Shaping up – activities with 2D shapes.

  • Published on May 26, 2017

Shapes are all around. Everything we see has a shape. Some of those shapes are regular, some not so regular. In early childhood, children are introduced to the basic regular shapes of circles, triangles and rectangles, including the special rectangle that we call a square.

Even before they begin formal learning, most young children can recognise and name these four basic shapes. They see them in picture books and encounter them in puzzles and games.

But learning about shape goes much deeper than just being able to recognise and label those colourful images.  An understanding of shape has relevance to many other activities such as reading maps, construction, laying tiles, and stacking items. They need to know how shapes can be combined to form others, and what happens when they are cut, flipped or turned. They will use their knowledge of shape in more advanced geometry such as finding perimeter, area, and volume.

The colourful, and sometimes humorous cartoon-like, ways in which shapes are introduced to young children, can make them appear fairly basic, and parents and teachers may state with pride, “My child knows all the shapes.” But with shape forming a basis for so much other understanding, it is important to use language that enables understanding and discourages the formation of misunderstanding.

Misunderstandings occur when objects or shapes are given imprecise labels, an event which often occurs with 2D shapes. Children use puzzle pieces and attribute blocks that are referred to using a 2D label. However, 2D shapes are flat. They have height and width, but no depth. They can be seen and touched, but not picked up. If an object can be picked up, it has 3 dimensions: height, width, and depth. It is an easy matter to add that we are looking for an object with a 2D shape; for example, a block triangle face. Making prints of 2D shapes using the face of a 3D object is a good way of showing the difference.

Another common misunderstanding is that squares are different from rectangles. In fact, a square is a special type of rectangle with all its sides the same length. Rectangles that have two longer and two shorter sides are oblong rectangles. These are the ones that are commonly referred to as rectangles.

This week I have uploaded two new resources for teaching 2D shapes. While I have not tried to change the world in one go by changing the way in which I have presented the shapes, I have included information that teachers can discuss with children to help discourage the formation of misconceptions that must be unlearned later.

While there are many other resources available for teaching 2D shapes to young children, I have tried to create something a little different. The first Shape it up – Exploring 2D shapes is an interactive resource for use on the Interactive Whiteboard. The second Make a shape picture is an activity that involves children in reading. With the incorporation of first sight words it is a suitable activity for both maths and literacy groups.

Make a shape picture - cover


I haven’t forgotten 3D shapes. Two existing resources provide instructions and game boards for an activity that involves children in recognising 3D shapes by touch, rather than sight.

Subscribe for access to all resources, including these new resources for teaching 2D shapes. Register  to begin using free resources.

I hope you and your children enjoy using these resources. I’ll see you next week with some maths games to play with the whole class. In the meantime, Have a great week.

Thank you for reading.

Happy teaching and learning,


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    Wow, these resources look fantastic. I love the look of the interactive – can just imagine how exciting it would be for a classroom full of kids.

    Yesterday, I watched my grand nephew cut out shapes to color and store in a bag. Then today, he took a Lego creation and traced it on paper. Your post have me a better understanding of what different activities he was doing. It gives me a greater appreciation for the resources you create because you have the knowledge to explain such nuances to learning.

    Thank you for sharing your nephew’s activities, Charli. I’m interested in his Lego creation and tracing. What was his purpose for tracing, do you know? It would be interesting to find out. Children have marvelous reasons for doing things – generally more imaginative and creative than we mere adults can conjure for them.

    Great post. “Making prints of 2D shapes using the face of a 3D object is a good way of showing the difference.” Absolutely brilliant idea. That is fantastic. And best to start early (as with most things, really) when children soak up information (and don’t have to relearn later). 🙂

    Thank you, Sarah. I appreciate your comment. Yes, it is better to avoid any misunderstandings in the first place.

    A lovely post about teaching children about shapes, Norah. I think most people wouldn’t know that you could teach children incorrectly and create a knowledge base that has to be unlearned. Very informative.

    Thank you for reading and commenting, Robbie. It can be surprising sometimes to find out that what we think we know isn’t really so! 🙂

Please share your thoughts. I love it when you do.

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