Shape Up! Shape Attributes

Geometry is the study of objects in space. From early on, children are curious about the space around them. The simple act of hiding and revealing your face in the game peekaboo never gets old and always ends with screams of joy and giggles. Or what about the box phase children tend to go through? Who knew putting things into boxes could be so exciting?

These are just a few examples of common ways children explore the world around them. Read on to learn how you can harness your child’s natural curiosity to explore and learn about shapes.

Big Concepts

Precision in language is an essential part of geometry. By using specific names and classifications, we’re able to clearly communicate and distinguish between shapes. Take a look at the following shapes. Which would you call a triangle? Why?

Check the answers in the image below. How’d you do?

If it’s been a few years since geometry class, a polygon is a shape that has straight edges that is enclosed. These are the types of shapes your child will be learning. They may not need to know this word, but it’s good for you to know. The more precise you can be with your definitions of shapes the better.

Geometry in grades K-2 focuses on defining and non-defining attributes. The characteristics that make a triangle a triangle or a square a square are called defining attributes. These include the number of sides, the number of angles, and for some shapes, the size of the angles and the number of parallel sides. Non-defining attributes are characteristics that do not define a shape. These include the size, color, and orientation, or position.

With this in mind, it’s important for children to see basic shapes in a variety of sizes, colors, and orientations. A child who has not explored shapes in this way may be able to identify this shape as a rectangle,

but might be confused when asked to name rectangles like these:

Fascinating , right?

Progression of Learning

According to the Common Core State Standards, here’s the expected early learning progression. From kindergarten through second grade, children don’t necessarily learn new things about shapes. Instead, children formalize what they’ve experienced through exploration.

Experiences that Build Understanding

One of the best things you can do as a parent is give your child the opportunity to explore shapes. It’s especially important for children to see shapes in a wide variety of colors, sizes, and orientations. Remember, if your child only sees shapes that look like this,

they’ll be confused when they see shapes like these:

Questions to Support Math Learning

Ask questions to help your child solidify what they are learning as they play. Be careful here! Rather than bombard them with questions and interrupt their play, try and follow your child’s lead and ask questions when it feels right.

  • Which blocks stack well? Why?
  • Why did you choose that block?
  • What shape are you holding? How do you know?
  • How are these shapes similar? How are they different?
  • What a great design! Let’s see what shapes make up your picture, building, pattern.

Playing with Blocks of All Kinds

Playing with blocks, Legos, tangrams, and pattern blocks is a great way for your child to explore shapes. Tangrams are puzzles that arrange a set of 7 shapes into an outlined image. Pattern block puzzles are similar to tangrams because they use shapes to fill in a puzzle outline. Unlike tangrams, you can use multiple copies of the same shape. (Learn more about pattern block puzzles here and find a set of puzzles here.)

When children play with any of these blocks, they rotate the blocks to stack them and fit them into spaces. They choose different shapes and sizes. This gives children hands on experience with how a shape can have different sizes and orientations.

Play “Guess My Rule

If you have a set of blocks or shapes, sort the shapes into two groups. Perhaps one group is made of shapes with 4 sides (aka quadrilaterals) and the other group contains shapes with three sides. Then, have your child try to figure out your sorting rule!

Build Shapes

Building shapes is a great way to help children explore shape attributes. The classic craft materials work great here: pipe cleaners, playdough, marshmallows and toothpicks.

This is also a great opportunity to show your child some non-examples! Build an example shape and a non-example shape, perhaps one that isn’t closed or whose sides don’t meet at points. Then ask, “Which one is a square? How do you know?”


Geogebra is a great online platform that makes it easy for children to manipulate and play with shapes online. Check out this set of geometry activities designed for children in K-2.

Take Action

  • Intentionally incorporate shape talk into your child’s play this week! Choose 1-2 questions to ask while they’re playing.


  • Find a set of pattern block puzzles here. If you don’t have any pattern blocks, I highly encourage you to invest in a set!


Feikes, David., Schwingendorf, Keith. and Gregg, Jeff. (2018) Children’s Mathematical Learning. Retrieved from this website.

Goldenberg, et al. (2014). Developing Essential Understanding of Geometry and Measurement: Pre-K-Grade 2. National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.

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