Shapes in Math

Shapes in Math (Definition, Types and Examples)

How to give your child a strong foundation in geometry and shapes

Children's toys, apps, and parental support help build a strong shape-based vocabulary. Kids need to be able to describe common shapes as part of normal communication and in math lessons.

You should continue to support kids to grow their vocabulary, but there is another aspect of shape that kids need to recognise and develop — their knowledge of spatial language and shape properties.

Spatial language

Position: in, outside, above

Direction: up, down, sideways, across

Some positions and directions depend upon the viewpoint or object:

Relative: in front of, forwards, behind. Left and right are included in these but are more difficult concepts for kids to grasp, so move on to these later.

Use an app that lets you draw shapes and easily move them.
Arrange the shapes and take it in turn to indicate a shape by describing its position without using its name or properties.

For example, "In front of the biggest rectangle but not near the other shapes." would indicate the circle.

For a more challenging activity, describe the layout without your child seeing it and see if they can replicate the original.

Made-up challenges like this let you get the most from apps and provide an experience kids can't often get from independent learning.

Shape properties

In their early education, it is more important that kids notice the properties of shapes rather than use mathematical language, which might confuse or demotivate them. Properties to highlight for kids include:

  • number of sides and whether the sides are equal or parallel
  • angles — kids don't have to use formal terms like obtuse or acute but could describe them as little or sharp, big or wide
  • curves and roundness
  • 3D and 2D.

Make sure that kids see shapes in different arrangements, sizes and colours. A square on its corner is still square. A small square and a large square are still the same shape.

How to support your kids as they learn about shape and space

Apps tend to be very good at teaching vocabulary but offer fewer exploratory learning opportunities that benefit kids independently learning about shape and space.

Bridge the gap by supporting your kids with physical and app-based resources to help them discuss, play, and experiment with shapes and space.

Talk to kids about what they see in physical and digital play and draw links. A ball is a sphere, not a circle, but it is represented as a circle on a page or screen. Ask kids to spot shapes that can roll or shapes that can stack.

Book apps often have explorable scenes as part of their pages. Before kids start looking for characters, ask them where they think they might be hiding to elicit answers like "behind the tree", "on the rock", or "above the clouds."

Use art apps to explore drawing the same shape in different ways, such as long, thin rectangles, short, wide rectangles, and rectangles in different rotations. 

Draw a shape, cut some off with an eraser, and discuss the new shape. How can you trim a rectangle and still have a rectangle or not have a rectangle?

Use kids' drawing apps to create simple plans for kids' bedrooms or gardens.

You might already have some of the apps you need to do this, but you could also add to them for free. You can use the app outside its original design when working with your child. 

Drawing and diagram apps typically have free tiers with cut-down feature sets, but these are usually more than enough for you to use with your child.

We don't usually recommend using free trials of multiple educational apps to save money, as this approach has educational downsides. Kids have to spend time adapting to new apps, and many have features that only make sense over a long period. 

However, if you are using them purely as a visual tool to use with your child and make up learning opportunities, they are excellent. Just make sure you choose your child's long-term apps for independent learning with care and stick to them.

Early Math Learning Concepts - The Building Blocks - Part 1

Early Math Learning Concepts - How many? - Part 2

Early Math Learning Concepts - Comparing Numbers - Part 3

Early Math Learning Concepts - Patterns - Part 4

Early Math Learning Concepts - Measuring - Part 6

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