Supporting Self-Regulation Through Play

Kindergartners are in the middle of a cognitive “growth spurt.” They’re starting to make the connections that lay the foundations for reading and math, of course, but they’re also gaining more control over their cognition and behavior. Parents and teachers can see this growth almost day-by-day, as children learn to wait their turn, pause to think, correct their mistakes, follow directions, and settle themselves down after being active or getting excited. These skills are often grouped together under the term self-regulation, because they represent a shift from children depending on adults to help them regulate their thoughts and actions to gradually taking control themselves.

There are a lot of individual differences in how children develop these skills, though, both in terms of timeline and overall level. Some children seem naturally thoughtful and measured from a young age, while others have trouble resisting distractions or remembering instructions. Some of those distractible children will outgrow it in time, while others may always tend to be a bit scattered or impulsive.

A lot of the development of self-regulation seems to unfold automatically through maturation. No special input required! We also have social structures and routines in place that support children’s growing self-regulation – for example, children let each other know when their behavior is out of line, and having to wait for a turn may teach children impulse control. Certain computer games and types of classroom instruction can also support self-regulation. But another, powerful way to support growth is through play.

Source: Lyn Lomasi, CC by 2.0

Pretend Play. Researchers think that pretend play, especially complex pretending that involves elaborate scenarios and multiple children, is uniquely linked to self-regulation. As children pretend, they are required to hold key information in mind (I’m a pirate! We’re on a boat! My best friend is really my sworn enemy!). They have to inhibit the natural impulse to act like themselves so they can act like their character (I’m a cat now, so I say “Meow!” for “yes” and “Meow-meow” for “no!”). And they often engage in coordination and planning, which draws on complex cognitive skills. A busy school day may not allow much time for pretending, but you can encourage children to pretend during recess or provide props for role-playing on a theme during stations. (Learn more about pretend play here.)

Stop-and-Go Games. Remember playing Red Light/Green Light or Mother-May-I as a kid? Researchers increasingly see common playground games as natural avenues for learning self-regulation. Games that require children to inhibit one action in order to do another, or complete a series of increasingly complex steps, draw on children’s cognitive self-regulation and may support development. Some even suggest that songs like “BINGO” or “There was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly” can support inhibition and memory. To be effective, games have to challenge children and increase in difficulty over time – performing the same task over and over doesn’t lead to growth. (Here are some great playground games if you need inspiration.)

Physical Exercise. We don’t totally understand how or why it works, but research indicates that physical exercise – especially pretty intense exercise – can improve self-regulation. Running around or doing aerobics can help children’s memory, attention, and behavior control. For slightly older children, yoga and mindfulness meditation can also be helpful. (Read more on mindfulness here.)  

We know you have a lot to accomplish with your students every day! Hopefully some of these ideas for playful learning strike a chord and will help you support your students’ development of these important foundational skills.

More questions? VKRP provides support via the online chat feature when you are in the system, via email, and via toll free 866-301-8278 ext. 1.

… From Assessment to Action:  Part 3

Using Your Data to Share with Families

The Family Information Report is located in the Student-Level Reports section. As a reminder, you can reach your reports from the VKRP landing page in your PALS account.

Once on your VKRP landing page look under the View Results column on the right side of your screen. You will see Classroom Level Reports and then Student-Level Reports (#5 below).

For a quick visual overview of the Family Information Report, check out the  VKRP Reports & Resources Overview 2017 video on YouTube (14:52 -15:55).

Family Information Report Overview

Feedback from teachers across the Commonwealth helped us create a concise report. The report is designed to help you walk families through how their child performed across readiness domains and what the scores mean. Once on the report you can link to family resources (location circled below) that you can download and share with families in the areas of math, self-regulation, and social skills. These resources include fun and easy ways to support their child’s development in these domains at home! As you likely know, our PALS colleagues have a Parent website with many literacy resources. The VKRP family reports and resources are also available in Spanish (bottom left of the Family Information Report). Teachers currently using the VKRP system have shared that they use the reports as helpful guides during parent-teacher conferences.

