Knives, Forks and Spoons, Oh My!

In this lesson, children will sort and classify utensils and use them to show and describe relative positioning in space.

Lesson for:

(See Step 5: Adapt lesson for toddlers or preschoolers.)

Content Area:


Learning Goals:

This lesson will help toddlers and preschoolers meet the following educational standards:

  • Understand patterns, relations and functions
  • Specify locations and describe spatial relationships using coordinate geometry and other representational systems

Learning Targets:

After this lesson, toddlers and preschoolers should be more proficient at:

  • Sorting and classifying objects by size, number and other properties
  • Describing, naming and interpreting relative positions in space and applying ideas about relative position

Knives, Forks and Spoons, Oh My!

Lesson plan for toddlers/preschoolers

Step 1: Gather materials.

  • Plastic forks, knives and spoons
  • Large cups or other containers to use for sorting

Note: Small parts pose a choking hazard and are not appropriate for children age five or under. Be sure to choose lesson materials that meet safety requirements.

Step 2: Introduce 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 that they are going to sort the utensils into three groups: forks, knives and spoons. Place one fork in the first cup, one knife in the 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).

Step 3: Engage children in lesson activities.

  1. Tell the children that they are now going to play a game. In this game, a child will choose a utensil and place it somewhere in the room. Then the child will 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 the child 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 the children to continue playing the game, taking turns with a partner. One child hides the utensil and gives hints and the other child looks for it.

Step 4: 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 words/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)

Early Math Glossary

Step 5: Adapt lesson for toddlers or preschoolers.

Adapt Lesson for Toddlers
Toddlers may:
  • Only want to play with the utensils and not sort them
  • Not have relative positioning vocabulary
Child care providers may:
  • Need to give clear instructions on how to handle utensils safely
  • Need to provide relative positioning vocabulary to children so that they can choose the correct words, rather than having to come up with the words on their own
  • Let the children just play with the utensils
Adapt Lesson for Preschoolers
Preschoolers may:
  • Not have relative positioning vocabulary
  • Need more challenge in this activity
  • Hide the utensils in very difficult places to describe
Child care providers may:
  • Need to give clear instructions on how to handle utensils safely
  • Need to provide relative positioning vocabulary to children so that they can choose the correct words, rather than having to come up with the words on their own

Suggested 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

  • Play the Hokey Pokey emphasizing relative positioning vocabulary. Possibly even change words so that the 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 the children take turns acting out their words for their partners. 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 of 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. The children can verbally identify which parts are over and which are under as they dance.
  • Read: An Activity on Spatial Relations for Preschoolers   

Outdoor Connections

  • During outdoor play, use relative positioning vocabulary to tell the children what to do. For example: Run around the tree, hide behind the fence, climb on top of the tree stump, stand under the tree or hop beside the mailbox.
  • Have the children collect items in nature (such as rocks, sticks, flowers or leaves) that they can hide and provide clues to find.

Web Resources

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