Math at Home Math Access for Teachers
and Home Child Care Providers

CME Group Community Foundation



Knives, Forks, and Spoons, Oh My!
Children will sort and classify utensils and use them to show and describe relative positioning in space.
Content Area Standard Target
  • Algebra
  • Geometry
  • Understand patterns, relations, and functions
  • Specify locations and describe spatial relationships using coordinate geeometry and other representational systems
  • Sort and classify objects by size, number, and other properties
  • Describe, name, and interpret relative positions in space and apply ideas about relative position
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Obtain materials Obtain the Materials
  • Plastic forks, knives, and spoons
  • Large cups or other containers to use for sorting

Note: Small parts create a choking hazard for children. Make sure that all materials you choose to use for an activity or lesson with children meet safety requirements. Small parts are not appropriate for children who are 5 years of age or younger.

Introduce the activity Introduce the Activity
  1. Pour out a jumbled mix of plastic forks, knives, and spoons onto the floor or table.
  2. Ask children to identify them. Provide feedback as needed.
  3. Say: "Can anyone think of how we might sort these or put them in groups?"
  4. Bring out three plastic cups and tell the children we are going to sort the utensils into three groups - forks, knives, and spoons. Place one fork in one cup, one knife in a second cup, and one spoon in the third cup.
  5. Say: "Now we have to name our groups. What should we call our first group?" Continue until you have named each group (forks, knives, spoons).
Engage the children Engage the Children
  1. Tell children now they are going to play a game. In this game someone is going to choose a utensil and place it somewhere in the room. Then they have to describe where the utensil is in relation to another object in the room.
  2. Demonstrate the activity to the children by choosing a spoon and placing it under a chair. Then ask a child to describe where the spoon is in relation to the chair with the goal of having the child use vocabulary related to relative positioning.
  3. Repeat a couple of times with different utensils and different positioning. For example, on top of the table, near the door, in front of the TV, behind the couch, far from the bathroom, close to the book. In each instance be sure to ask the child to describe the utensil's position in relation to another object. If the child has trouble finding the right word, give them options, such as is it near or far? above or below? in front of or behind? Make sure each child has at least one turn.
  4. Ask the children to close their eyes and then hide a utensil somewhere in the room. Use directional and relational vocabulary to guide children towards the utensil.
  5. Tell children they can continue playing the game taking turns with a partner. One person hides the utensil and gives hints and the other person looks for it.
Encourage vocabulary Encourage Vocabulary
  • Sort – Separating items according to a given attribute (e.g., "Can you sort your items into different groups?")
  • Same – Identical in kind or quantity (e.g., "Are these things the same?")
  • Different Not similar in size, shape, color or other characteristic (e.g., "How are they different?"
  • Classify – Naming the groups based on their same characteristics (e.g., "We classify the utensils as forks, spoons, or knives.")
  • Relative Positioning – Where one object is in relation to another object (e.g., When describing relative positioning, we use word/phrases, such as in front of, behind, near, far, below, above, under, on top of, close to, next to, between, beside, to the left of, to the right of)

Glossary of MATH vocabulary

Make adaptations Make Adaptations

Supporting Children at Different Levels

Toddlers   Pre-K

Toddlers may:

  • Only want to play with the utensils and not sort them.
  • Not have relative positioning vocabulary.

Preschoolers may:

  • Not have relative positioning vocabulary.
  • Need more challenge in this activity.
  • Hide the utensils in very difficult places to describe.

Home child care providers may:

  • Need to give clear instructions on how to handle utensils so that they are safe.
  • Need to provide relative positioning vocabulary to children so they can choose the correct one rather than having to come up with the words on their ow.
  • Let children just play with the utensils.

Home child care providers may:

  • Need to give clear instructions on how to handle utensils so that they are safe.
  • Need to provide relative positioning vocabulary to children so they can choose the correct one rather than having to come up with the words on their own.
Books Books
  • 3 Little Firefighters by Stuart Murphy (Harper Collins, 2003)
  • Math Counts Pattern by Henry Pluckrose (Children’s Press, 1994)
  • Spoon by Amy Rosenthal (Hyperion Press, 2009)
  • Sort It Out! by Mariconda Barbara (Sylvan Dell Publishing, 2005)
Music and movement Music and Movement
  • Play the Hokey Pokey emphasizing relative positioning vocabulary. Possibly even change words so children are putting their left hand ABOVE their head or their right foot OUTSIDE of the circle.
  • Have students pair up to act out spatial relations vocabulary. Whisper a word to each child and have them take turns acting out their word for their partner. A child who has the word "far" may run all the way across the yard, while a child who has the word "inside" might crawl inside a box or playhouse.
  • Create some spatial relations fun with music and a few simple dance moves. Place the children in pairs, then have them place their hands and arms in various over/under positions with each other. After they have chosen a few of their favorite moves, turn on the music and ask them to demonstrate their moves as a dance routine for the rest of the class. They can verbally identify which parts are over and which are under as they dance.
  • Read more: An Activity on Spatial Relations for Preschoolers ]
Outdoor connections Outdoor Connections
  • During outdoor play, use relative positioning vocabulary to give directions on where children should run, For example, run around the tree, hide behind the fence, climb on top of the tree stump, stand under the tree, hop beside the mailbox, etc.
  • Have children collect items in nature - rocks, sticks, flowers, leaves, etc. that they can use to hide and provide clues to find.
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