Preparing to Share

Prior to sharing a child’s scores with his/her family, you will want to dig a little deeper for specific information regarding a student’s skills.

MATH:  The math score shared on the Family Information Report is a student’s overall math score. You can access a student’s scores in the subdomains of math (numeracy, geometry, etc.) by visiting either the classroom-level subdomain math reports or the student-level math report (revisit the VKRP blog on Accessing Your Reports here). You’ll be able to narrow the math resources you share with a family to the ones that align with the specific skill(s) a student is needing to develop.

CBRS:  Keep in mind that your observations were at the beginning of the school year and the CBRS data recorded is a snapshot of your students’ skills during that time frame. You will want to do some follow-up observations (as described in this VKRP Resource) to be able to facilitate a more detailed conversation with the family about where their student needs support, especially for those who are not developmentally where you expect them to be in their self-regulation or social skills (not meeting the benchmark) at entry. We acknowledge that discussing these social emotional skills can be challenging. You may find it useful to help parents understand that these skills are still developing at this age and early supports are incredibly effective in facilitating the development of these skills! In other words, we are not placing a label of “bad” or “good” on a student, rather we want to highlight that kindergarten is an important time to work on these skills to build a strong foundation for students’ future academic and social-emotional skills.

If you need to send the report home, we recommend providing details about student skills as outlined above in writing, in addition to the family resources.  It may be helpful to use a format and template like this one (Making a Plan for Using the Family Report) to facilitate your organization of the information.

We hope this closer look at the Family Information Report has been helpful. As always, if you have questions, VKRP provides support via the online chat feature when you are in the system, via email, and via toll free 866-301-8278 ext. 1.


…From Assessment to Action – Part 2!

You’ve given PALS… now what? Let’s explore using the NEW Emergent Reader Electronic Lesson Plan (ELP) as a way to organize a week’s worth of differentiated small group instruction for your emergent readers in the areas of Phonological Awareness, Concept of Word in Text, Alphabet Recognition, Naming, & Letter Sounds, and Beginning Consonant Contrasts.

Step #1. Identify emergent readers.

Look at your PALS-K data and your anecdotal observations. Emergent readers are students who…

  • Are not yet automatic with letters and sounds
  • Are developing rhyme awareness, syllable & word awareness, or beginning sound awareness
  • Scribble, use letter-like symbols, random letters, or some initial consonants when writing
  • Pretend read or are not yet accurate when pointing to memorized text
  • Identify no, few, or even many words in context
  • Identify no, few, or even some words out of context

Step #2. Create differentiated small groups.

 Some of your emergent readers may be Developing COW-T and some of them may have Rudimentary COW-T. The very first page of the New Emergent Reader ELP can help you determine which COW-T stage is a better fit. Click on the “eye” to view the COW-T Stages document.










Use the COW-T Stages document to determine groups based upon those who have Developing COW-T and those who have Rudimentary COW-T. If you have any students with Firm COW-T, look into using the Beginning Reader ELP with those students.

Step #3. Use the New Emergent Reader ELP to create a week-long plan for each group.

There are four planning pages. You choose:

  1. A text, a COW-T stage, and focus letters
  2. A phonological awareness instructional activity
  3. Words for COW-T instructional activities
  4. Alphabet or beginning sounds instructional activities

Then you can print four Lesson Plan pages:

  1. Week’s Lesson Plan
  2. Personal Reader Text
  3. Word Cards
  4. Word List

There are three documents to help you differentiate instruction:

  1. COW-T Stages
  2. Personal Reader Routine
  3. Literacy Workstations











On the last page, you can print:

  1. Each individual lesson plan page
  2. All four lesson plan pages
  3. Teacher pages for selected instructional activities
  4. All supporting documents (100 pages)

Step #4. Implement your lesson plan.

Familiarize yourself with the instructional activities which you have selected for the week. As you teach, think about the feedback you give to your students. Specific feedback will help students learn more quickly.

