Math Background

Identifying Shapes and Matching Parts: Overview

Children see shapes everywhere in their environment. The classroom can provide many opportunities for identifying and sorting shapes. Identifying shapes and their characteristics will help children to develop spatial sense. Begin by giving children many opportunities to hold and describe shapes in different situations. Then have them sort and classify the shapes to recognize their attributes. Through explorations, children will draw conclusions about differences and similarities among shapes. Those conclusions will lay the foundation for combining parts to make a whole. Children will also use their knowledge about shapes to work with patterns.

Understanding two-dimensional shapes will help children understand three-dimensional shapes. Provide cutouts of two-dimensional shapes in different sizes and colors and ask children to describe them. Introduce vocabulary including sides, corners, curved lines, and straight lines. Invite comparison by asking how the shapes are alike and how they're different. Demonstrate how to run your finger along each side as you count the sides, and do the same for corners.

When you are ready to introduce three-dimensional shapes, ask parents to help you gather items for a collection. When you begin to work with these shapes, you may choose to name them with familiar terms, such as boxes, balls, and cans. Use these objects in a math center where children can discover as much as possible. Provide questions such as

  • What happens when you try to roll this object?
  • What happens when you try to stack this object and another?
  • How does the object look from different points of view?
  • What words do you know that describe this object?
  • How does this object feel?

Eventually, children can cut apart some of these objects when they are ready to match surfaces of these shapes to plane shapes.

geometric shapes: cube, cylinder, pyramid, rectangular

As you work with shapes, make an effort to connect shapes to objects in your classroom, such as a box of tissues to a rectangular prism, an envelope to a rectangle, and so on.

Working with shapes provides an excellent opportunity to review patterns. Provide shapes in your math center so that children can copy patterns and create their own. Reinforce names of shapes as children describe their patterns.

It will be important for children to understand the concepts of symmetry and shapes before they begin work with fractions. Provide opportunities for children to handle objects that have equal parts. Cut apart familiar shapes and ask children to match the equal parts.


Houghton Mifflin Math Grade K