Recognising and learning shapes like most mathematical concepts is achieved through continual use of in this case 'shape language' and activities which include handling shaped items, making shapes in for example cookery or simply colouring, printing or painting shapes.

The four basic shapes that pre-school children learn are circle, triangle, square and rectangle and below we have made some suggestions of activities to encourage the recognition of these shapes.

Bear in a Square Triangle for Adaora

Two books introducing shapes
See other Maths-related books

Shape Hunt

This can be done using one shape at a time or once the children are confident they could be sent to find more than one shape.

You will need

A selection of shapes either just of one shape or several of different shapes.

Once the children are confident shape hunters, objects can also be used such as a triangle instrument, clock face, book, etc

A box or container for the children to collect the shapes in.
If more than one shape is being collected maybe set out hoops or containers for the children to put their shapes in.

This activity can be done with one child at a time or with a small group working together. First of all hide the shapes around the room or play area. If the child or children are not familiar with shapes then the shape they are looking for will need to be shown to them and discussed using several examples of different sizes and colours. The children are then asked to find the shapes and either bring them back one at a time or collect them. It may help them if they know how many they are looking for.

As the children become more confident in later games a set of each shapes - or shaped objects as suggested above - can be hidden. If working with a group, each child could be asked to collect one particular shape and when they have successfully found them the children can then hide their shapes and be sent to look for a different set.

Shape Hunt

Printing Circles

You will need

A variety of objects with a circular edge, that are easy for a child to hold and print with, such as corks, cotton reels, cardboard tubes, yoghurt pots etc. (Try to include solid shapes as well as outlines.)
Saucers or something similiar for the paint to go in.


Thin pieces of sponge to put ontop of the paint. As the printing object is pressed down the paint will seep through the sponge and cover the area needed for printing without getting too much paint everywhere.

Simply let the children print the circular shapes all over the paper, encouraging them to use a variety of sized objects.

This activity can obviously be done with other shapes.

Printing Circles

Triangular sandwiches

You will need

Bread, white or brown sliced

Fillings for the sandwiches, preferably something easy for the children to prepare

Knife or triangular cutter

Although some children like the crusts it might be easier to cut these off first, especially if using a cutter. Let the children make up their sandwich using their choice of filling. The sandwiches will be either rectangular or square at this point, and this can be discussed. With help, the children can then use either a knife or cutter to cut the sandwiches into triangles. Encourage the children to count how many sides their sandwiches now have to reiterate that a triangle has three sides.

If a knife is being used to cut the sandwiches they can of course be cut into 2 then 4 triangles and the terms, a half and a quarter could be introduced. This would obviously depend on the age of the child and their level of understanding.

Using different shaped cutters the children could make other sandwiches.

Why not have a shape themed picnic, with the appropraite shaped tablecloth and for example square shaped crisps or Doritos, circle shaped pizzas ormake biscuits using our Basic biscuit recipe and cut again to the appropriate shape.

Triangular sandwiches