While you probably remember geometry being taught in middle or high school, there is actually a tremendous amount of geometry taught in elementary school and preschool. Exploring concepts with shapes and blocks are just one way children learn geometry early in their education, and build shape skills. Like other math skills, shape knowledge has a big impact.
Teaching math is an enormous task, and with the new changes in adopted state standards the bar for teachers has risen even higher. That’s because there is a lot that goes into teaching math. It’s comprehensive and systematic.
Mathematicians indicate there are five primary disciplines of math that should be taught, which are as follows:
- number sense – the development of a deep understanding of numbers and the number system, to compose and decompose numbers and understand their various relationships
- algebra – the understanding of patterns and relationships, including sorting and categorizing
- geometry – the understanding spatial relationships, propositional terms and the properties of two and three-dimensional shapes
- measurement – the ability to make comparisons and order, understanding measurable attributes
- data analysis and probability – understanding data as a means of conveying organized information, the understanding that certain variables affect data
Exclude one of those components and children experience unnecessary difficulty in learning math.
Developing shape recognition and skills are just the one of the steps to effective mathematics instruction. It falls under the geometry strand of math.
Following this, in the next few months, will be more posts about the five disciplines of math and how teachers can be sure to include each within their math instruction.
What are Shape Skills?
Learning about shapes falls under the geometry strand in mathematics. Geometry includes the following components:
- analyzing two and three-dimensional shapes (how they are alike and different, how they fit together)
- specifying location
- solving problems using visualization and spatial reasoning
As do all the other strands of mathematics, the study of shapes provides a foundation for more advanced geometry concepts that will be explored and learning in the later years.
Why is Knowing About Shapes so Important?
By studying shapes, children learn so many skills that can be transferred outside the realm of mathematics, which is ultimately what we want our students to be able to do. For example, a child who is familiar with shapes and proficient in the other components in geometry can do the following:
- construct (ie: Big flat blocks make a better foundation than tall narrow blocks).
- compare (ie: This octagon looks a little like a circle).
- describe spatial relationships (ie: The block is on top of the box).
- compose (ie: Two squares can make a rectangle).
- decompose (ie: This pentagon can be taken apart in triangles).
This is not to say that these skills cannot be developed by other methods, but rather to say that in elementary school, learning about both two-dimensional and three-dimensional shapes will help develop those skills.
But…Teaching About Shapes Can be Hard
While naming shapes and working with blocks does seem to come naturally for many children, it doesn’t for all. Let’s look at some issues for children who have lower geometric skills.
Those who struggle with shape recognition might also struggle with:
How is Shape Recognition and Other Shape Knowledge Developed?
Children begin t notice shapes much sooner than they have the language to name them. Shape knowledge is developed through exposure to shapes in various formats and teaching methods. It is also developed through practice and working with shapes in different situations.
What are Some Tips for Developing Shape Skills and Knowledge?
For success in teaching shapes, try some of these tips:
- Provide authentic and real-life experience whenever possible.
- Identify shape by using multiple examples. (Demonstrate how all three kinds of triangles make up the rules of a triangle).
- Encourage students to talk about math and explain their thinking, even if their answer is wrong.
- Use mathematical language in all areas of learning. (ie: The top of a big A makes a triangle. A little a looks like a circle with a rectangle next to it).
- compare real life shapes (Challenge children to find multiple examples of rectangles in their learning environment; doors, windows, books, computer screen, phone, paper).
- Allow for practice and lots of it.
- Provide manipulatives for problem solving, rather than pencils and paper.
- Allow time for children to compare their work and work with others.
- Ask leading questions when teaching.
What Else Does Research Say About Developing Shape Skills and Knowledge?
Importance of Shapes in Early Childhood Education by Shelly Frost
Shape and Space in Geometry by Annenberg Learner
Why You Should Teach Your Toddler Shapes and Colors by Amanda West
Why Colors and Shapes Matter by Ellen Booth Church