Effective Practice Guides

Geometry and Spatial Sense: Know

Goals for Preschoolers

  • P-MATH 9. Child identifies, describes, compares, and composes shapes.
  • P-MATH 10. Child explores the positions of objects in space.

Teaching Practices


Lead activities in which children move over, under, around, and through objects.
Ms. Logan takes the 3-year-olds on a walk around the backyard of her family child care home. “Listen carefully and repeat what I do and say,” she says. First, she climbs over a log and the children follow. Everyone says, “Over.” Next, they go under the branch of a tree. Then she says, “We are going around the storage shed.” Finally, she crawls through a box tunnel, and everyone follows. “Through,” say the children. DeAndre says, “Over, under, around, and through! Can we do it again?”

Plan activities that lead children to notice the differences between two- and three- dimensional shapes.
Mr. Vance sets up a painting activity using three-dimensional objects. The group of 3- and 4- year-old children can dip cans, yogurt cups, cotton balls, and small boxes in paint and stamp them on a large piece of brown paper to make a mural. Later, they discuss and name the shapes of the objects they used and the shapes on the paper. “The spheres made circle stamps and the cubes made squares.” Mr. Vance writes notes about what each child knows to include in their portfolios. When they get to the next program, their new teachers can use the portfolios to plan the curriculum.


Create a well-stocked block area with full sets of wooden unit blocks that offer multiple shapes and building possibilities.
Four-year-old Omar is making a long road in the block area. He has used all the double unit blocks to make one side of the road. Omar asks Ms. Donnelly, his teacher, “What can I use now? I want the other side of my road to be the same.” Ms. Donnelly points to blocks that are not being used. She asks, “Would any of these smaller blocks work?” “I’ll try these,” says Omar, while picking up three unit blocks. “And these, too,” he says reaching for some half units. 

Offer a variety of materials that allow children to recognize and create shapes.
Outdoors, three children are playing with a long piece of rope. Destiny, age 4, says, “Let’s make a triangle.” She takes both ends of the rope and the other children position themselves to create a triangle. “Can we make a square?” asks Destiny. “I don’t think so,” says Carmen. “I think we can make it on the ground,” says Teresa. “Let’s try.”


Help a child understand what characteristics make one shape different from another.
The children are making shapes using pipe cleaners and straws. Lionel, 3½, holds up the shape he made and asks, “What’s this?” Ms. Emery talks with Lionel about his creation. “Let’s see,” she says. “We can count the sides.” Lionel says, “One, two, three. It has three sides.” “So,” says Ms. Emery, “do you remember what a shape with three sides is called?” “I do,” says Lionel wheeling his chair to the music area. He returns holding an instrument and says, “It’s a triangle. Like this.” Ms. Emery extends the interaction by adding, “Lionel, how is the triangle you’ve created different from the rectangle that your friend Sarah made?”

Point out the shapes a child makes, intentionally or unintentionally, in a painting.
This afternoon, Ms. Kinsey is visiting Ms. Alba and her daughter, 3-year-old Brianna. She says to Ms. Alba, “I noticed Brianna exploring different colors during the last group socialization session. Her drawings were filled with bright lines that cross one another. Has she been drawing at home?” Ms. Alba responds, “Brianna did lots of drawings this week. Here’s one with wavy lines that go from one side of the paper to the other and some connected lines in the middle that are beginning to look like circles and a square. We talked about the shapes she had drawn. She told me that she saw a circle and a square in her drawing.”

Topic:School Readiness

Resource Type: Article

Last Updated: December 3, 2019