Four Invitations to Learn About Shapes

When kids learn about geometry in Kindergarten through second-grade they love to use materials to explore shapes. In the early grades children learn geometric vocabulary by observing, examining, and discussing shapes and their attributes. In this post, I am sharing four activities that invite children to work with shapes in different ways. These are fun, interactive hands-on activities that children can do before and during a more formal study of shapes.

The Greedy Triangle is my kid’s favorite shape book.

Books about Shapes

I like to start a shape study by reading aloud books about shapes. My kids really enjoy The Greedy Triangle by Marilyn Burns (pictured above). It is about a triangle who is bored with being a triangle and wants one more side and one more angle to make life more exciting. It is wonderful introduction to identifying shape attributes and sorting shapes. Older students may enjoy, A Cloak for the Dreamer, also by Marilyn Burns. Here’s a list of books I have used and both my kids and students have enjoyed:

  • The Sultan’s Snakes by Lorna Turpin
  • Color Zoo and Color Farm by Lois Ehlert
  • Shapes, Shapes, Shapes by Tana Hoban
  • Mouse Shapes by Ellen Stoll Walsh

There’s also these books that I would love to add to our collection such as:

  • Paris: A Book of Shapes by Ashley Evanson
  • Round is a Tortilla by Roseanne Thong & John Parra
  • Cubes, Cones, Cylinders, & Spheres by Tana Hoban
  • The Shape of Things, by Dayle Ann Dodds

1. An Invitation to Learn About Shapes with Pattern Blocks

Using pattern blocks for free builds or with task cards helps kids develop their spatial reasoning.

Pattern blocks were developed in 1960’s at the Educational Development Center in Massachusetts. They come as multiples of six different shapes: squares, triangles, trapezoids, 60 degree rhombus, 30 degree narrow rhombus and a regular hexagon. They can be used for free play and as a learning resource. Whenever there was inside recess in my classroom, a lot of kids would choose to play with the pattern blocks and build intricate designs and patterns. Pattern Blocks are great tool for helping students develop spatial reasoning. As a learning resource, they help kids see how shapes can be composed and decomposed to form other shapes. Pattern blocks can also be used to:

  • Make tessellations or tilings
  • Create Patterns
  • Create symmetrical designs
  • Examine angles
  • Identify fractions
  • A detailed list of ways pattern blocks can be used can be found atWorking with Pattern Blocks

It is important to remember that before children are asked to use a math manipulative as a tool for learning they need time to explore and play with the materials. I often offer the pattern blocks for free builds before asking children to use them for specific learning activities. The task cards in the photo are a free printable I found on Life Over C’s. I printed them out and laminated them. I placed them on the floor of the living room with the pattern blocks as an invitation to build. My 7-year-olds enjoys having mini-build challenges. I also use pattern blocks with the kids I tutor. When they build, I can observe to see how familiar they are with the shapes and how comfortable they are using the blocks as learning tools.

2. An Invitation to Draw a 2-D Design

A sketching and painting a representation of a Magnatile design.

Children enjoy using colorful magnetic tiles to create designs. My kids like making big 3-dimensional builds, like castles or spaces ships. They also like to make flat designs. In this invitation, I asked my 7-year-old son to make a flat design and then to draw it on a piece of paper. He often makes very large designs but the task of copying his design onto paper was challenging so he made a smaller design. In this activity, his visual and spatial skills were put to work and he had to problem solve. It took him several pieces of paper and some frustration to be able to copy his design. He had to figure out how to draw his composite shape using the tile shapes. He had to pay attention to the angles and orientation of the shapes in his design.

First attempt at copying his design.

Recording a 2-D design can be done with pattern blocks, regular blocks, dominoes, toothpicks, legos, or plastic bottle caps. Adding the challenge of making a representation of a 2-D design helps kids problem-solve and use visual thinking and spatial reasoning skills. To see how older students copied large design check out Katie Allain’s IG account. She is a fantastic art teacher and has been using Picasso Tiles in her art class.

3. An Invitation to Make 3-D Shapes with Gum Drops and Toothpicks

Last month we went to ASU’s Open Door event. Arizona State University invites the community to come see and hear about what the students and faculty are working on. It is very oriented toward kids and teens and every department has hands-on activities for kids. We found this fun build a tetrahedron with gum drops and toothpicks at the math department. My kids enjoyed it so much, they asked to have more mini-building challenges at home.

An invitation to build 3-D shapes such as, tetrahedrons, prisms, and free builds, are a fun way to help students further develop their spatial reasoning and to learn the vocabulary for 3-D shapes such as faces and vertices. Instead of gum drops, kids can use use: clay, marshmallows, or jelly beans to hold the toothpicks. Kids can begin by making simple 2-D shapes like, squares and triangles, then moving on to ways to connect the shapes together.

4. An Invitation to Make Shapes with Task Cards

Learning Resources Build Geometry Set from the Target Dollar Spot

As kids refine their building skills and become better spatial problem-solvers you can add task cards to an activity. In the activity above, I used a Learning Resources Build Geometry Set, I found at the Target Dollar Spot similar to the one in the link above. My son and the second graders I tutor enjoy using the set to make the shapes on the task cards. They build as I read a shape book to them, then we discuss the attributes of the shapes they make. We spent one building session just discussing the different kinds of triangles, their names, angles, and orientation. Kids are comfortable with equilateral triangles that sit on a side but are less sure about triangles when they are scalene and “upside down”. They need time working with and building many types of triangles to be able to discuss what makes a triangle a triangle confidently.

Task cards can also be used to challenge kids to make 3-D shapes. The geometry building set comes with task cards for building both 2-D and 3-D shapes. You could also create your own task cards to use with toothpicks and clay. You can find some free 3-D task cards at The Stem Laboratory. An older child can be challenged to build a shape and create a task card for her shape. Kids can challenge each other to build their unique designs using self-made task cards.

Have fun making shapes! You and your kids can explore using different materials to make shapes.

Categories mathematical thinking, visual thinkingTags , ,

2 thoughts on “Four Invitations to Learn About Shapes

  1. I love these ideas and resources for early learners! They remind me of when I played with Froebel Gifts as a child. As an art educator, I am spending a great deal of my time encouraging students to explore shapes so these are all the more inspiring to read about 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, the Froebel Gifts are great! We have a Spielgaban set that was developed from the Froebel materials. I like that they are both educational and for open-ended play.

      Liked by 1 person

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