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The Benefits of Shape-Sorter Toys

Shape sorters are classic toddler favorites, and with good reason: They're a fun challenge. By figuring out how to drop each piece into its proper hole, kids learn to categorize and eventually name shapes (a skill they master around age 2).

Between 15 and 18 months, most kids will start to develop the hand-eye coordination and problem-solving skills they need to be able to sort, says Natalie Geary, M.D., a developmental pediatrician in New York City.

To get started, provide different-shaped blocks or food-container lids for your child to separate into piles. Cheerios, bagels, and crackers are also easy (and tasty) to sort. As he plays with the different shapes, say their names so he'll become familiar with them.

Next, move on to a sorting toy, which has two added bonuses: It'll teach your toddler cause and effect ("If I poke this star through the hole, it disappears") and object permanence ("Oh, it didn't disappear for good  -- there it is again!").

Don't be surprised if your toddler just pours out all the pieces at first  -- he may need a little help. Take the simpler shapes, like circles and squares, and show him how they fit into their holes. At first, he'll try jamming pieces in willy-nilly. Gently guide his hand until each shape fits. Soon, he'll be sorting like a pro!

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