Teach Kids About Shapes

When you’re trying to decide how to teach kids about shapes, you can draw from a seemingly endless pool of classic activities. There’s just so much to choose from that you could keep riffing on this theme for a year! Here, I’ve tried to incorporate science experiments, problem solving, art homages, cooking, and movie-making, along with standard (and fun) activities like tangrams.

What Kids Will Do

In these explorations, kids might…

  • use photographs to make a movie about shapes
  • make bubble formations
  • go on geometric solids scavenger hunts
  • practice math with dice
  • make art like Sonia Delaunay, Piet Mondrian, and Yayoi Kusama
  • solve puzzles with matchsticks
  • make bouncing eggs
  • make an optical illusion spinning top
  • fold a fortune teller
  • make donuts
  • learn to draw stars
  • and more

(Designed for kids preschool-1st/2nd grade, though many materials and activities might be of interest to older children and adults, too.)

Read On

  • Usborne Lift-the-Flap Math Shapes, Eddie Reynolds, Benedetta Giaufret, and Enrica Rusina [Amazon | Usborne] — An excellent book about shapes, which has parts appropriate for 3-year-olds but also loads of information that children can use well into elementary school. It also has great fold-out elements (like flaps you can fold together to make geometric solids).
  • ABC Shapes: Beyond Squares and Circles to Cubes and Squircles, Ingela Arrhenius [Amazon] — Kids are already familiar with squircles, but there’s a certain joy in matching it to such a funny name. A delightful little collection of lesser-known shapes.
  • So Many Circles, So Many Squares [Amazon | Bookshop], Shapes, Shapes, Shapes [Amazon | Bookshop], and Cubes, Cones, Cylinders, and Spheres, Tana Hoban [Amazon | Bookshop] — Hoban’s books look unmistakably like they’re from a certain time, but kids don’t care (and hopefully you won’t either). Big, bright photographs of everyday objects and scenes cleverly give kids plenty of opportunities to practice identifying shapes in the world around them.

  • Walter’s Wonderful Web, Tim Hopgood [Amazon | Bookshop] — For preschoolers, a lovely story featuring a spider who struggles to make a strong web.
  • Crescent Moons and Pointed Minarets: A Muslim Book of Shapes, Hena Khan and Mehrdokht Amini [Amazon | Bookshop] — A gorgeous picture book that’s not only an introduction to shapes (including some less common in children’s books) but also to Muslim culture and life.
  • Yayoi Kusama: From Here to Infinity!, Sarah Suzuki and Ellen Weinstein [Amazon | Bookshop] — A solid biography of Kusama for kids.


Shapes Intro

Two-Dimensional Shapes

Read: Usborne Lift-the-Flap Math Shapes, Eddie Reynolds, Benedetta Giaufret, and Enrica Rusina [Amazon | Usborne], “What Are Shapes?,” “Flat Shapes”
Watch: Classic Sesame Street Animation: Changing Shapes

Read: Walter’s Wonderful Web, Tim Hopgood [Amazon | Bookshop]
Watch: Sesame Street: Shape Organization
Activity: Organize tangrams/do tangram activities
The very youngest children might enjoy simply sorting a variety of shapes, but slightly older kids can work on tangrams.

Watch: Red Thread
Activity: Wikki Stix
Use Wikki Stix to make pictures using shapes, either freeform or following patterns like these.

3-Dimensional Solids

Read: Usborne Lift-the-Flap Math Shapes, “Solid Shapes”
Watch: 3D Shapes

Activity: Solid shapes scavenger hunt
Go on a hunt through the house for geometric solids. It might help to have a set of wooden geometric solids like these to compare. If you have sample solids, line them up and have children set their scavenged examples in front of them. (The same activity can be done on a walk, simply identifying geometric solids.)

Circles, Spheres, and Cylinders

Read: Circle, Mac Barnett [Amazon | Bookshop]
So Many Circles, So Many Squares, Tana Hoban [Amazon | Bookshop]
Watch: Circles (Storybots)
Sesame Street Five Lines Make a Circle
Sesame Street: Geometry of Circles
Classic Sesame Street: The 30 Dots Collection
A Circle Thief

Watch: Classic Sesame Street: Round
Activity: Sesame Street circle movie homage
Equip the kids with a camera (a phone camera will do) and ask them to photograph round objects in the house (or outside of it). Make a movie or video collage of them (and consider setting it to music).

Watch: The Bubbleologist
Activity: Bubble blowing in the style of the Bubbleologist
You can try this on your own, with just a classic bubble wand or two, or you can purchase a small kit to help. If you’d like to make your own bubble mix, you can find some reliable recipes here. You could also try your hand at making a heavy-duty wand for giant bubbles.

Activity: Bouncing egg experiment
A very simple science experiment with eggs and common household liquids, like vinegar, milk, and orange juice. Kids can observe the eggs over many hours to discover how eggshells react to a variety of liquids. Full details here.