PALS Resources

Note that you will need to open the New Emergent Reader ELP with Adobe Acrobat Reader DC. If you do not yet have it on your computer, see directions for downloading it in your PALS account. Here are all the resources on the Resources tab in your PALS account:

Plan Instruction page, Emergent Reader section:

Webinars page, Recorded Webinars section:

FAQs & How-to Documents page, Electronic Lesson Plan (ELP) section:


More questions? VKRP provides support via the online chat feature when you are in the system, via email, and via toll free 866-301-8278 ext. 1.

…from Assessments to Action!

Here are 3 steps (and a little bonus) to get you into your VKRP reports and on to using your data.

#1.  Access your VKRP reports

You can access your reports from the VKRP landing page in your PALS account.  You will find VKRP Reports under the View Results column on the right side of your screen (see below #4 – Classroom-Level Reports; #5 – Student-Level Reports).

  • The Classroom Overview is a great place to start. It shows scores for your entire classroom in math, self-regulation, social skills, and literacy. (You can sort any column by clicking on the header.)
  • Once in the Reports Dashboard you can access other reports from the menu on the left side of the Classroom Overview screen (see below). To see student level reports, you can click on individual students’ names or scores.
  • For a quick overview of the VKRP reports, visit your VKRP Teacher Manual beginning on page 23 or watch the first section of the VKRP Reports & Resources Overview 2017 video .

VKRP classroom overview report

#2.  Explore your data — Look for patterns in the data

Now it’s time to think about what you see.  On your Classroom Overview Report, you can easily see who is At or Above Benchmark (in green) or Below Benchmark (in red). Your VKRP Teacher Manual includes a section on interpreting your reports beginning on page 29.

Ask yourself…

What’s happening in the classroom?

  • Where are students doing well?
  • Where do students need support?
  • Is support needed for the whole classroom in any area?

What about individual students?

  • Do students below benchmark have anything in common?
  • Do any stand out as needing more support?
  • Why might that be?

#3.  Access VKRP Resources from your Reports

Based on your data exploration – you are likely asking yourself: What can I do to support my classroom as a whole?  What can I do for individual students?  VKRP reports include a Recommended Resources section based on your classroom’s data!

classroom overview available resources

Resources are recommended at two levels:

(1) Classroom-level; for example if 50% of more of your students were below the benchmark in Numeracy, your classroom as a whole would be recommended for Numeracy resources (see example),

(2) Student-level; for example an individual student may be recommended for self-regulation resources based on their data in that area (see example 2 below).student overview - focus resources

BONUS:  Also available at the student-level are family- friendly reports that help you walk families through how their children performed across readiness domains and what the scores mean. You can also provide them with family resources in the areas of math, self-regulation, and social skills that include fun and easy ways to support their child’s development in these domains at home. The family reports and resources are also available in Spanish. Some teachers choose to use these reports as helpful guides during conversations at parent-teacher conferences.

Now you know some steps for making the most of your VKRP data!  More questions? VKRP provides support via the online chat feature when you are in the system, via email, and via toll free 866-301-8278 ext. 1.




Building Positive Engagement by Connecting With Your Students

Your students are learning more with each passing day, and you’ve been learning too – about your students’ unique interests, abilities, and needs! The value of getting to know your students as individuals and continuing to nurture your relationships with them throughout the year cannot be overstated. Although it’s true that simply building strong relationships with each of your students will not teach them math and literacy skills, the way they feel about you will influence their confidence and engagement across learning domains. Each interaction you share also provides students with a model for how to interact with peers and other adults. It’s no surprise that students who have strong relationships with their teachers tend to experience better outcomes both academically and socially!

iStock/Steve Debenport

Building warm and supportive relationships with your students is one of the best things you can do to help ease their transition into Kindergarten, but it won’t happen overnight! Here are some tips to keep in mind as you continue to develop yours:

Show them respect.
Demonstrating respect toward your students will help them learn to do the same toward you and their peers. A few ways to do this are:

  • Acknowledging students by name and making eye contact when you address them, both individually and in large groups
  • Kneeling or sitting down and gently leaning in toward your students during interactions to show that you are actively listening and interested in what they have to say
  • Using a pleasant, calm tone of voice
  • Avoiding interrupting or talking over students

