Find lots of fun ways to help kids learn shapes and be ready for math, reading, and more

Cookie cutter shapes and dough.

We’re all familiar with shape-sorting toys. Toddlers find the pieces that match the same-shaped holes and push them through. Why so popular for generations? Shapes are building blocks!

Learning to recognize shapes boosts pattern recognition and letter recognition, both important for reading. Working with the lines and angles of shapes also helps kids to write letters. and even starts preparing them for the problem-solving of higher-level math and science.

But shape-sorting toys are just one way to practice. Different kids learn in different ways, and all kids benefit from trying a variety of strategies. All the better when it means time shared with mom or dad.

Cook up and cut out some shapes
Photo of cookie dough being cutout using shape cookie cutters

And it’s easy. Look no further than your kitchen cupboard and neighborhood for excellent ways to learn shapes! Baking cookies and using cookie cutters in different shapes is a fun (and yummy) way to introduce and reinforce shapes in the kitchen including hearts and diamonds. Or use the cookie cutters, as well as bowls, pots, cake pans, and pie tins as stencils, tracing around their edges, and then helping kids practice cutting out the shapes using safety scissors. (Tip: Cutting curves is a little easier than right angles.)

Bonus: like shapes, scissor skills are super important for school. Using scissors strengthens hand muscles and the ability to grasp a tool. It also develops visual perception, eye-hand coordination, and bilateral coordination, which refers to using both sides of the body—in this case, the hands—working together; for example, one hand is holding the scissors and the other hand is holding the piece of paper to cut.

Then go hunting for shapes
photo of living room with a variety of basic shapes highlighted in neon green

They’re everywhere! The TV and phone screen? Those are rectangles. Every bedroom door too, and maybe the kitchen table. How about tonight’s pizza? What shape is the whole pizza? The little pepperoni pieces on it? How about one slice of a piece with its one straight edge and two angled sides?

Take a walk through your downtown or neighborhood, and notice the yield signs that are triangles, parking signs that are rectangles, and stop signs that are octagons. That last one is a harder concept but a good opportunity to discuss “octo” meaning 8, like an octopus has 8 appendages (6 arms and 2 legs).

Point out the houses with their windows, doors, and garages that are squares or rectangles and their roofs that are triangles. Shapes are everywhere!

Whether indoors or outdoors, challenge kids to a little friendly competition. Who can see/find the most rectangles in 10 minutes? Or who will be first to spot a diamond-shaped hazard sign? Or a crescent moon? 

Flip open a workbook or a pack of skill-building cards
School Zone Shapes workbook for kids with two inside pages showing

Putting pencil to paper is still important, even in our e-world. Research shows it fires up different parts of the brain, and workbooks give kids a great sense of accomplishment when they finish one. Flash cards and puzzle cards can serve as manipulatives that like scissor work, build hand strength, fine motor skills, and eye-hand coordination. One workbook is Shapes Preschool Workbook. It’s easy to pull out during road trips or wait times. The activities include Robotic Squares and an Under the Sea maze that combines colors and shapes. Kids learn to name and recognize triangles, squares, rectangles, circles, and ovals.

Also easy to pack up and take anywhere are

School Zone Colors Shapes & More flash cards with the green card front and back showing

Colors, Shapes & More Flash Cards, which in addition to shapes, sharpen skills in counting, rhyming, and matching. Numbers, Colors & Shapes Puzzle Cards have 18 full-color puzzles that get little ones counting numbers, identifying colors, and recognizing animal pictures and names, like “eighteen black ants.” Flip the cards over for 18 more puzzles, this time revealing a short, silly sentence with a number, adjective, and shape—“seventeen shy diamonds.” Imagination and vocabulary grow, as kids interact with you, their siblings, or friends or just play around on their own. 

Mix it up with online play too

 Anywhere Teacher, the subscription-based learning program for ages 2-8 includes plenty of shape-learning activities. In the Sort My Shapes game kids learn to identify and sort 12 basic shapes, starting with heart, square, hexagon, triangle, circle, and oval then move to the next level with “harder” shapes: diamond, crescent, pentagon, octagon, rectangle, and star. Celebrate success with a fanfare extraordinaire!

Anywhere Teacher online games Mr Shapes Pizzeria and Sort My Shapes

At Mr. Shape’s Pizzeria kids “make” pizzas of different shapes, hear a definition of each shape, trace its lines, add their favorite toppings, and then it goes in the over with a few praises from the chef.

An interactive worksheet called Finish the Pattern sharpens shape and pattern recognition, by asking kids to fill in “what comes next” in an established pattern of different shapes, and still other activities introduce solid 3D shapes like cones.

Coming at shapes from lots of angles helps line kids up for school success now and later.