Empowered Parents

10 Hands-On Shapes Recognition Activities for Preschoolers

By: Author Tanja Mcilroy

Posted on Last updated: 25 January 2023

Categories Early Mathematical Skills

shapes recognition activities

Teaching children about shapes should be a fun, hands-on experience. It is by experiencing concepts through the body and the senses that real learning happens in the early years.

Scroll down to the section ‘10 simple shapes recognition activities’ for some great ideas.

Why is it Important to Learn About Shapes?

An important part of child development, shape recognition is about more than just being able to spot the basic shapes. It’s important for building early maths , reading and other areas too.

Shapes are found all around us and take many different forms, both two-dimensional and three-dimensional.

Children learn that shapes have properties – such as lines, curves, sizes, lengths and positions in space , and that all physical objects have shape. 

They develop their visual perception (when the brain interprets what the eyes see) as they are exposed to shapes around them. 

Shapes are a part of mathematical concepts (like geometry) and are also used in many scientific and technical fields.

The recognition of shapes is crucial for learning to read and building early literacy skills . 

Letters are made up of shapes and children need to learn to distinguish, recognize and remember the specific shapes in order to read fluently. Shapes are the first ‘symbols’ children learn to interpret. [ source ]

Child making shapes with blocks

How Do You Teach Shape Recognition?

The best way for children to learn about shapes is through play. They need many opportunities to touch and see three-dimensional shapes in their daily lives.

These concepts can also be taught through shape recognition games and activities that are planned specifically to introduce the concept of shape.

Activities like tracing and worksheets are best kept for much older children as these are unlikely to hold a child’s attention for long, and they are not really meaningful to a young child.

It is more important to focus on doing hands-on activities during preschool so that a child fully understands the properties of shapes by experiencing them with their body and all their senses .

It is also important for parents and teachers to actively teach the vocabulary about shapes. They need to hear concepts such as:

  • Straight lines or curvy lines
  • Size – bigger, smaller, longer, etc.
  • Round, pointy
  • 2-dimensional, 3-dimensional
  • The names of shapes – oval, rectangle, triangular prism

This can be done in natural ways during a conversation:

  • Is your dinner plate round? 
  • What else is round in our house?
  • This picture of a tent looks like a triangle – it’s pointy at the top.

When teaching the shapes, remember children learn these in a concrete-pictorial-abstract way, as they do many other concepts. 

They learn the shape of a physical object, and then later learn to associate a picture of a shape with the physical object. After that, they can recognize an abstract representation of a shape.

An example of this is playing with a beach ball and learning that it is round; then understanding that a picture of a ball represents a round, circular shape; then identifying a simple circle drawn on paper.

10 Simple Shapes Recognition Activities and Games

Here are some simple shape activities to try at home or school.

Blocks lying on a table. Text reads

1. Shape Sorting

Sorting is an important mental concept and it’s easy to do with shapes.

Provide a container of shapes – cutouts, wooden or plastic shapes – and get kids to sort them according to different criteria. 

Here are some examples:

  • Shapes with straight edges vs shapes with curved edges
  • Shapes with 3 sides and shapes with 4 sides
  • Shapes with corners and shapes without corners
  • 2D vs 3D shapes

Here are more fun sorting activities for preschoolers .

2. Body Shapes

Play a movement game with shapes. Say the name of a shape and ask children to make the shape with their bodies. 

Get them to straighten up into a tall rectangle, puff their arms out to the side to make themselves round, stand with legs far apart and arms pointed above you to make a triangle, etc.

Before you show or help with ideas, see if the kids can figure out on their own how to make these shapes. They may think outside the box and find new ways to make the shapes. 

This is a great activity for body awareness .

3. Block and Ball Play

Children need regular exposure to shapes by playing with blocks, balls and other toys during their free play time.

This is an activity that doesn’t need much regulation by an adult but is as important as planned shapes activities.

4. Playdough Shapes

Give kids playdough and shape cutters and let them explore different shapes this way.

Make a batch of easy homemade playdough and this will keep kids occupied for hours.

If you don’t have cutters in the form of shapes, then improvise with tins (round), plastic containers (square and rectangle), etc.

Preschooler playing with playdough

5. Yummy Shapes

For a tastier version of the above activity – that will leave a bigger imprint on kids’ memory – make shapes out of cookie dough and then eat them after!

6. Find the Shapes

Show children an example of a simple shape, such as a circle, and challenge them to find as many items as they can around them that have the same shape. (Here are more games about circles to try).

They could also draw pictures of all the things they can think of that have a circle shape.