    Source: iStock/monkeybusinessimages

Encourage them to share their perspectives.
Taking time to show your students that you value who they are and what they have to say will help them strengthen their social skills and feel more comfortable expressing themselves. A few ways to do this are:

  • Letting students take the lead in conversations and activities
  • Asking them about their thoughts, feelings, ideas, opinions, and life experiences
  • Showing your interest by following up with questions to keep the discussion going

Match your efforts to the needs of individual students.
When you are struggling to make a connection with students – particularly those who are experiencing academic or behavioral difficulties – putting extra time and thought into relationship building makes a big difference. A few ways to do this are:

Source: iStock/kate_sept2004
  • Partnering with parents to gain inside knowledge about their children’s interests and experiences so that you can jumpstart your relationships with students who may be harder to reach
  • Keeping calm when things go wrong. Just as we tell our students to stop and think before they act, it’s important to remind ourselves! How you respond to students during challenges will determine whether they feel comfortable in the future with sharing openly, seeking assistance when they need it, and taking academic risks
  • Acknowledging and praising students’ strengths and positive behaviors so that your relationship isn’t solely focused on dealing with problems

When you invest in your relationships with individual students, you’ll also be making an investment toward improving the overall climate of your classroom and learning experiences for all. So, let your warmth be contagious! Establishing a precedent of trust, respect, and mutual enjoyment in your relationships with students this year will benefit them now and for many years to come.

More questions? VKRP provides support via the online chat feature when you are in the system, via email, and via toll free 866-301-8278 ext. 1.

Family Connections Build Strong Foundations!

As kindergarten teachers, you are the first contact that many families have with their child’s educational career—they are so lucky to have you! Taking advantage of the opportunity to connect with families helps them to stay positively engaged in their child’s education, which has long- term positive impacts for children.

As you reflect on children’s progress over the kindergarten year, families are eager to hear about what their children have learned in kindergarten, and what they can continue to work with them on over the summer. Your final conversations with families this year may be the most important in setting students up for success in first grade.

These meaningful conversations with families about their child’s progress over the kindergarten year can really help to motivate families to engage with their child in learning activities over the summer and help reduce the “summer slide.”

In this blog, we provide some recommendations for sharing information with families about their children’s development over the year.  Using the information that you gathered from the VKRP assessments in the fall in combination with PALS data and your on-going observations of your students throughout the school year is a great way to share with families where their child started, how they have grown and where they might still need more support.

Using PALS Data: End-of-the-Year Tips:  Part II: Sharing with Families

Put PALS scores to work for you when talking with families!

Source: iStock/Steve Debenport

Sometimes, when talking with families, we just focus on whether students met the Summed Score Benchmark. But PALS tells much more than that! We know that giving families specific information helps them to understand their child’s literacy growth and strengths, and helps to identify how they can assist their child.

Click HERE to learn how you can use students’ PALS reports to create a personalized overview for families including current skills, areas to work on, and ideas of activities they can do together at home to continue learning in the areas of literacy. 

End of Year Math Wrap-up and Summer Fun for Families

You have laid the foundation for students’ mathematics skill development. You have likely witnessed students’ moving from just learning to count at the beginning of the year to now being able to “count on” from numbers besides 1 and “skip count.” At the beginning of the year, students may have struggled with simple addition and subtraction problems, and now there are students who can use multiple different strategies to solve complex computation problems.

As you reflect on your students’ math skills at the beginning of the school year when they completed “The Party Assessment”—Where have they grown? Where do they need more support? and Are they meeting first grade beginning of the year benchmarks? This is important information to share with families so they can help their child continue to grow in their math skills over the summer.

Source: iStock/Nadezhda1906

The VKRP team has created a family-friendly handout that highlights what math skills students have been working to master in kindergarten and what they will be working on in first grade. We have also included fun math activities that will support children’s continued skill development! Click HERE to download and share with families.

