I teach threes in a literature based school. We focus on one book for the week, pulling out theme and curriculum ideas from the book. No matter the theme, I will always have one or two sorting activities out along with fine motor fun, our sticky easel, maybe a felt board, a story basket, the mystery bag, a sensory bin, play dough, and art stuffs. Repeating these projects and actions using different materials is a great way for children to learn and stretch their growing minds and fine motor skills. The success and anticipation of knowing how to use the materials builds their confidence and autonomy while allowing for creative play when they engage with the materials in ways of their own choosing. Each time they succeed or stretch those thought processes connections are made in the brain. It's really cool! So whether or not the children put the correct amount of pom-poms on the corresponding gingerbread person there is still development happening. If the children color sort the poms (like one did in the picture) while another simply throws them all in the air, that's okay, the brain is still working and growing and the child is learning about the world around them.
The pretty set ups in my classroom are to engage and invite the children in and create a pleasing environment for myself and their parents. The set up is the photo-sell of a classroom but the real magic happens when the children arrive and create new ways of playing and manipulating their environment. Those photos don't really show the magic but it is there in super leaps and bounds. It is the main reason I work with children, that magical moment of learning that happens when nothing seems to be happening at all.
These gingerbread people were picked up from the dollar section at Target. I'm not a big foam fan but thought these could last a few years. There are numbered dots on one side with the number written on the other. One of my children immediately ripped a leg off of poor number six. After we discussed what was suitable for tearing, we figured out a way to repair the leg and then grabbed some tin foil and construction paper to create a tearing station. For the sorting pieces you could use pom-poms, stickers, punched pieces, small counters, beans, or even wrapped candies though with a room of three-year olds you may find one hiding out in the gingerbread house with their cheeks full of peppermints...ahem.