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.

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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.

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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.

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