This teaches kids that shapes are part of their world.

7. Build With Shapes

If you have plastic or wooden shapes that are relatively flat, let kids ‘build’ pictures out of them using the shapes. 

Children playing with tangram shapes

They could construct a house or a person, for example, by learning to use the shapes to substitute the various parts they need.

These shapes can also be made out of cardboard.

8. Feel the Shape

Use the same shapes from the activity above to do a sensory activity.

Blindfold a child, then give him a shape or ask him to pick a shape out of a bag. He must describe the shape (it is round and has no straight edges), then say what the shape is. 

If he guesses right, he can keep the shape. If not, it goes back into the bag. This can be turned into a game to see how many shapes each person can accumulate.

9. Shape Stamping

Provide poster paints on trays and get kids to stamp shapes onto them.

Use blocks for these shapes or make potato prints , sponge shapes, etc. Use your imagination.

10. Shape Pictures

A fun art activity, this can be attempted after children have had ample opportunity to make shape pictures out of real shapes. 

Provide lots of pre-cut paper shapes in various colours, white paper and glue.

Get kids to make their own shape pictures. Let them use their creativity and do not try to guide their creations. 

Definitely don’t give them a model to copy! This should be a form of process art , where the learning is in the doing, not the final product.

If you are looking for more creative art ideas, try these shape crafts for preschoolers .

“ Learning Through Play: A parent’s guide to the first five years ” , written by Jan Natanson.

“ Language and School Readiness ” , written by Martie Pieterse.

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Shapes Activities for Preschoolers

shape activities for preschool

One of the first math concepts that preschoolers learn is identifying shapes . They begin to distinguish among the different shapes and categorize items according to shape. They learn the names of shapes and their characteristics. They find shapes in everyday items. This collection of shape activities for preschoolers can lead preschoolers to explore shapes in all kinds of ways.

Learning Activities for Shapes in Preschool

These activities will help your preschoolers learn their shapes. These shape activities for toddlers, will work in your preschool classroom and your kindergarten classroom.

1. Road Shapes with Cars (Pre-K Pages) – 22 printable road shape mats to help your litte learners identify shapes.

2. Making Shapes with Play Dough (Pre-K Pages) – A fun, hands-on playful learning experience that uses play dough to teach shapes!

3. Pattern Block Shapes (Pre-K Pages) – Pattern blocks can actually help your little learners build a strong foundation for learning geometry later.

4. Making Shapes with Geoboards (Pre-K Pages) – If you haven’t tried geoboard activities in your classroom yet, your kids are going to  love  them!

5. Create a Shapes Photo Book (Pre-K Pages) – To introduce shape concepts to my son, I grabbed the book So Many Circles, So Many Squares from our library as the anchor to our learning ship. Using this book, we went on a shape scavenger hunt and made a fun shape keepsake.

6. Perfect Square Shapes Art (Pre-K Pages) – This Perfect Square art activity is so easy to set up and totally open-ended. It goes perfectly with the book and would be an excellent addition to a  shapes  unit.

7. Building Shapes with Craft Sticks (Pre-K Pages) – Pair this activity with the book  Shapes, Shapes, Shapes  by Tana Hoban and you’ve got the perfect low-prep shapes lesson!

8. Teaching 3D Shapes (Pre-K Pages) – Here are some of my favorite ideas for teaching 3D shapes to young children in pre-k or kindergarten. I also wrote some very simple 3D shape songs for you that incorporate hands on learning; keep reading to download the 3D shapes printable song charts.

9. Nature Shape Scavenger Hunt (Pre-K Pages) – A Star in My Orange  is a great way to reinforce shape recognition with your preschoolers. They will also immediately want to run outside for their very own shapes scavenger hunt in nature!

10. The Shape of Things Chalk Drawings (Pre-K Pages) – Shapes are found, identified, and drawn in all preschool classrooms! Discovering just how often circles, squares, and triangles occur in our everyday life make them relevant to children.

11. Shape Wands (Pre-K Pages) – Make some shape wands and turn your home or classroom into the perfect place for kids to learn and identify shapes.

12. Shape Exploration (Pre-K Pages) – After reading the wonderful book  Mouse Shapes  by Ellen Walsh , I thought it would be fun to make a mouse that could be used in a shape game. The mice in the book explore  shapes  so, why shouldn’t we?

13. Make a Tortilla Shape Snack (Pre-K Pages) – We have the perfect recipe for exploring a math concept. Read aloud one great children’s book. Make a healthy and yummy treat. Combine the two together and you have a lesson on  shapes .

