Helping children learn about shapes and patterns

by Caroline Gee. Lots of fun and creative ways to introduce the concept of shape and pattern to young children.

Woman smiling as child plays with shapes


At the pre-school stage, many children are developing a mathematical awareness. One of the most fun and rewarding areas to delve into with your child is shape and pattern.

There are a host of rewarding games and activities that you can play with your child to help reinforce and extend their understanding, whilst having loads of fun along the way!

How CBeebies can help

Pay a visit to the Mister Maker pages on the CBeebies website and click on the Mister Maker Magic Paintbox Game. Then select the ‘Picture Stories’ option.

Here you can find simple shapes found in everyday objects such as a circle in a Big Wheel at the funfair, triangular sails on a boat, square windows in a house and rectangles on a train carriage.

You and your child can help decorate the objects by choosing from an amazing variety of art materials - ranging from chalk, paint and rollers, to shells, feathers, pasta, nuts and bolts and glitter!

Let your imaginations run wild whilst having the chance to talk about all the shapes you can spot in the stories.

How to make a magic moment

It’s time to be a shape detective! Simple shapes such as circles, squares, triangles and rectangles are all around us and you can have great fun counting up how many different shapes you can find.

Draw an outline of each shape on a piece of paper then go on a walk to see if you can spot anything the same shape. Look out for things like road signs, windows, doors and wheels on cars.

Write the name of each object you see, or draw what they look like. What shape did you see most often?

Print this article

Want more fun?

See all fun activities

Top tips

  • Encourage your child to be observant
  • and notice the shapes around them. 
  • Everything has a shape and it’s far easier to remember the name of a
  • rectangle if you can picture it as a window shape or a triangle when it’s a
  • slice of pizza!
  • Make your child’s experience of shape
  • as multi-sensory as possible.  Give them
  • the opportunity to draw shapes using a variety of materials - and make shapes
  • not just on paper but in sand, mud or in the air. Try tracing a shape on your
  • child’s back and see if they can guess what you’ve drawn. Or cut out simple
  • shapes from card and put them in a bag. 
  • Can your child identify the shapes by using their sense of touch?
  • It is immensely satisfying to create a
  • repeating pattern – children love the certainty of knowing what comes next. Start
  • with simple two-colour sequences, perhaps using potato prints or a line of Lego
  • bricks. You can also make repeating patterns with household items such as
  • cutlery, clothing and fruit!
  • Combine pattern-making with an
  • opportunity to develop fine motor skills and get your child to make a necklace
  • with coloured beads or a crazy caterpillar using different types of pasta (such
  • as macaroni and penne) that you can thread onto string.

Expert opinion

Children are naturally inquisitive and by encouraging them to look carefully at their environment we can help introduce the concept of shape and pattern from an early age.

Children learn best when the subject is relevant and immediate to them, so it is important we point out shapes and patterns as we come across them in day-to-day life.

Most important to remember is that learning begins with play.  Make learning fun - get creative and involve your child in as many shape and pattern games as you can to really cement their understanding.

Caroline Gee, Reception teacher