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My daughter is obsessed with pockets, bags, and containers for all her “treasures”. She is at the age where she can spend a considerable amount of time putting objects into something, then dumping them out and doing it all over again. I recently got a recommendation from Amazon for a colored sorting and counting toy set, which was a perfect idea. (On a side note: I find it more than a little creepy how well the shopping sites know me.) It was really cute and I almost bought it, but because I am who I am, I had to think, “How could I make it as a DIY counting and sorting toy?”

Amazon counting and sorting toy by Gleeport
The counting and sorting toy Amazon recommended for me

I saved the item in my cart as my DIY brain began sorting through the supplies I had on hand that could create a cheap and adorable crafted toy alternative. I regularly buy crafting supplies on sale or clearance with no particular use in mind – I just know that someday I’ll be able to make something with them. Or I buy something in bulk, but only use a small portion for a craft project and then have oodles of leftovers. One such buy were these plastic gems from Amazon.

A few years ago, I went through a stretch of frequently painting my fingernails, but don’t have time anymore. So I have a box of nail polish that very rarely sees any use anymore. I figured nail polish is durable, easy to use, scratch-resistant, and collecting dust in my cupboard so I could use that to color the gems. Plus, I knew I already had all the colors I would need and most of them had the added bonus of sparkles 🙂

I had a pack of paper cups from the dollar store in my painting supplies. Instead of painting the entire cup, I knew my DIY counting and sorting toy would be better served by just painting portions of the sorting cup. I knew painting a large section with nail polish would be difficult and the results would probably be poor. Plus, I decided to incorporate shapes learning into the toy by painting a different shape on each colored cup.

How to craft a DIY counting and sorting STEM toy.

The final piece of the project was a bag to store all the parts in when not in use. I already knew how to make an upcycled drawstring backpack from an old shirt so I figured I could easily adapt it to create a simple DIY upcycled drawstring bag.


Supplies for DIY Counting and Sorting STEM Toy for Children
Supplies needed to make your DIY counting and sorting STEM learning toy

Because I already had all the supplies on hand, I valued it as being free. If you have to purchase any of the supplies, it might be a better option to just buy the ready-made set. Here’s what you might spend if you need to purchase supplies:

  • Nail polish ~$1-3 each ($6-18 total for six colors). You can find many different polish options in a range of price points. If you were buying specifically for this craft project, you would be able to use the smaller, sample-size bottles.
  • Gems – The smallest pack I could find on Amazon was 150. When I wrote this, the pack of 150 was $5.98. You can also buy a pack of these in assorted colors and skip the painting. You would then need to just paint/color the cups and make the drawstring bag.
  • Cups – $1 for a pack of 12 at a dollar store.

Step 1 of DIY Counting and Sorting Toy – Paint the Gems

I used nail polish to paint 10 gems in each of the six different colors (60 gems total). I found it easiest to work with two colors at a time. For example, I painted one side of 10 gems in red, then one side of another 10 gems in orange. By the time I was done with the orange, the red was dry enough for me to paint the other side, and then move on to the second side of the orange.

Step 2 of DIY Counting and Sorting Toy – Paint the Cups

Painted cups for DIY counting and sorting toy for children
Paint each of the six cups with a different color (and shape if desired)

I used paper to quickly create six different shape stencils (square, circle, triangle, star, diamond, heart). Then I painted in the shapes with my nail polish. I also added the polish to the rim of the cup to further distinguish the color.

Step 3 of DIY Counting and Sorting Toy – Make or Find Storage

The finishing touch was to make a drawstring bag to store all the bits of my DIY counting and sorting toy. My upcycled drawstring bag tutorial enables you to use an old shirt to make any size drawstring bag. For this craft project, my finished bag was 6”W x 8”T, which was large enough to comfortably hold the six stacked plastic cups. If you’re using larger cups, you will want to adjust the size of your bag accordingly. If you don’t want to sew up a quick and easy drawstring bag for the toy, you can simply use a sandwich or freezer zip bag, or a small box.

Step 4 of DIY Counting and Sorting Toy – Enjoy!!

And that’s it! A quick, easy, and cheap DIY counting and sorting toy for your child!

Happy Crafting!!


*As with any toy for small children, this DIY toddler sorting and counting toy may pose a choking hazard. Make and use with caution.

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