Here is everything you need to know about shapes for preschoolers! We’ll learn all about how to teach naming, constructing, and comparing 2D and 3D shapes – and why they’re important.
Giving preschoolers the tools they need to be successful in math is essential. A robust preschool math curriculum will include instruction in all five disciplines of math. This includes teaching preschoolers within the geometry discipline; aka: shapes!
What You Need to Know About Teaching Shapes to Preschoolers
The Importance of Learning Shapes in Preschool
Learning shapes is the most basic skill within the geometry discipline of math, so it makes sense that we spend plenty of time teaching our preschoolers about shapes. But there’s more to shapes than just their names.
Shapes are the foundation of geometry! In a preschool setting, geometry skills include identifying shapes, comparing shapes, differentiating between shapes, and creating shapes.
Learning shapes helps children identify and organize visual information. Learning shapes also helps children understand other signs and symbols, such as street signs or icons on a computer app. Teaching shapes to preschoolers encourages them to visualize and connect to the world around them.
Additionally, preschoolers apply what they know about numbers to each shape. How many sides does a square have? A triangle? How can we apply that knowledge to a circle which has no flat sides?
What Does Geometry Look Like in Preschool?
Geometry is a lot more than simply knowing shapes. It’s also about how to manipulate those shapes and how to fit them into different special concepts.
Geometry is one of the six primary strands of math that is considered foundational to later mathematical learning. Basic geometric principles connect directly to other mathematical concepts and skills, such as naming, constructing, comparing, and sorting, and children as young as early toddlers are developmentally ready to explore basic geometric principles.
During the toddler and preschool years, children amake connections in geometry by analyzing the properties of two and three-dimensional shapes. A box has corners and can be stacked, a ball is round and can be rolled.
Children practice composing by building, and decomposing by taking apart shapes. If a square is smooshed, it becomes a rectangle, if a circle is smooshed, it becomes an oval.
They interpret direction by using location terms such as “above” and “next to.” The amount of learning that takes place while playing with shapes, two-dimensional or otherwise, should not be underestimated.
Geometry Skills in Preschool Also Include the Following:
- Knowledge of shape names
- Knowledge of some shape attributes (a circle is round, a triangle is pointy)
- Completing 16-24 piece puzzles
- Stacking blocks
The Power of Spatial Awareness at an Early Age
Playing with shapes develops spacial relationships and knowledge of relative positions, and can require immense amounts of planning, such as the child who builds a tower like the one in her favorite storybook.
Preschoolers learn that they can combine two squares to make a rectangle. Or that triangles can be combined in different orientations to create a semi-circle.
What happens when we turn a shape upside down? Is it still the same shape even if it looks different? These skills develop spatial reasoning and spatial orientation which develops problem-solving and critical thinking skills.
For example, completing puzzles is a beginning geometry skill. Children are given a shape of some sort to fit into another shape, thus requiring them to manipulate the puzzle piece within a set space.
Sounds a bit like developing spatial awareness, right? It certainly is, and that’s an important skill for preschoolers as they are learning, even, how to manipulate their bodies to fit in the available space. Ever seen a preschooler try to sit on a specific mat during circle time and completely miss it? That’s not just a lack of coordination, but rather a spatial awareness skill that lacks development.
What Are Some Tips For Teaching Shapes in Preschool?
When teaching shapes in early childhood, it’s important to provide authentic and real-life practice with shapes as often as possible. Use engaging and interesting manipulatives, rather than strictly paper and pencil tasks. Here are some of our go-to’s!
Quality preschool shape activities can be found all over the classroom. There are hands-on, active opportunities to discuss, interact, and “play” with shapes in almost every corner of the classroom. The plates in the dramatic play area, the pattern on the baby doll’s clothes, and the squares on the calendar for each day of the week extend the shape exploration beyond the math center. Invite children to pay attention to their world and you’ll be amazed at what they detect!
Fun Ways to Teach Shapes
The more variety and the more hands-on learning activities you can offer, the better your preschooler or toddler will learn. For success in teaching shapes for prek and preschool, try some of these tips:
- Make a fun shapes sensory bin using shapes from around the house or classroom, foam shapes, or even cut out shapes from magazines.
- Use printable shape mats.
- Read high-quality books about shapes. See our suggestions below!
- Hide shapes around the room and seek them out.
- Hunt for shapes in real life and make connections between 2D and 3D shapes.
- Use manipulatives such as pattern blocks, geoboards, playdough, popsicle sticks, and various craft items to encourage shape creation and manipulation.
- Cut out shapes from construction paper and glue them together to make artwork or shape collages.
Teachers can help build on these concepts by asking questions such as:
- How do you know how many sides?
- Can you tell me more about that?
- How can we use these shapes in a different way? Can we turn the shapes or combine them to make a new shape?
- What happens if you try that again? Is it the same?
- Can we compare this 2D shape to this 3D shape? How are they alike? How are they different?
Children are naturally curious and might notice that triangles come in different variations and sizes but are still considered a triangle because they have three sides. Encourage creativity and provide opportunities for children to develop their spatial awareness skills by fitting different shapes together to make new shapes.
Use Shape Picture Books!
Another amazing resource for teaching shapes to preschoolers is picture books! These age-appropriate books break down the various shape names, the difference between two-dimensional and three-dimensional, and the fun of finding shapes in our everyday life. Here are some of our classroom favorites!
Get the Daily Lessons in Our Shapes Preschool Unit
Free Shape Activities for Preschoolers
The Secrets to Teaching Math to Preschoolers
Teaching math is an enormous task, and setting the foundation for our youngest learners is a lot of pressure.
That’s because there is a lot that goes into teaching math. It’s comprehensive and systematic. And learning shapes is only one piece of the puzzle.
Mathematicians indicate there are five disciplines of math (like mentioned above) that should be taught, which are as follows:
- number sense – the development of a deep understanding of numbers and the number system, to compose and decompose numbers and understand their various relationships
- algebra – the understanding of patterns and relationships, including sorting and categorizing
- geometry – the understanding of spatial relationships, prepositional terms, and the properties of two and three-dimensional shapes
- measurement – the ability to make comparisons and order, understanding measurable attributes
- data analysis and probability – (you are here) understanding data as a means of sharing organized information and understanding that certain variables affect data
Get Daily Lessons in Preschool Mathematics
Remember how I said that teaching math to preschoolers is systematic? That means you can’t put the cart before the horse. When it comes to teaching math, the skills need to be taught at the right time and in the right order.
Make teaching preschool math easy with done-for-you Daily Lessons in the Preschool Mathematics Curriculum.
I am an educator, book enthusiast, and a stay at home momma to two precious and long-awaited littles. My degree is in Early Childhood Education and Curriculum and Instruction and I have spent the last 15 years working with young children. I feel very fortunate to have this time to watch my babies grow and I can’t wait to share my passion for learning and reading with you!