Summertime Self-Regulation and Social Skills Activities

From taking turns and resolving conflicts to following directions and persisting on difficult tasks, your students have developed skills this year that will serve them well for years to come! These final weeks are an ideal time to review their scores from the fall self-regulation and social skills assessment and reflect upon whether children who had room to grow have made the gains needed for success heading into the next school year, and whether children who entered with stronger skills have remained on target.

Whether your students’ needs for this summer are to gain or maintain,

Source: iStock/wavebreakmedia

there are enormous benefits to engaging families in continuing to foster their self-regulation and social skills! The VKRP team has created a handout for you to share with families that details the social and self-regulatory skills their child has worked on this year, and how they’ll be building upon them in first grade. We’ve also included directions for some summer games and reading activities to help spark conversations and learning about emotions, friendships, and body awareness! Click HERE to download, print, and share!


Being a teacher is no easy task and the entire VKRP Team & our PALS colleagues want to take the opportunity to THANK YOU for your hard work and dedication to Virginia’s youngest citizens!

We wish you a happy, healthy, and FUN summer!

More questions? VKRP provides support via the online chat feature when you are in the system, via email, and via toll free 866-301-8278 ext. 1.

Using PALS Data: End-of-the-Year Tips

Part I: Sharing with Colleagues for First Grade Transition

Spending time analyzing, reflecting, and sharing data can feel like “one more thing” during this busy time. We have found that it is one of “the things” that can make a huge difference in supporting the successful transitions of our students.

Step 1. Reflect as a kindergarten team.

We suggest looking at Class Performance by Task reports, found on your Reports tab in the Information for Grouping section, as a kindergarten team. This report displays all task scores, with Identified students separated from students who met the Summed Score Benchmark.

Consider your own class, as well as similarities and differences across classes. This is a time, as a team, to reflect on what worked well with this class, and what areas may not have gotten as much attention or may not have resulted in as much progress for students. This type of reflection is the foundation for high quality instruction. Here are some essential questions:

  • Where are class strengths? Rhyme? Beginning Sounds? Lower-case letter recognition? Are there patterns to students who are below benchmark? Is it the same in all classes?

  • Do students who have all or most letters and sounds apply them in spelling and COW?

Step 2. Share with the First Grade Team.

Remember that in first grade, the PALS assessment shifts from a focus on foundational skills to applied reading skills. Yet, the information you have on a student’s foundation is critical as first grade teachers plan their instruction early in the year. Use your reflections as a kindergarten team to create a valuable summary for the first grade teams that includes:

  • The overall strengths and weaknesses of the class. How much do they know about letters, letter sounds, rhyme, and beginning sounds? How well are they applying what they know in spelling and COW?
  • A “watch list” – particularly those students above the Summed Score Benchmark, who did not score the maximum (25 points) on COW tasks. For these students, recommend that first grade teachers assess COW in the fall, even if these students are not required to take Part B.
  • Data from any high-performing students who were administered PALS 1-3.
PreK Teachers

In this blog we focused primarily on ways to consider your data and prepare supports to aid your children’s transition to first grade. Another transition is that of PreK to K. Many of you have PreK in your building and/or have children coming from state-funded preschool programs. These students have PALS data, and exploring their scores can help you determine how to support their transition. Therefore, you may consider asking PreK teachers to share the following reports:

  • Class Summary. Similar to PALS-K Class Summary, this report displays all of the task scores for each student. The green circle indicates that the student’s score is within the Spring Developmental Range for that particular task.
  • Individual Task Growth. Similar to PALS-K Individual Task Growth, this report displays growth graphs for each PALS-PreK task in relation to Spring Developmental Range and maximum scores.

As soon as the student is on your class list in the fall, check the Student Summary: All School Years report. If your student participated in a publicly-funded PreK program anywhere in Virginia, the data will appear on this report.

Collaboration with grade-level and vertical teams builds a more supportive learning environment for our students.

Join us next week for Part II: Sharing with Families.

More questions? VKRP provides support via the online chat feature when you are in the system, via email, and via toll free 866-301-8278 ext. 1.

