One of the first steps towards formal learning for pre-schoolers is often starting to learn the names and features of basic shapes. This is important for future mathematical understanding as well as being able to communicate clearly with those around them; so there is benefit in ‘teaching’ 2 or 3 year olds this. However, it does not have to be done in a dry or rigid way, ‘drilling’ children with facts until they memorise them. There are many interactive and fun ways we can set up opportunities to learn about shapes together- here are 5 which spring to mind:

  • Messy play. Using shaped sponges or potato printing is a great, cheap way to reinforce the vocabulary of shapes, as well as learn about how they fit together and what they can make.


  • Lolly pop/ popsicle sticks with Velcro on the ends. These are really good for both fine motor practice and joining together into shapes. Here you can explore in greater depth- how many sticks do we need to make a triangle? So how many sides does it have? Etc.
  • Sticker books. There are many sticker books on the market- they can be really useful for keeping children’s interest and are a portable and convenient activity for when you are out and about; a doctor’s waiting room, a train carriage, etc.
  • Wooden pattern shapes/ blocks. These are really useful for tessellating and manipulating into place. Many small children love rotating them around in their hands; using a double-sided mirror adds an artistic element to this process too.


  • Using your body. If you think about it, by moving fingers or arms around, we can all make different shapes quite easily. Many children love this kinaesthetic type of activity where they are learning by doing. It is also totally free and can be done anywhere. Adding music to this can be extra fun as they practice throwing some ‘shapes’ on the dancefloor!

Have you ever tried to explicitly teach shapes? Or have you ever set up invitations to play and explore?

5 ways to learn shapes through play

The Tactical Mummy
Bringing up Georgia