Learning to identify the basic shapes can be a challenge for many young children. Even after being told the names of the shapes many times, children often confuse one shape with another, or forget some of their names entirely! This leaves teachers and parents puzzled; why in the world is this so hard when it seems like it should be so easy?
Skills Children Need to Identify the Shapes
There are a few basic skills that must be in place before children are going to be able to master shape, letter, or number identification. Without each of these skills, children will probably make limited progress in mastering the shapes- OR, they will seem to learn them, and then shortly thereafter forget them.
1. Visual Perception
One of the most important skills necessary for shape, letter, and number identification is visual perception. Visual perception is what allows you to tell the difference between a square and a rectangle, an oval and a circle, or a letter C and a letter O. Basically, if a child’s eyes can’t “see” the difference between the shapes yet, then no amount of drill and practice will change this. Developmental Optometrists do vision therapy with children that have severe problems in this area that affect their academic achievement, but the average child will not need professional help; he will simply develop the visual perception that he needs with time and practice.
One way to find out if a child can see the difference between a square and a rectangle is to show them both shapes, and ask them if they are the same or different. (But make sure the child understands the words “same” and “different!” first!) If the child sees no difference, then you’ll need to simply practice helping the child identify the differences between the two shapes by asking, “How is this shape different from that one?” Help the child “notice” that the rectangle has two long sides and two short ones, and that an oval looks “squished” rather than perfectly round, etc. Have the child try to describe these differences aloud, and practice sorting paper or plastic toy shapes into groups, saying the name of each shape as he goes.
Children also benefit from copying, drawing and building the shapes with sticks, Legos, blocks, or other types of building materials. This can help them understand what the difference is in each one as well. There are some shape copying pages on my blog post here that are free to download if you would like to try this.
2. Visual Memory
There is a certain amount of simple memorization required in learning the names of the shapes, as well as in learning the numbers and letters. Sometimes, children will seem to have learned the names of the shapes, but then when retested a few months later in the year, many of them have forgotten them (especially the children from lower socio-economic families.) I think that this is probably due to lack of USE.
People remember information and vocabulary that is USEFUL to them, and tend to forget information whatever is not. When teachers move on to new skills and leave the study of the shapes behind, children may forget them if parents do not refer to them by name fairly often at home. And research shows us that lower socio-economic parents tend to use academic vocabulary less frequently at home than their higher socio-economic parenting peers.
So what can parents and teachers do to solve this problem? Make sure that you refer to the shapes often and make knowing them necessary and useful to the children. Example: “Leon, please sit down on the spot with the red triangle on it.” “Angela, the pencils marked with a yellow rectangle are for the girls today. Tomorrow the girls will get the pencils with the blue squares.” “Gage, would you like to wear the shirt with the gray ovals on it, or the one with Spiderman in the rectangle today?”
These are removable “Sit Spots” shapes that stick to the carpet because they are made of a very durable Velcro type of material. Children can be assigned a shape to sit on each day so that they need to find it and practice telling their teacher or friend what shape they are sitting on each day. (FYI, I do get commissions for the SitSpot links mentioned in this post!)
I always use music and movement to help my students remember the shapes! The Jumpin’ Numbers and Shakin’ Shapes cards make a huge difference in my students’ ability to remember the shapes because of the movements that are integrated into each lesson. Each time a child sees a shape (or a number,) they respond by making a motion and saying the name of that number or shape. It’s quick and easy, and when combined with the music, the children really love the lesson! Check out the video below.
Children are much more likely to really learn and internalize the shapes and their differences if they are given the opportunity to practice describing them. Just the act of SAYING what they see and putting it into words makes a big difference! For example, ask a child:
– “How do you know that this is a triangle? How do you know that it is NOT a square?” (Possible answer: I know it’s a triangle because it has three sides. It couldn’t be a square because squares have four sides.”)
– “How many corners does this shape have? Tell me in a complete sentence.” (Possible answer: This shape has three corners. Hey, that’s a triangle!”)
– “What shape is that door? How do you know?”
NOW PULL IT ALL TOGETHER! Have Them Build Those Shapes and Tell You What They Are!
This is the fun part! Letting children build shapes is lots of fun, and kids generally love it! Last year, I did it with craft sticks in two different sizes (mini and standard sized) and let the kids stick them together with modeling clay. This worked great for all of the shapes except for the circle and the oval. For that, they would need to either draw them or build them with yarn, or use blocks designed especially for the purpose of constructing shapes.
We did this in small groups. First, I had them build the shapes flat on the table with NO clay. This saved us time, because sticking the clay onto the ends proved a little bit difficult for some. After we made some shapes and discussed the differences, I showed them how to make those same shapes and connect the sticks with modeling clay.
I also had one 3-dimensional cube already made for them to see. This was done at the end of the year, so the children had already been introduced to the volume shapes.
In my opinion, a Kindergartner that has mastered the shapes can:
– Identify a shape on a flash card by telling you the name without hesitation
– Describe it
– Build it
– Explain why it is NOT one of the other shapes
– And older children in first and second grade must start to tell you how many vertices (corners) and angles each one has as well! So children that are advanced can begin working on that!
And don’t forget our 15% off sale going on right now, and ending on July 31st, 2014! Use the code JULY14 at checkout on HeidiSongs.com.
Other HeidiSongs resources for practicing shapes include:
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