How to Help Children Learn the SHAPES (and REMEMBER Them!)

What is the best way to help children learn the shapes? Identifying the basic shapes can be challenging 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?

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 with severe problems in this area that affect their academic achievement. However, the average child will not need professional help; he will simply develop the visual perception he needs with time and practice.

One way to determine if a child can see the difference between a square and a rectangle is to show them both shapes and ask 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, you’ll need to 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 they go.

Children also benefit from copying, drawing, and building shapes with sticks, Legos, blocks, or other types of building materials. This can help them understand the difference between each one. If you would like to try this, there are some shape-copying pages here that are free to download.

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. This is probably due to a lack of use and repetition.

People remember information and vocabulary that is USEFUL to them and tend to forget information that is not.  When teachers move on to new skills and leave the study of the shapes behind, children may forget them. This may happen more often if parents do not refer to them by name reasonably often at home.

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 on the spot with the yellow triangle.”  “Angela, the pencils marked with a green 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 material. Children can be assigned a shape to sit on each day, so they need to find it and practice telling their teacher or friend what shape they are sitting on each day.

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 student’s ability to recognize 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 the children love the lesson when combined with the music! Check out the video below.


This is what the song videos for the Colors and Shapes looks like:

3.  Language

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?”

Children remember more when they have a chance to describe what they know. So ask them to put it into words, either to you or each other!

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 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 to construct shapes.

These children are building hexagons with craft sticks.

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 activity was done at the end of the year, so the children had already been introduced to the volume shapes.

When you give children the chance to build something more challenging, they often can surprise you!

In my opinion, a Kindergartner who 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!  So, children who are advanced can begin working on that!


Other HeidiSongs resources for practicing shapes include:

Shape Creatures Worksheets

Dinosaurs and Robots Pattern Blocks Activity

The Shape Song and Singable Book Project

Colors and Shapes Video Collection

Number Jumble 0-30 Video Collection

Jumpin’ Numbers and Shakin’ Shapes Bingo Game


-Heidi 🙂

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