Importance of Shapes in Early Childhood Education

Child playing with blocks in bedroom.
... ColorBlind Images/Blend Images/Getty Images

From an early age, kids notice different shapes even if they don't yet know that the shapes have names. It takes longer for young children to learn the specific properties of each shape, such as the number of sides or how the shape looks. Giving preschoolers lots of practice with shapes helps them solidify their understanding of the two-dimensional structures. That knowledge of shapes gives the young children an advantage in many areas of learning.

1 Beginning Literacy

If you look closely at letters, you'll notice they are made of a variety of shapes and lines. Circles and lines intersecting at different angles are common shapes in letters. A preschooler who is able to distinguish between shapes is better equipped to notice the differences in shapes of letters. This helps not only with reading but also with writing. Kids who have practice with different types of shapes and lines can translate those into writing on paper. The lines and shapes might initially look like gibberish, but they will eventually turn into recognizable letters.

2 Early Math Skills

Like letters, numbers come from the combination of different lines and shapes. A strong understanding of shapes can help preschoolers better recognize the numbers and how they look. Number recognition is an early math skill preschoolers need before they can move on to more advanced math skills, such as addition. The shapes themselves fall under the geometry standards of math. The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics identifies geometry as a component of pre-K learning. The pre-K through second grade standards include identifying shapes and their characteristics, symmetry, shapes from different perspectives and spatial visualization. The Common Core State Standards implemented in most states include identifying, describing, analyzing, comparing, creating and composing shapes as key kindergarten skills. Having a solid understanding of shapes by the end of preschool gives the students a head start in meeting those early geometry standards.

3 Categorization and Comparisons

Learning the differences in shapes requires preschoolers to focus on the specific characteristics. Preschoolers learn to use observational skills to identify the different shapes. They also learn how to compare different shapes and group similar shapes together. Shape activities help a preschooler learn that triangles have three sides and three points. They eventually learn that not all triangles look the same. They may come in different sizes or have different angles with some sides longer than the others. Those observational skills transfer to other areas. Observation and categorization are key skills in science.

4 Problem Solving

Shape activities can help preschoolers develop problem-solving skills. Shape sorting toys are one example. When a child recognizes the characteristics of a square, he can match it with the square hole on the toy. Shape recognition can also help when putting together puzzles. If he pays attention to the shapes of the pieces and the shapes of the openings in the puzzle, he can determine the correct spot for each piece. Similar problem solving comes into play when building with shape blocks. A child learns that a square or rectangle block works better than a rounded block for building the base of the structure, for example.

Based in the Midwest, Shelley Frost has been writing parenting and education articles since 2007. Her experience comes from teaching, tutoring and managing educational after school programs. Frost worked in insurance and software testing before becoming a writer. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in elementary education with a reading endorsement.