Shapes Are the Most Basic Math Concepts for Preschoolers

By Tania Cowling

Teach your preschoolers all about shapes with these activities. This article includes ideas on teaching traditional shapes and shapes throughout the year.

The basic concepts of early childhood math include grouping, sorting, comparing, categorizing, and seriating. There are numerous ways of helping children to develop these skills while exploring shapes. Many activities can be planned using recycled materials from the junk box, while others need a little more preparation time. I have used these in the classroom, and they have been popular amongst the children. Read on to find a variety of preschool shape ideas.

Learn Shapes By Observation

Help young children find all the shapes in the classroom by going on a shape treasure hunt. Most three and four year olds are looking for circles, squares, triangles, and rectangles.

• Look at all the toys on the shelves. What shapes do you see?
• Think about cutting out shapes from construction paper and hiding them in the room. Let the children go on a hunt and bring  back the shapes to you.
• Encourage the children to put the found shapes into groups.
• Slowly you can introduce other shapes like cylinders, octagons, cubes, and ovals.
• When you move outdoors (maybe on a walk) look at all the traffic signs, buildings, trees, and other living things.
• Let the children pretend to be detectives on a mission to find a specific shape or two on each walk. Each walk will become a fun adventure.
• A fun book to read enhancing this concept is Shapes, Shapes, Shapes by Tana Hoban.
• Give the children opportunities to discover shapes throughout the year. There are leaf shapes in the fall, along with pumpkins during Halloween. Christmas trees offer a variety of shapes on ornaments. The heart shape is most popular during Valentine's Day. Shapes are everywhere, and the opportunities to use these shapes in activities are endless.
• Teach the children this simple rhyme as you explore for shapes.

Point to a circle

Point to a square

Point to a rectangle

Shapes are everywhere!

Children Learn Shapes Through Games

Play Shape-O

Cut out 8-inch by 8-inch squares of poster board and draw nine equal-sized squares on each card. Plan on four children playing at a time, so make four cards. Draw a different shape in each section. Next, make 36 drawing cards (the same size as each square section) from poster board and draw a shape to match the answer board on each card. During holidays you can change this game by including shapes like hearts (Valentine's Day), shamrocks (St. Patrick's Day), pumpkins (Halloween), and Christmas trees, along with the traditional shapes.

This game is similar to the traditional Bingo or Lotto games. The children play this game by taking turns drawing a card from the stack that is placed in the middle of the group. If a child draws a card (shape) that matches a shape on his answer board, he lays it on top of the shape. Now, the next child draws a card and so on. The game ends when all the children have their answer boards filled. As the children draw their cards, encourage them to identify the shape and call out its name. This game builds language skills as well as pre-math concepts.

Block Play and More

Provide your group with wooden blocks of all shapes for floor play. Whether building barns or castles, children learn about shapes during construction play. Preschoolers can also observe the block shapes, and sort them into piles (sets), of the same shape. Can they count the blocks in each set? Are there more squares, rectangles, triangles, or diamonds? Show the children how they can make patterns with them (square, triangle, rectangle, square, triangle, rectangle...).

As a variation with block play, cover a table top with white butcher paper. Invite the children to place blocks of various shapes on the paper, and draw around them with crayon, outlining the shape. Then put all the blocks into a box. Challenge the preschoolers to randomly select a block from the box, and match it to the outlines on the table paper.

Don't forget about using cookie cutters too! They can be easily traced and matched as well.

Cracker Shapes

This is a fun activity where you can eat the project when finished. Provide each child with a paper that has several shapes drawn on it, such as circles, squares, rectangles, and triangles. Pass out snack crackers in these shapes at snacktime. Encourage the preschoolers to match their crackers on their page according to shape, and lay them on the paper graph. Have them count the number of crackers in each category.

Make Shapely Art

Help the children fold a piece of colorful tissue paper several times. Using safety scissors, invite them to snip simple shapes (triangles, squares, rectangles, half-circles) from the folded paper. Open the paper, and they will have colorful banners to mount on large construction paper or display on a bulletin board. In turn, keep the snips from this activity and invite the children to glue these onto construction paper, to make colorful collages.

There are many ways to teach about shapes in the preschool classroom. Children will begin to observe shapes with every toy they play with, and every book they read. Shapes are everywhere and fun to explore throughout the year.