14. Shapes Word Chart (Pre-K Pages) – This word chart focused on  shapes  but you can make a word chart for any topic.

15. “I Have Who Has” Shapes Game (Prekinders) – You may have seen the “I Have, Who Has” card games circulating the internet a lot lately, so this is a fun twist for Pre-K to teach shapes.

16. Games and Activities for Teaching Shapes (Prekinders) – Here are a fun few ways to teaching shapes, like shape bingo and a memory game.

17. Tracing Shapes on the Flannel Board (Teach Preschool) – A wonderful way to introduce letters and shapes while building pre-writing skills!

18. Hunting for Shapes (Teach Preschool) -Explore shapes with a fun and interactive game!

19. Exploring Shapes with Blocks on a Table Top (Teach Preschool) –  A simple and engaging exploration of shapes and colors!

20. Learning Shapes by Rolling a Ball (Hands On As We Grow) – Try a fun hands on activity for toddlers for a creative twist to learn shapes!

21. Finding Shapes at the Playground (Buggy and Buddy)- Just print out the free shape hunt printable and go searching for shapes at the playground with this fun geometry activity for children!

22. Geometric Shapes Math Activity (Little Bins for Little Hands) – This simple geometric shapes activity  for kids is easy to do at home or as a math center in school. It also makes a terrific STEAM project including a bit of art and design too.

23. Gruffalo Themed Shape Animals (Educators’ Spin on It) – Exploring shapes with young children can be such fun when you involve a few animal friends from The Gruffalo.

Shape Learning Activities for Preschoolers

24. Feed the Shape Monster Game (Imagination Tree) – Make a fun activity for preschoolers and school aged kids with this feed the hungry shape monsters sorting game!

25. Sticky Shape Bugs Activity (Mom Inspired Life) –   This was a great way to develop fine motor skills and critical thinking skills while learning about shapes.

26. Learning Shapes with Spaghetti Noodles (Teaching Mama) – Looking for a fun way to teach shapes? Well here’s a very fun way using spaghetti noodles! This hands-on activity also is a great sensory activity.

27. Matching Shapes to Outlines (Busy Toddler) – Create this fun easy DIY shape mat to practice shapes with your preschoolers.

28. Chalk Shapes Jumping Game (Craftulate) – All you need for this shape activity is some sidewalk chalk!

29. Open and Closed Polygons Game (JDaniel4’s Mom) Grab some LEGOs and have fun with these polygon games, like hockey!

30. Shape Sensory Squish Bag (Still Playing School) –  Create this sensory squish bag with triangles, circles, and squares. It’s irresistible to touch and talk about in the window or on the table. It’s super easy to make, too!

31. DIY Shape Puzzles (Munchkins and Moms) – If you have some Jenga blocks and markers, then this easy DIY shape puzzle will be a fun engaging activity for your preschoolers.

32. Stamping Shapes in Kinetic Sand (Still Playing School) – Stamping shapes into kinetic sand is a great opportunity to work on shape identification, count the sides and corners, and compare and contrast the shapes.

33. Making Trucks from Shapes (Powerful Mothering) – Using your wooden blocks to draw and create trucks!

34. DIY Waldorf Square (Rhythms of Play) – An easy DIY toy for kids made with wooden blocks and liquid watercolor paints.

35. Magazine Shape Hunt and Sort (Mom Inspired Life) – This magazine shape hunt is jam-packed with learning! Kids will learn shapes while they practice cutting, gluing and sorting. It’s also an awesome way to work on critical thinking and observation skills.

36. Building Rockets with Shapes (Stir the Wonder) – Building rockets with shapes is a fun way to review shapes and colors with toddlers and preschoolers!

37. Build on Shape Outlines (Brick by Brick) – Use wooden blocks in a new fun way and work on shapes at the same time!

38. Shapes in Our Neighborhood Book (Munchkins and Moms) – Go for a walk and look for shapes in the neighborhood and then create a photo book after!

39. Sorting Shapes in the Sensory Bin (Learning 4 Kids) – Your preschoolers will practice their shapes and fine motor skills while having fun with this shape sensory bin.

40. I Spy Shape Hunt (Munchkins and Moms) – Create these fun easy spy glasses and go on a shape hunt!

Shapes PInterest Board

2 thoughts on “Shapes Activities for Preschoolers”

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I cant find these on your members site.

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Hi Stacy, These are free so you can just download them right from Pre-K Pages. With more than 300 free printables at Pre-K Pages I didn’t want to clutter the membership vault with them.

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