Computation: Exploring the Progression of Skill Development

Mr. Williams is reading the book, Caps for Sale, about a peddler and some monkeys, to his kindergarten class. He recognizes that the book presents a great opportunity to practice addition and subtraction, as the monkeys take away and give back some of the 11 caps that the peddler is trying to sell. Today, he decides to focus on different problem types. Instead of just working on “result unknown” problems, he is going to challenge his students by also asking some “change unknown” and “start unknown” problems.

As you know, by definition, adding is combining numbers, or sets of objects, to make a larger number or a larger set of objects. Subtraction, of course, is the inverse of addition.

There are three ways that we see children’s abilities in addition and subtraction grow during the kindergarten year. These are:
• The difficulty of the problem types they are able to solve
• The complexity of the strategies that they use to solve problems
• The size of the numbers they are able to work with

First, let’s explore, the difficulty of the problem types children are able to solve:

When students are first beginning to add and subtract, they typically work with the easiest problem type called a “result unknown” problem, where we know the original number, and we know the amount that is added (or taken away), but the result is unknown. So, in our example above, Mr. Williams might ask his class the following, “If the peddler had 5 caps and the monkey gave back 6, how many would he have altogether?”

The second problem type is a “change unknown” problem where the original amount is known and the result is known but the amount to add (or subtract) is unknown. Here Mr. Williams might ask the following, “The peddler has 4 caps on his head, but he has 11 altogether. How many caps are the monkeys hiding?”

The third type is “start unknown” where the result is known and the amount to be added or subtracted is known, but the “starting” number is unknown. Mr. Williams asked his class the following, “The peddler had some caps, then the monkeys gave him 3 more. Now he has 11. How many did he start with?”

Across the year, you have seen students’ ability to solve different problem types grow. In the beginning of the year, they were able to solve only result unknown problems. But, by the end of the year, students will be able to use their growing computation skills to answer change unknown and start unknown problems. It’s important to note that students might still rely on concrete representations and manipulatives to help them out.

Secondly, let’s look at the complexity of the strategies students use to solve problems:

In this VIDEO, a teacher is working with a student on a change unknown problem. She shows him 3 bears and tells him that there are 6 altogether. She wants him to figure out how many bears are hiding in the cave. Watch how the teacher supports this student by giving him manipulatives to use and using her fingers. The student struggles with the first problem, but in the second problem, we see him use several strategies to come up with the correct answers. Across the school year you have likely seen your students increase their repertoire of problem solving strategies.

Lastly, consider the size of numbers your students are currently working with:

And now, think back to September and your students’ capacity for working with numbers. Over these many months in your classroom, your students have grown in their ability to work with larger and larger numbers which will continue as they transition into first grade.

Source: iStock/michaeljung

Click HERE to access the comprehensive VKRP Computation guide that includes even more information about children’s development of computation skills, along with strategies and activities to use to support their development.

More questions? VKRP provides support via the online chat feature when you are in the system, via email, and via toll free 866-301-8278 ext. 1.

Promoting Social Skills

Students’ interactions with their peers are important not only in their development of positive relationships, but also in their emerging attitudes toward school. A student who frequently gets in arguments with their classmates, for example, is less likely to look forward to going to school than a student who has mostly positive experiences with their peers. This week, we focus on the role that teachers can play in encouraging positive peer interactions by 1) supporting friendship skills, and 2) promoting problem-solving.

Supporting Friendship Skills

Children cannot develop positive peer relationships unless they have a basic understanding of the skills needed to relate to others. These include taking turns, waiting patiently, sharing, listening to others, and being flexible (among many others!).

One way to introduce and promote social skill development is through the use of the “Super Friend” visual cue. Using the concept and story of a superhero, students are taught the characteristics (i.e., social skills) of what it means to be a “Super Friend.” This strategy not only provides a fun and concrete introduction to friendship skills, but also serves as a quick and easy way to cue students of these behaviors when they need a reminder throughout the day. For ideas on how to integrate “Super Friend” throughout your classroom, see the Introduction to Super Friend Activity Guide.

