Exploring shape; categorizing shapes

The children have been exploring shape. I begin this session by asking the children what a shape is. They call out their own theories and add to and challenge each other’s theories.

  • Ryan: It’s lines
  • Nia: Not only lines, because it’s curves too.
  • Hal: Yes, lines and curvey shapes
  • Nikhil: Like circle because circle is shape
  • Trenton: But they is lines, straight ones and curve one is all lines
  • Rika: Yes because Mr Welk say that
  • Trenton: But shape is in the lines
  • Olivia: When the lines come together and cross over then it makes a shape inside.

The children like Olivia’s definition. I write the definition up on chart paper and display it so that we can revisit it in future sessions.

The children go off to explore the shape materials and continue their own inquiries. I decide to leave the inquiry open, but suggest to the children that they might like to explore ways of sorting the shapes. As I expect, some children prefer to follow their own ideas while others are interested in pursuing my suggestion and set to work sorting and categorizing.

At the end of the session, we gather on the carpet and children share their discoveries. It seems that after a varied start, many children have ended up sorting shapes. As the children explain what they did, a pattern emerges:

  • Maya: I know this sort! It’s with how many sides
  • Nia: Yes, I guessed that too. I knowed it is three and four and six (sides)
  • Olivia: That’s just what we did! That’s how we sorted our shapes too!

I ask the children what we could name the sets. Ryan suggests that we call the sets threesters, foursters, fivesters etc, according to the number of sides. “That’s great idea!” says Hal and the other children agree.

I decide that this is a good time to introduce the children to Greek and Latin prefixes. To start with we focus on tri and quad. We have come up with lists of words that have these prefixes


quad bike

Perhaps you can think of some more? Over the next weeks, we shall continue with our inquiry into sorting and categorizing shapes, and into shape names. Please join in at home!

Exploring shape; the beginning

We have begun a collaborative inquiry into shape. The central idea is that the paths and boundaries of natural space can be described by shape, which helps us to understand and explain our world. We want the children to develop their understanding that shapes have characteristics that can be described and compared, and to begin to develop a common language to describe paths, boundaries and shapes in their immediate environment.

I begin by explaining that we are going to start a new math inquiry; an inquiry into shape. The children respond enthusiastically, and begin to share the wealth of knowledge that they bring to the inquiry:

  • That’s a great idea! I know lots about shape!
  • Me too, because I have shapes in my home, so many.
  • Diamond is a shape.
  • And there is even shapes in this class room.
  • And square and rectangle and egg is shape.
  • But not egg.
  • Yes, because my mummy tell me!
  • I can do all different shapes
  • I am a shape expert.
  • And me, I am a shape expert
  • Yes, we can all be shape experts!

I am delighted that the children are so willing to leap on board the shape inquiry; I constantly struggle to find a balance between child initiated inquiries, driven by the children’s interests and passions, and my inquiries which are driven by curriculum. I am pleased that, once again, we have found overlap.

I am interested to find out more about what the children know already. I set out several tubs containing a variety of 2D and 3D shapes, including logi-blocks, power blocks, pattern blocks, clixi, lego and mini wooden building blocks. I ask the children to explore the materials in any way they like. I do not set parameters or guide-lines, but simply remind the children that we are engaging in a shape inquiry. I observe the children and take notes as they go about their inquiry.

At the end of the session, we come together on the carpet and I ask the children to share their inquiries. Some children have combined shapes to make pictures. Others have combined shapes to make new shapes. Yet others have sorted and categorized the shapes. As the children share their thinking, I listen carefully and gain an insight into both the understandings of individual children and the collective understanding of the group. This will inform my planning for the next session.