How to Help Children Learn 2D and 3D Shapes

Teaching children to think beyond a flat 2D shape can be a challenge. Teaching children to understand 2D and 3D can be accomplished at the same time, utilizing activities designed to demonstrate the differences between the two dimensions while allowing kids to make the changes that turn 2D into 3D. Not only will these activities teach two- and three-dimensional characteristics, they can be used to develop a child's perceptive and motor skills.

Draw basic shapes on a piece of paper, using a pencil. Start with a circle, square, triangle and rectangle. These shapes are easy to alter to show visually the differences in dimension. Explain to your child that these are two-dimensional shapes because they are flat. Point out that you can only see the front of the objects. Have your child mimic your drawings.

Line up objects that are shaped like those basic shapes you have drawn. Place them along the top of the paper on which you have drawn your shapes, in the order your shapes are drawn. A ball, a wooden block and a cardboard tube are examples of items you can use. Ask your child to match the 2D objects to their 3D counterparts.

Ask your child to look at the hand-drawn images and then the real-life models and to point out the parts of the real-life model that are visible and those parts that are not visible in the drawing. Have your child pick up the 3D items and line them up on top of the 2D shapes, changing the shapes from flat to dimensional.

  • Toys that come with three-dimensional shapes that your child can slip into a box by inserting matching shapes can also help your child see the difference between flat and dimensional objects.
  • Clay can be an effective tool for teaching shapes. Have children cut flat shapes from clay with cookie cutters and then try to recreate those flat shapes into 3D. A circle is ideal for this purpose because the flat circle can easily be rolled into a three-dimensional ball.

Carl Hose is the author of the anthology "Dead Horizon" and the the zombie novella "Dead Rising." His work has appeared in "Cold Storage," "Butcher Knives and Body Counts," "Writer's Journal," and "Lighthouse Digest.". He is editor of the "Dark Light" anthology to benefit Ronald McDonald House Charities.