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Lockdown Day 89 – Similarities and Differences

Education of the Senses

In our lockdown tip #75, we introduced the concept of multi-sensory learning which is underpinned by the assumption that we learn better when we are taught using more than one sense.


When we are faced with a new situation, the first thing we do is assess how the situation is similar to something we already know and how it is different. Identifying similarities and differences is an important developmental concept that helps us to gain insight, draw inferences, make generalisations, and develop or refine knowledge.

Identifying similarities and differences helps us to make sense of the world through a process of COMPARING information, sorting concepts into categories, and making connections to one’s existing knowledge. Every object has various properties (size, colour, shape, texture etc). Grouping objects according to any one of their properties is a lesson in comparison called CLASSIFICATION.

Children are naturally guided to use all of their senses in making sense of what they encounter. They learn by watching, listening, playing, and exploring objects, people and places through their senses. Through these experiences, children make sense of the world around them by becoming aware of things that are similar and things that are different – and grouping them as such.

Adults can support children in this important developmental process by encouraging them to notice and reflect on differences and similarities of what they are observing, and by talking to them about it by using intentional questions.


Learning about classifying and sorting is most effective when it is incorporated authentically into children’s everyday life.

These concepts can be taught with any objects that have both similar and different characteristics by sorting them according to their characteristics, such as class, kind or size through a process of logical thinking.

Classifying and sorting activities generally involve three steps

  1. Deciding which characteristic to sort by
  2. Physically sorting the objects
  3. Providing and describing the rational for the classifications.

Asking children to describe their reasoning behind their classifications and using intentional questioning as prompts make children think more deeply about specific differences and similarities to develop comparison skills as well. 


You can use the following questions to extend your child’s learning:

  • Are these objects all the same (alike) or are they different?
  • What is the same about these objects? What do the objects in this group have in common?
  • How did you discover that?
  • What is different about these objects?
  • Could you sort these objects in a different way? What would that be?


* Mystery Box *

  • Put together a mystery box that has different classifications of objects inside. This could be a collection of buttons, or a selection of toy cars.
  • Discuss the differences and similarities between the objects with your child by using intentional questioning to determine the objects could be grouped according to their similarities.
  • Follow your child’s suggestions and ideas.
  • Invite the child to group the objects according to the classification the child has chosen (size, colour, shape etc).
  • Once the objects have been classified, discuss with the child why s/he has classified the objects as such.
  • Then, ask the child to look at the objects again and decide whether there is possibly another way that these objects could be grouped and classified. For example: the child may initially have grouped all the cars by colour. Another grouping possibility would be to group the objects by car type. Again, discuss the grouping with the child when done.
  • Classification examples can include manmade and natural objects, heavy and light objects, long and short objects, animals and insects or different colours.
  • You may wish to include magnifying glasses, scales and measuring tools for children to explore these differences.

* Loose Parts *

  • Provide an assortment of loose parts for children to practice sorting objects. This can items of varying size, texture and colour such as buttons, beans, pasta, bottle tops, marbles, or natural and sensory materials with different scents and origins such as pine cones, flowers, herbs, shells, stones, feathers, and sticks. This will allow children to use more of their senses to classify the items.
  • Invite the child to group the materials with different classification suggestions. You could, for example, invite the child to group the objects by location (group all of the objects that can be found in a garden) or by taste (all of the items that taste sweet) or by smell. This engages more of the child’s senses.

* Logical Thinking *

Older children can be extended once they have had some practice in classifying according to similarities or differences.

  • Put together a selection of items that go together (according to a specific characteristic) and include one item that does not belong to this classification.
  • Ask the child to identify the object that does not belong to the group and ask the child to explain her/his reasoning. Example: Household pets – dog, cat, hamster, fish. What is similar is that these animals are all household pets. What is different is that the fish lives in water, or has no legs. This makes the fish the odd one out.


Encouraging children’s natural tendencies to notice similarities and differences and attempt to create order by grouping and classifying accordingly, children are given a solid foundation upon which to build later mathematical, problem-solving and critical thinking skills.


Find all of our lockdown tips here –