will be cataloging what she sees and feels.


Plus, the child’s innate sense of curiosity will eventually come into play.  He’ll want to know what these things are that he’s playing with, so he’ll ask questions.  He will make connections, sometimes with parent/teacher help of course.  For example, he might point out that one of the magnetic  letters looks like a letter he’s seen in his name.  He might notice that one of the letters is on the stop sign he sees in his neighborhood every day.

When a child is asked to sort magnetic letters, it forces her to attend to the similarities and differences within the letters.  This will make her take note that the letters are not all the same.  Even if she’s just focusing on the color of the letter, she will quickly learn that there are certain differences to be found.  When looking at letters she’s grouped together in the same category, the child is likely to notice how the letters are the same color but different shapes.  Her mind becomes used to assessing and comparing what the magnetic letters look like.  This is a precursor for learning the individual letters and their distinct characteristics.

When a child sorts magnetic letters, his descriptive language improves.  His teacher (or parent) is giving him the language with which to describe letters.  Having the language to express the ways the letters are similar brings a new perspective to the process.  It allows him a way to verbalize the observations he’s making while sorting.

Keep in mind that sorting the letters can be done individually, in small groups, and as an entire class.  Children can sort on their own or with an adult there to help.  Asking questions and making comments as the children complete this task helps provide them with language.  It also helps draw their attention to the individual letters.  For example, you might make simple comments like, “I notice that the uppercase ‘E’ doesn’t have any holes, but the lowercase ‘e’ does.”

Below is a list of some ideas regarding how children can sort magnetic letters.  Please keep in mind that there are different levels of skill involved in the letter sorts.  Choose ways of sorting that best meet the needs of the children you are working with.

  • Color
  • Letter
  • Uppercase versus lowercase
  • In my name
  • In my friend’s name
  • Have holes
  • Have curves
  • Straight lines
  • Vertical lines
  • Tails
  • Tall versus short
  • Sounds

Those are just some ways you can sort magnetic letters.  What are some other ways you sort them with your children?  I’d love to hear some new ideas!

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