Shape Up! Lit + Life for the New Year

balanced literacyJanuary, the time of year when we hear “shape up!” everywhere we turn. Well, this year we are joining the chorus – literacy style.

When you come right down to it, letters and numbers are shapes. Some shapes cross all boundaries. A circle can be the letter o or a zero or just a circle. Others, like the the letter Y have one distinct recognition.

One of the first letter shapes my daughter (3) recognized was an M … as in the golden arches. Not an ideal association, but one that worked because once she recognized the shape. Using that shape recognition, we would play games looking for the M in other places, like road signs and books.

Shapes fill our world and offer limitless opportunities for creating the muscle memory that triggers recognizing letters, numbers, and ultimately words. Enjoy this collection of ideas on ways to use the shapes around you as learning opportunities.

Shape Up Ideas – Toddlers & Preschool

Learning words comes later. For now, there is plenty for toddlers and preschoolers to learn with basic shapes and (as preschoolers) letters and numbers! You might start with geometric shapes and later move to lines and curves. Both will play a part in “building” letters and numbers when they start writing.

Start simple, with just one geometric shape. You  might even have one that your child can carry so he can compare what he holds in his hand to what he sees. It might be a block, Lego, small ball, or drawing.

  • Take a shape adventure.  Ask your child to name her favorite shape. Then go for a walk in your neighborhood and look for it. With older children, you might count the number of times you see that shape.
  • Go on a shape hunt. Put on your “thinking caps,” use your best detective voice, and go off to find shapes that are hiding. A few starter ideas: pillows and soap bars (rectangles, squares), chair cushions (circles, squares), pet food and water dishes (circles).

If your kids don’t like playing shape games, that’s okay. Continue to point out the shapes you see. They’re learning in their own way.

Shape Up Ideas – Early Elementary

Kindergarten and early elementary students are still practicing their knowledge of geometric shapes. They are also starting to add number and letter shapes.  If you have magnetic letter/number set, keep it handy. Ditto any puzzles with pattern blocks [Link to product for descriptive example only. Links to Amazon].

  • Grab bag Shape of the Day. With all the magnets and/or puzzle pieces in a bag, ask your child to pull out a shape. As you go through your daily activities – driving to/from school or sports practice, reading a book together, etc – look for and call out every time you see the shape.
  • Team Shape Up. This would be a good option with multiple children. Using the grab bag idea, each team (parent + child) picks their shape of the day.
  • Shape & Sound Off. This is a fun choice for students who are beginning to learn letter sounds. The shape of the day is also the sound of the day.
    • Collect words that start with the letter sound.
    • Point out things that you see that begin with or have that letter sound.

An abbreviated version of Shape and Sound Off could be a Name Five game where each player names five words that begin or end with that letter. Then the game is done for the day.


Lit + Life is a periodic series where we highlight ways to incorporate literacy concepts into daily activities. The posts highlight learning opportunities that are natural extensions of our daily routines.

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