Promoting Problem-Solving

Kindergartners are in the early stages of developing their ability to control their emotions and behaviors. So no matter how many “Super Friends” you have in your class, there are bound be some peer challenges. In addition to supporting friendship skills, it is important to help students recognize what to do when running into problems with peers.

One way to help guide students through peer conflict is by using the “Solution Kit” – a variety of problem-solving strategies in the form of visual cues. Similar to “Super Friend,” these visuals can serve as a tangible, quick, and easy way to remind students of different strategies for solving problems in-the-moment when they need them most. For ideas on how to integrate the “Solution Kit” throughout your classroom, see the Introduction to the “Solution Kit” Activity Guide.

When it comes to preparing your students for future success, social skills are as important to focus on developing as academic skills. Cooperating with others and managing disagreements are critical skills for working in groups and maintaining safe and positive school communities, and taking the time to work on these skills with your students will provide benefits now and for years to come!

More questions? VKRP provides support via the online chat feature when you are in the system, via email, and via toll free 866-301-8278 ext. 1.

Geometry: Shape Recognition and Properties

Recognizing shapes and their properties is an essential skill we use daily in our lives. In kindergarten, learning this skill is not just about identifying shapes in an isolated way, but really seeing how they connect to the physical world we live in.

Source: iStock/Jnovack7

For example, during an outside walk, students can find triangle shapes on the playground, rectangular-shaped windows on a building, and circular utility access holes.

Recognizing shapes helps children describe and organize the world around them, which is an important skill they’ll use later on in other content areas such as biology, chemistry, engineering, and so many more.


Shape recognition is all about being able to distinguish between different shapes, and associate shapes with their names. For example, when a teacher shows a student a group of shapes and asks, “which one is a hexagon”? if the student can point to the hexagon, we can gather that she recognizes that shape.

As students become more experienced at recognizing different shapes, they will begin to pay attention to, and eventually be able to identify, a shape’s properties. As you know, shape properties are the key mathematical characteristics of a shape—the number of sides, length of sides, number of angles, and size of angles. For example, the properties of a square are that it has four sides that are all the same length and that it has four right angles. No other shape has that combination of attributes.

When students start to identify shapes by attributes rather than their general appearance, it signals a big shift in their thinking. They are moving from visual reasoning – where they focus on a shape’s overall appearance, to analytic reasoning, where they’re able to see similarities between different examples of a shape. Five-year-olds have typically made this shift, and understand that shapes have sides and angles and that the number of each of these is what defines a shape. For example, if you ask a kindergartner how they know that a shape is a triangle, most will be able to tell you, “because it has three sides and three angles.”


Provide opportunities for students to compose and decompose shapes.

Composing shapes is about exploring how shapes can be fit together to create larger shapes.  Decomposing shapes is about exploring how larger shapes can be split apart into smaller shapes. Students’ understanding of how to compose and decompose shapes draws on their understanding of characteristics of shapes and how shapes are related to one another. It also provides the foundation for understanding that three dimensional shapes are composed of two dimensional shapes. Allowing children opportunities to practice composing and decomposing shapes leads to the development of this important skill.

Tangram puzzles provide a great opportunity for students to practice putting shapes together to create a picture. This requires students to rotate, combine, and change shapes, to complete the puzzles.

Source: iStock/anaken2012

In this video, an instructor shows how to make tangram puzzles from paper. Another fun way to incorporate tangram puzzles into daily routines is to cut up sandwiches during snack or lunch time into tangram puzzle pieces (encourage parents to try this activity with their children at home)! Click here to access instructions and fun tips for creating sandwich tangram puzzles. Finally, PBS Learning Media© has a fun interactive and free game, Cyberchase that digitally explores the features of the tangram. Click here to access the online game Cyberchase.

Click here to access our comprehensive guide focused on the geometry skill of Shape Recognition and Properties. In this document, you can find many more strategies and activities to support your students’ geometry skills.

More questions? VKRP provides support via the online chat feature when you are in the system, via email, and via toll free 866-301-8278 ext. 1