Why do we teach kids shapes?

Shapes are the building blocks of further learning. Without a solid knowledge of shapes, all other basic literacy and numeracy learning becomes almost impossible. We need to teach kids shapes to build their knowledge of the world around them.

Teaching kids about shapes develops visual discrimination

Kids need to learn to pay attention to small differences and similarities between objects. They must start to notice subtle differences in letters and numbers in order to learn to read, especially in those letters that have a similar appearance – think about b, d, p and q. The orientation of the shape is the only difference between them. No wonder kids get confused! We need to teach kids shapes in order to build this foundational awareness.

Teaching kids about shapes develops visual perception

Visual perception is the process of the brain understanding and processing what we see. It’s essential to be able to distinguish, identify and remember the collections of shapes we call words, for example. Having automatic shape recognition helps kids learn to recognise shapes and lines in the letters of words – all of the letters in the English alphabet are made from combinations of curves and lines. Kids who have practiced drawing shapes have a head start when it comes to reading and writing letters. The same is true with numbers – like letters, they are made from curves and lines that make up shapes and carry meaning. Teaching kids shapes develops this critical skill.

Teaching kids about shapes develops spatial reasoning

Kids need to learn to see how shapes take up space in their world. Spatial terms that can be applied to shapes include words that describe the size (eg: big, little, larger, largest, miniscule etc), the attributes of the shape (square, straight, curve, wide, narrow, corner, point etc) and location of the shape in relation to other objects (up, down, above, under, in, behind etc). Teaching kids about shapes helps them understand how their world is put together.

Teaching kids about shapes develops categorising skills

Kids learn how to sort objects by similar attributes. Is this shape the same as that shape? Is a big circle still the same as a small circle? How do we know? What do we look for to help us make this decision?

Teaching kids about shapes develops pattern awareness

Kids learn to discern patterns through using shapes in play. As they begin to recognise shapes in their environment, they begin to see how patterns are formed and, with practice, start being able to reproduce them.

Teaching kids about shapes can help with counting

Kids can learn about the attributes of shapes and start to count them. Squares have four sides, but triangles only have three. Those are the distinguishing feature of those shapes.

Teaching kids about shapes develops their problem solving skills

Playing with activities like puzzles and shape posting containers teach kids how to discern which shape fits into which holes. I remember my kids playing with those Tupperware shape sorters as toddlers and trying to put the star into the triangle hole. Yes, they’re both pointy, but they aren’t the same! It’s only by working with the shapes and using a process of trial and error that they figure it out.

Learning about shapes teaches kids to organise their world visually

In our world, kids need to be able to quickly and easily recognise shapes that relate to safety later on. Think of give way signs, stop signs and other road safety signs. They quickly learn what those shapes mean by seeing how the adults in their world respond to them and start to understand how shapes play a role in our lives.

How do we teach kids these concepts using shapes?

In the early years, the answer to that question will always be PLAY, because hands-on investigation will give kids a concrete understanding of how shapes look, feel and behave when manipulated. Again, think back to the Tupperware ball (I swear, I’m not on commission!) It’s only by trying and failing repeatedly, then finally succeeding to fit shapes into their matching holes that kids learn how to do it. You could tell them about doing it until you’re blue in the face, but nothing will have the same impact as actually experiencing the activity for themselves. The same is true with puzzles, building with wooden blocks, putting things in containers etc. Kids learn by getting in amongst things!

I have a few favourites I like to use with my kiddos –

  • Shape pizza
  • Shape dough mats
  • Shape sorting

These activities are fun and engaging, so the kids forget they are learning! Engaging that sense of play also has the benefit of making the learning stick – it’s true! #science

Shape pizza

This activity can be super simple to do – you can just grab some coloured paper pieces and cut out shapes to make a fun shape collage that is relevant and fun for the kids.

shape pizza craft activity for kids
Making shape pizzas is easy and fun!

If you need more guidelines, you can download my pizza shape freebie and get your own black and white version to either print on coloured paper plain white for your kids to colour themselves.

make a pizza shape activity for kids
You can colour this freebie and make your own shape pizzas!

I also made a coloured one to print and laminate because my own kiddos are hard on activities! I like having a more durable one we can use over and over again.

make a pizza shape activity for kids
This product is available from my TPT store

Shape playdough mats

I made these mats just for fun! They are actually a really good way for your kiddos to learn about the properties of shapes – they have to manipulate the dough to match the attributes of the pictures, which is a tricky skill. They learn about sides, curves, corners and how to make the dough conform to the shapes. Plus, there’s bonus fine motor development!

making shapes with playdough for kids
Develop kids’ shape awareness and fine motor skills at the same time!

Shape sorting activity

My kids love this shape sorting activity I made for them. It’s quite simple, but I made it more relevant and meaningful for them by using pictures of objects from real life. This makes the activity much more engaging and therefore memorable for them. I also made cards that have pictures of us (the kids and educators ) holding shapes, and hey LOVE seeing themselves, their friends and their educators in the game! They think it’s wonderful!

real life shape sorting activity for kids
Sorting shapes based on real-life objects makes the activity more meaningful

Thanks for reading – hopefully you have a better idea about teaching shapes now! Comment and let me know how you go.


If you would like to try out any of these activities, just click on the pictures below.

real life shape sorting activity for kids
Real Life Shape Sorting Activity
make a pizza shape sorting activity for kids
Make A Pizza Shape Sorting Activity

Grab your freebie here…

or here!

Annie rotunda

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