Making Shapes

In this lesson, children will construct and identify various two-dimensional shapes using color-coded craft sticks.

Lesson for:

(See Step 5: Adapt lesson for toddlers or preschoolers.)

Content Area:


Learning Goals:

This lesson will help toddlers and preschoolers meet the following educational standards:

  • Analyze characteristics and properties of two- and three-dimensional geometric shapes and develop mathematical arguments about geometric relationships
  • Specify locations and describe spatial relationships using coordinate geometry and other representational systems
  • Use visualization, spatial reasoning and geometric modeling to solve problems

Learning Targets:

After this lesson, toddlers and preschoolers should be more proficient at:

Recognizing, naming, building, drawing, comparing and sorting two- and three-dimensional shapes

  • Describing attributes and parts of two- and three-dimensional shapes
  • Describing, naming and interpreting relative positions in space and applying ideas about direction and space
  • Creating mental images of geometric shapes using spatial memory and spatial visualization
  • Recognizing and representing shapes from different perspectives
  • Recognizing geometric shapes and structures in the environment and specifying their locations

Making Shapes

Lesson plan for toddlers/preschoolers

Step 1: Gather materials.

  • Colored foam craft sticks (found at craft stores)

If you can’t find these, you can cut sheets of craft foam into strips or buy colored wooden craft sticks. Separate the craft sticks by color and label the correct number of sticks with a shape’s name, number of sides and a small drawing of the shape. For a triangle, use three yellow craft sticks and write the number three on each of the sticks, as well as the word “triangle” and a picture of a triangle. Make enough groupings for a triangle, a square, a rectangle (remember that two of the four sticks need to be cut shorter and the same size for the rectangle), a pentagon, a hexagon and an octagon. Once the sticks are ready, place them in a bin full of water. Wet foam sticks to windows, whiteboards, cookie sheets or easels. If you are using wooden craft sticks, put all of the sticks in a basket or bin and provide a surface that the children can use to construct their shapes.

Note: Small parts pose a choking hazard and are not appropriate for children age five or under. Be sure to choose lesson materials that meet safety requirements.

Step 2: Introduce activity.

  1. Explain to the children that today they are going to make shapes. They will use craft sticks/popsicle sticks to make squares, triangles, rectangles, hexagons, pentagons and octagons.
  2. Describe and explain hexagons, pentagons and octagons to the children. Point out how many sides each of the shapes have.
  3. Ask the children to point out various objects around the room that are in the shape of squares, triangles, rectangles, hexagons, pentagons and octagons.

Step 3: Engage children in lesson activities.

  1. The children will take turns retrieving one stick from the water and reading the number on it. The number will tell the child how many more sticks he/she will need to find of that color to construct his/her shape. The children will hunt for their sticks and stick them to their surfaces. (Wet foam sticks to surfaces like a removable sticker.)
  2. Once the children have all of the sticks that they need to make their shapes, they will be able to look at the pictures of the shapes on their sticks and identify which shapes they are going to build. They may need help reading the name of the shape written on the stick. Each child will then build a shape and count the number of sides.
  3. Repeat the activity for all of the shapes. When they are finished building all of the shapes, the children can complete the activity on their own.
  4. You can also play a little game by calling out a shape and having the children rush to be the first to point out the shape.

Additional Extensions

  • Using either the sticks to trace or freehand to draw, the children can draw their shapes on a piece of paper and label each shape’s attributes. For example, if a child is constructing a triangle, the child will draw a picture of a triangle and then write the word “triangle” below the shape. The child would also write that the triangle has three sides. The children can make a “shapes” book of all of the shapes that they build.

Step 4: Vocabulary.

  • Polygon: A plane shape having three or more straight sides
  • Quadrilateral: A polygon with four sides
  • Square: A quadrilateral with four equal sides and four right angles
  • Triangle: A polygon with three angles and three sides
  • Rectangle: A quadrilateral with two pairs of opposite equal parallel sides
  • Hexagon: A polygon with six sides
  • Pentagon: A polygon with five sides
  • Octagon: A polygon with eight sides

Connect examples of common objects with their shapes.

Early Math Glossary

Step 5: Adapt lesson for toddlers or preschoolers.

Adapt Lesson for Toddlers
Toddlers may:
  • Not easily identify shapes
  • Not be able to build the shapes
  • Not recognize the name of each shape
  • Not be able to draw shapes
Child care providers may:
  • Help the child pick all of the same color sticks and then provide support while the child is reading his/her stick
  • Use the clues on the stick (the number of sticks needed, the picture of the shape and the word of the shape) to help the children determine how many more sticks they will need to collect and build their shapes
  • Once the shape is built, together with the toddler, count the number of sides on the shape
Adapt Lesson for Preschoolers
Preschoolers may:
  • Be able to identify a variety of shapes
  • Be able to draw and talk about the attributes of several different shapes
  • Not be able to draw complicated shapes
Child care providers may:
  • Provide paper and crayons so that the children can transfer their constructed shapes onto the paper and draw a picture using those shapes
  • Provide a blank book (several sheets of blank paper stapled together) that the children can use to record their shapes and the shape’s attributes (for instance, a child building an octagon will draw a picture of the shape, write the word “octagon,” note the number of sides and then draw a picture of a stop sign)

Suggested Books

  • Shape by Shape by Suse MacDonald (New York: Little Simon, 2009)
  • Mouse Shapes by Ellen Stoll Walsh (New York: HMH Books for Young Readers, 2007)
  • Shapes, Shapes, Shapes by Tana Hoban (New York: Greenwillow Books, 1996)

Music and Movement

Outdoor Connections

This would be a really fun activity with a plastic wading pool and foam swimming noodles on a hot summer day. Use swimming noodles of different colors (use one noodle per shape and you can cut it up into the number of sides that you need for that shape). Put all of the noodles in the wading pool and ask the children to retrieve them and construct bigger shapes on the lawn. Label each length of noodle with a permanent marker the same way that you labeled the foam sticks. With the bigger sticks, have the children work together on building one shape. For example, say:  “Let’s all work together to build a hexagon.”

Web Resources

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