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Authors: Jandy Jeppson with Judith A. Myers-Walls, PhD, CFLE

Melissa and other children from the childcare center are going for a walk. As they walk, they look for triangles — the shape of the week.

“Is this a triangle?” Melissa asks as she points to a yield sign.
“Yes, it is,” her caregiver replies.
“I see some more!” Melissa cries as she points to some windows that are triangle-shaped.

Young children have an inborn ability to understand shapes. Even babies can recognize the difference between a circle and a square. They can see shapes and feel them. But they need help learning the name of each shape. As children grow, they can start to talk about and compare shapes and understand how they are used. Children who learn about shapes are building skills that will help them with reading, writing, and math. Learning about shapes also can help them understand other signs and symbols.

Think about the letters on this page. Some are round, some are straight, and some are curvy. When a child learns to recognize circles and triangles, he is building early skills that will help him recognize numbers and letters. When they start reading, children often learn to recognize words by their “shape.” When adults read quickly, they do the same thing.

As young children play, you as a childcare provider can talk with them about the shapes of their toys. You can encourage parents to do the same thing. As you know, it is helpful for children when adults describe the things around them. This is particularly true when it comes to shapes.

One way that young children learn about shapes is by playing with them. Young children are very interested in cause and effect. They will throw, push, and squeeze things with various shapes. You can help children discover what each shape does by talking about it out loud. For example, round things roll. Things that are rounded on the edges can rock. It could hurt to bump into something that is pointy. Understanding shapes starts while children are young.

Older children and adults use their knowledge of shapes for games and for work. Jigsaw puzzles, games like Tetris, and mosaic puzzles give older children and adults a chance to play with shapes. Ideas related to shape are very useful in school when children learn about geometry, physics, and calculus. Adults think about shapes when they arrange furniture or plant a garden. You can help parents recognize how shapes can be useful and why it is important to support their child’s interest in shapes.

Parents may not understand why shape activities are important. They may think you are just doing crafts. You could help them learn how playing with shapes helps a child get ready for reading and for math. Encourage them to try some activities with shapes at home.

Ideas for activities about shapes

     • If you are planning a lesson on shapes for young children, teach about one shape at a time.
     • Choose a shape to represent each week or month. The shapes could have to do with the seasons, holidays, or other
       themes you are learning about.
     • Play with play dough and cut out shapes.
     • Point to shapes as you look around the room or while you look at a book.
     • Cut a lot of shapes out of different colors. Children can glue the shapes on a piece of paper, a balloon, or a tube.


1. The Science Museum of Minnesota has information that helps children learn about shapes.

2. A list with many ideas for activities with shapes.

3. This site by National Council of Teachers of Mathematics Illuminations Development Team is
    to help children learn about math concepts. This page is on shapes.

        Learning about shapes

Go to:   • Size

For more information, contact Judith A. Myers-Walls, PhD, CFLE at

Please feel free to link to, print off, redistribute, or reprint
  any of these materials as long as the original credits remain intact.

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