An early understanding of different shapes can introduce children to a variety of mathematical concepts. Eventually, children begin to understand that a shape name corresponds to a figure with a specific number of sides, and this will be helpful in future math activities in school as children explore geometry, patterns, and problem solving. 

Shapes are all around us! Infants will start off by exploring shapes with their bodies, as they feel the curve of a ball or place the edge of a flat toy in their mouth. As children grow older, they may match shapes in puzzles or shape sorting boxes, and explore early skills in problem solving as they understand that squares cannot go in a round hole, and vice versa. As children develop language skills, they can learn how to name different shapes and start to make sense of the world around them, as we find shapes in our structures, signs, and in nature. 

Caregivers can begin by narrating what children are doing, which helps children to understand that specific shapes have names. For example, caregivers might identify black and white square tiles that an infant gazes at on the floor, or acknowledge that toddlers are using a circular lid as a plate during pretend play. As children grow, they may learn the names of basic shapes (circle, triangle, square) and how many sides they correspond to. Caregivers can encourage this naming by identifying shapes in natural settings, such as on a walk around the neighborhood. Children might identify the triangle of a rooftop, the square or rectangle windows on a house, circular wheels on a car, and the octagon of a stop sign. Take shapes one step further by inviting children to contemplate how a triangular roof helps water to run off to the ground below, how the curve of a wheel helps the car to move, and how the familiar stop sign reminds people to drive safely. Learning shapes through play and exploration helps children to understand the way the world works!

For more activities that help build a child’s ability to identify shapes, visit