Artist Spotlight: Sonia Delaunay

Read: Sonia Delaunay: A Life in Color [Amazon | Bookshop]
Or, if you can find a copy, Gérard Lo Monaco’s impressive paper cut work Madame Sonia Delaunay is wonderful [Amazon].
Find more information about Delaunay here.

Activity: Sonia Delaunay paper collage homage
Use a stack of construction paper circles to make a Delaunay-inspired collage. Layer circles on top of each other, and try cutting some circles of different sizes and colors in half, then joining them together, mismatched.

Activity: Play marbles
A classic game with both spheres and a circular playing area. You could mark the playing area with chalk outside or inside with washi or painters tape.

Activity: Make a rigatoni necklace
Another classic activity, this one involving cylindrical shapes. Decorate the necklaces with paint or leave them as-is.

ReadWho Is Yayoi Kusama?
Yayoi Kusama: From Here to Infinity!, Sarah Suzuki and Ellen Weinstein [Amazon | Bookshop]
Activity: Yayoi Kusama-style Obliteration Room homage in your house
Washi tape long strips of white butcher paper to a small space in your house. Consider covering furniture and lampshades, too, and if you have white paper cups and plates, put those out, too! You will need dot stickers in three sizes: 1″2″, and 4″. Set aside (and don’t use) brown, black, and white stickers. Then get right to it. It’s exhilarating.

Circle activities from other units:

Dragon’s treasure coin math


Snack: Tacos or other snacks with tortillas

Triangles and Pyramids

Read: Triangle, Mac Barnett [Amazon | Bookshop]
Watch: Triangles (Storybots)
Notes on a Triangle

Activity: Fold a tetrahedron
Templates here.

Activity: 360 Travel Inside the Great Pyramid at Giza (Interactive video, drag to move perspective)
Who Built the Pyramids?
How the Pyramids Were Built (Pyramid Science Pt. 2!)
Activity: The Digital Giza Project
An immersive tour of the pyramids from home. Start the tours here.

Activity: Matchstick triangle puzzle
For this, you need only matchsticks and play dough. There are two challenges: 1) Can you make four triangles with six matchsticks? 2) And can you make seven triangles with nine matchsticks?
Solution for 1
Solution for 2

Activity: Illustrate a favorite story using cut paper shapes (or simply make a scene)
Inspiration here. Purchasing pre-cut shapes will save you lots of work here.

Activity: Fold a fortune teller
A variety of instructions and templates here.

Squares, Rectangles, and Cubes

Read: Square, Mac Barnett [Amazon | Bookshop]
Watch: Squares (Storybots)

Activity: Fold a cube
Some templates here.

Activity: Graph paper problems
Using graph paper, draw a series of rectangles: 6×4, 11×5, 12×10. What are the fewest number of squares we can make from these rectangles? (Try for 3, 6, and 8 respectively). Also try it with squares: 5×5, or any other size. An alternative to this is to try to make an initial or a simple picture by coloring in squares on the graph paper.

Activity: Make an origami spinning top
Step-by-step video and a printable pattern.

Activity: The square match game
For this game, you only need matchsticks. Each person gets 6 matches, and players play one match at a time, to make a 2×2 square. The object is to try to make a square. If you complete a square, you get a point and you also then get to play an extra match. After that simple version, you can try 20 matches each for a 4×4 square. Video instructions here.

Activity: Dice math
A simple game to add some variety to math practice. Roll two or three dice at once and add up the numbers (for younger kids, if you have dice with 20 sides or so, you can just have them call out the numbers — or if you have dice with dots on them, have them count the dots). Having a collection of unusual dice helps keep this game fun. (You can find lots of dice on ebay, for instance.)

Watch: That’s a Rectangle (Storybots)
Sesame Street: Two Headed: What’s a Rectangle?

Artist Spotlight: Piet Mondrian

Read: Who is Piet Mondrian?
Activity: Mondrian homage with rectangles
For good and simple instructions, see here.

Toroids, Trapezoids, and Stars


Activity: Make donuts
No need to fry these. If you have a donut baking pan, these are very simple to make. Here is an easy recipe. Toss them with cinnamon sugar or choose between 3 glaze options. But before you eat those donuts:

Activity: Cutting donuts problem
How can you make the most pieces out of one donut with simply three cuts? Find the problem and solution here. If you don’t want to make edible donuts, you can always do this problem with play dough donuts, too.

Activity: Thread an edible Cheerios necklace


Activity: Draw stars
For the simplest stars, consider using a template (like this) or making one of these on your own. For more complex stars, draw a circle with 7 evenly-spaced dots around the outside. Have the kids number them, with 1 in the “12 o’clock” position, and then draw a line to every third dot. (Start from 1, connect it to 4, then 7.) It’s done when they get back to the starting point. Try the same thing, with the same pattern, connecting every second dot (1 to 3 to 5…).


Read: Crescent Moons and Pointed Minarets: A Muslim Book of Shapes, Hena Khan and Mehrdokht Amini [Amazon | Bookshop]
Activity: Create a tessellation
Simple instructions, with several layers of difficulty, here.

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