Shapes are among the most easily identifiable attributes of the world around us. Knowledge of geometric shapes allows children to observe, categorize, and organize objects around them into discrete units. Kids who are particularly adept at distinguishing between shapes also tend to be sharper than their peers in areas such as math, problem-solving, and reading comprehension. This is because the neural circuits involved in shape-recognition are also responsible for other cognitive functions such as categorization and analytical reasoning.
But anything beyond the geometry of the basic shapes can often be difficult for elementary school children to grasp.
So what’s the most effective way to teach your kid all about geometric shapes?
Here are a few time-tested activities to teach your child shape cognition:
- Creating Shapes from Memory – Drawing and Tracing
Equipment: You’ll need a good, clean whiteboard and markers for this activity.
Draw the basic shapes on the whiteboard one by one, making sure your child has enough time to commit the shape to memory. Begin with simple shapes like circles, triangles, and squares. Once you have run through 6-7 of the most common shapes, hand your child the marker and have them draw each shape to a verbal prompt. Jumble the order so they are able to associate the name of the shape with its appearance rather than associate it with the preceding shape in a series.
If your child is still in first or second grade, it would be a good idea to have them trace out each shape on a tracing worksheet like this one:
- Shape Puzzles – Forming Shapes with Everyday Objects
Equipment: Pens/pencils, ice-cream sticks, matchsticks, etc.
Once your child is able to correctly recall and draw shapes from memory, it’s time to teach them how shapes are synthesized.
One of the most important cognitive skills for children at an age is synthesis, which is the ability to put parts together to form a new whole. This skill helps children compare shapes and understand how they interact in the real-world, and is a must to foster creativity at an early age.
This activity will also allow your child to more fully appreciate geometrical concepts that are not immediately apparent, such as the understanding that a circle can be approximated by an infinite number of line segments.
Exercise: Give your child a set of identical pens or ice-cream sticks and have them arrange the items head-to-tail to create geometric shapes. Ask them to use as many as they need to form each of the shapes they had learnt in activity #1. Demonstrate with an example.
Once this is accomplished, introduce them to basic geometrical terms using the shapes they have assembled. Ask them to spend some time studying each shape and note any interesting observations. How many sides does it have? What is an ‘angle’? What is a circle’s ‘radius’ and ‘circumference’?
- Break ‘Em Down! Shapes within Shapes
Equipment: Whiteboard and markers.
Once they’ve mastered shape recognition and synthesis, your child will be in a position to learn how the various shapes can be manipulated to form other shapes. This activity will reinforce their understanding of shapes further and serve as the first step in their geometrical education.
- Draw a rectangle on the whiteboard and a triangle next to it. Have your child identify both shapes.
- Divide the rectangle with a line passing through the middle to form two smaller rectangles. Have your child count both rectangles. Make sure they understand how two shapes were created from one.
- Use two intersecting diagonal lines to divide each smaller rectangle into four triangles. Name these new shapes and take your child through the process, one step at a time.
Repeat this activity with the triangle and other shapes like pentagons, heptagons, trapezia, and more.
Pro-Tip: A sound understanding of the way shapes fit into each other is essential to learn mathematical theories and algorithms of geometry in higher grades. Division of geometrical shapes into component shapes is often the first step in deriving these theorems. And according to psychologists, human brains routinely break down complex images into simple shapes called geons.
- Assembling Shapes: Fun with Tangrams!
Equipment: For this activity, you will need a good quality tangram puzzle set.
What are Tangrams?
Tangrams are jigsaw puzzles that consist of pieces called tans. The pieces are generally triangles, squares, or parallelograms. The objective of the game is to form various shapes given only their outlines or silhouette.
Tangram puzzles allow your child to call upon all the knowledge they have gained so far to form complicated representations using simple shapes they understand well. This is an advanced activity and is best suited for children in grades 5 and above.
Present a tangram set to your child. Show them a simple pattern to form with the pieces. You may need to help them with the first few puzzles.
Here is a chart with some simple tangram patterns (and solutions):