P…p…p…pick up a triangle! 5 activities to teach children about shapes!

My daughter was doing a gluing activity this week at playgroup where she needed to glue different parts of a penguin onto a piece of paper to create a picture of a complete penguin. Now I prefer creative activities to be more open-ended and exploratory for younger children (which I will cover in a future blog post), but this type of activity does have it’s place and this one was useful because among the penguin parts were some shapes. I asked her to find the yellow triangle (which would be the penguin’s beak) and she wasn’t able to find it… cue obvious learning focus… shapes!

Learning about shapes is a key skill for young children as it will give them the key skills for recognising number shapes and letter shapes. For very young children it is more important to explore with a wide range of interesting shapes than it is to know the names of mathematical shapes; but the names can be introduced alongside this, between the ages of 2-3 years old (approximately).

What are the learning opportunities?

Young children will be learning to: combine objects like stacking cups. Put objects inside others and take them out again, (with grown-ups commenting on interestingly shaped objects). 3 and 4 year olds will be learning to: talk about and explore 2D and 3D shapes using informal as well as mathematical language: ‘sides’, ‘corners’, ‘straight’, ‘flat’, ‘round’; select shapes appropriately; combine shapes to make new ones.

Development Matters, 2021, Mathematics

5 activities to help young children to learn about shapes


Use chalks to draw big shapes outside. As you repeat what the shapes are called, can they;

  • Trace the shapes either with the chalk or their finger?
  • Can they follow each shape by keeping their feet carefully on the chalked lines… can they jump on the lines to follow each shape… can they hop it?
  • If you say a shape can they run and jump inside the correct one?

Playing with blocks

Children’s wooden play blocks are great for learning about shapes;

  • Simply talk about and look at the different shapes they are playing with.
  • Paint the ends of the blocks and print with them onto paper, talking about the shapes they are using.
  • Draw around the shapes, identifying what they are.
  • Group them by shape- so all the circles together, all the squares… etc.


Meal time is a very simple but effective time to talk about shapes, for example;

  • Rectangular shaped fish fingers
  • circular carrots
  • toast cut into squares or triangles

Go on a shape walk

While you are out for a walk, (or while you are just out and about), look out for different shapes. Turn it into a game by getting them to pose next to the shapes they find while you take a photo; then you can look back at the photos together later to remember which ones you found and where… what will you find? A rectangle-shaped door, a square-shaped sign, a circle-shaped window?

Cutting and sticking

If they like sticking activities; cut up shapes for them to stick. They don’t need to be perfectly formed or particularly pretty; you could use used-wrapping paper, an old magazine, or old birthday cards… and it can be done as they are sticking, no preparation needed! Just show them what you are doing, ask them if they know what shape it is and then they can stick with it however they like, maybe they can make patterns or a picture.

Have fun exploring with shapes; I will let you know how my daughter gets on with her quest for shape knowledge!

Play is worth understanding… visit PlayWorth.uk for more information and to find more simple and fun ways to keep young children busy and learning through play.

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