Why are shapes and geometry important in early math?
When we look at the world around us, we see shape—in buildings, cars, furniture, toys—our world is composed of shapes. Words describing two-dimensional shapes such as circle, triangle, rectangle, and square (squares are our favorite type of rectangle) are often familiar to children very early. We are also often familiar with words that describe three-dimensional solids such as balls, boxes, pyramids, and blocks but less familiar with their mathematical terms such as sphere, cube, triangular prism, or rectangular prism.
Why are shapes and geometry important in early math? Sub-Topics
Knowing the name of a shape is just a small piece of knowing about that shape—like knowing the name of a person is knowing just a small amount about them. It is important that children look carefully at the properties or attributes of various shapes and learn to distinguish between them. Children construct ideas about shapes by manipulating them and using them in play.
An attribute is broadly defined as a characteristic or quality belonging to a person, thing, or group. When talking to children about attributes it can be helpful to think of using our five senses to ‘find’ the attributes of things: What does it look like (eyes)? Sound like (ears)? Smell like (nose)? Taste like (mouth)? Feel like (touch)? All of our senses give us important information about the world around us. Developing children’s ability to identify and define attributes is an important mathematical habit of mind.
Putting together and taking apart shapes in an important skill on its own, but also as it relates to later mathematics such as part-whole relationships, fractions, area, volume, as well as engineering and design. Explorations with how shapes can be put together to make new shapes and different designs helps children see the world as made up of shapes and prepares them for later mathematical ideas.