Shape Games For Toddlers

Lewis has been pretty interested in both colors and shapes for a while now, which brings out the preschool teacher in me and the desire to create “games” to help him work on these interests and reinforce his learning of these concepts.

He is able to point to many shapes when asked to find them although doesn’t really have any shape words yet in his vocabulary. If asked what a star is though he makes twinkly hand motions like you would for the song “twinkle twinkle little star.” He can point to many colors as well and has also begun saying a few color words, although rather unclearly and it is hard to type an approximation of his words. Blue is “broo” or “boo” or something similar, green is something close to “dzzz” but not quite that, and orange is some kind of sound in his throat. I guess what is important is that he uses these “words” consistently, so it is all part of his building language.

I’ve made a few games for him to work on these concepts, some quick and impromptu like sorting colored pom-poms onto colored pieces of paper (which he was completely uninterested in) and some with a little more preparation and planning.

The first one I want to share was something I actually made way back in November. We traveled out to spend most of a week at my Aunt and Uncle’s house for Thanksgiving, and before going I decided I wanted some “new” toys/games to help keep Lewis occupied in a new place, but they needed to be things that were easy to pack. I’ve seen a lot of awesome examples of “busy books” for young kids, and also file folder games for older kids, so I decided to basically combine these concepts and make some file folder games for Lewis. I made one with a farm scene and some farm animal cut-outs, one with roads drawn on it and some pictures of cars to drive around, and one with shape matching.

Chris had fun playing with the animals on the farm scene.

Chris had fun playing with the animals on the farm scene.

Alright, that photo has nothing to do with the shape games, but it amuses me since it looks like Chris is sitting there playing by himself. You can see little tip of Lewis’ yellow sock toes at the edge of the photo, standing there thinking about whether he wants to join in with Daddy or just go climb up the staircase again.

Shape matching.

Shape matching.

For the shape game I cut some shapes out of sheets of craft foam, then traced them onto the file folder and colored them in to match. (The rectangle I had to paint with white paint since coloring with white on a manila folder is pretty much useless.) This can be used for independent play, or in a more guided way with me asking Lewis to find/match specific shapes. I made the shapes each a different color as well both to help differentiate them more and make matching a bit easier and also to help reinforce color names at the same time as working on shapes. “Can you find where this blue triangle matches?”, “Which one is the green circle?”, etc. I wrote the shape names by each even though he is nowhere near being able to read (he is just now beginning to show a tiny bit of interest in letters) because it is important for young kids to see print in the environment and be familiar with seeing words and letters, even if they have no idea what they are at first. Even a few months after I made it, this game can still keep Lewis busy for 5 or 10 minutes sometimes when I pull it out, which is a long time in our world!

The second shape game that I came up with is more recent and it is a much more physical game. Gross-motor shape practice.

For Christmas one of Lewis’ aunts gave him a small package of washi tapes (because all toddlers love tape and sticky things!) and I realized one day that these tapes would be great for making patterns or shapes on the floor. I tried it first on the carpets but it didn’t stick very well, so we moved our game in to the kitchen floor. If you don’t have colorful washi tape masking tape works just as well, with the added bonus of actually sticking on carpeted areas.

Lewis finding the triangle.

Lewis finding the triangle.

I stuck mostly with straight-sided shapes since they are easier to create with tape, although I did get brave and make a heart. I tried to make the shapes pretty big and well spaced out because I wanted to the game to involve some gross-muscle movement.

"Can you stomp on the rectangle?"

“Can you stomp on the rectangle?”

I started off by just showing him each shape I had made and naming it, and having him help me identify them. Most of these shapes he knows pretty well, but “diamond” is one we haven’t practiced much and he tends to mix up “triangle” and “rectangle.”

Once we had identified all the shapes, I moved on to the more fun part of the game. I started asking him to do things like “jump on the heart”, “bang on the square”, “sing on the star”, etc. I basically just went with whatever random action came to mind and picked a shape for him to do that on. He loved it! After we played for a bit and had done actions on each shape a few times, I joined in with him. “Look, I am tiptoeing on the triangle!”, “Let’s both dance on the rectangle!” He loved seeing Mommy join in and get playing too.

"Where is that square?"

“Where is that square?”

After a while we added another element by bringing in our shape cut-outs (plus a couple extra that I quickly cut from some construction paper) and doing some shape matching. He is very good at matching and often seems to notice the similarities between things, but he still had fun with this.

We did this activity about a month ago and it is obvious that he enjoyed it and it made an impression on him because he has requested it again since then, bringing both his tapes and his shape cut-outs in to the kitchen floor to show me that we should play with them there.

The tapes held up quite well on the floor and we were able to leave them there 2 or 3 days before the edges started peeling. Then we had fun together pulling them up from the floor – another great way to help develop those little toddler muscles!

Mess-Free Painting With Water

I love doing art projects with Lewis and usually don’t mind the mess, but there are some day when I’d rather have something quick and easy with minimal clean-up. I’ve seen the idea to paint with water outside before but it is much too cold for outdoor water play now. I’ve thought a bit about how to convert this to an indoor activity, but had yet to come up with any brilliant ideas. Well, I recently came across this idea for “Paper Towel Artwork” on the blog Fun & Engaging Activities for Toddlers. (Unfortunately it seems this blog is no longer being updated, but looking through the archives I did find several good ideas for activities to try with Lewis.)


Getting started. Dipping his paintbrush in the water.

Basically the idea behind the paper towel artwork is to color on a paper towel with markers and then give your child water and a paintbrush. When they “paint” the water onto the paper towel the colors all bleed making a neat effect. Easy set up, minimal mess, easy clean up – sounds good to me!

I started by getting out the markers and a few sheets of paper towel. I sat on the floor with it with our big pad of drawing paper since I knew Lewis would be interested in the markers too. He is getting better about knowing to color only on the paper, not put crayons/markers in his mouth, etc. I did one sheet with shapes, one with some flowers, and one with his name and some little patterns. Nothing fancy, just things that would catch his attention and a variety of colors to look pretty with the water. A few times he joined in by grabbing the markers and adding his own marks to the paper towels. When he’s a bit older he’ll be able to do the whole activity himself, drawing his own pictures and then “painting” over them with the water.


We actually did the coloring a few days before the painting part, so I’m not sure if he remembered coloring on the paper towels with me by the time I got them out again to paint on. The cup holder on his highchair tray worked perfectly for pouring a little water into, since he wasn’t able to tip or spill it. You could also just put some water in a little dish.

He doesn’t recognize his name or letters yet, but I like to give him some exposure to them to start getting his name looking familiar to him. As he painted I talked to him about what he was painting on. “You’re painting on the letter “I”. It is purple. Now you put some water on the squares at the bottom. Look how the color bleeds on the paper towel.”

After painting on his name he chose the sheet with the shapes. He has been very interested in shapes recently, and is starting to recognize some of the “basic” shapes by name.

Pointing to the star, his favorite shape.

Pointing to the star, his favorite shape.

The shape sheet actually turned into a bit of a learning activity. I would ask him if he could find a shape, and then he would paint on that shape with the water. He correctly found star, square, circle, and heart but wasn’t sure about the diamond. This could be a fun way to practice numbers, letters or even sight-words with an older child. Similar to activities I’ve seen where you write letters or words with chalk outside and then have them spray them with a spray bottle as you name each one.

"Can you find the red circle?"

“Can you find the red circle?”

He was starting to lose interest by the time we got to the flower sheet, but I decided to give it a go anyway since he wasn’t asking to get down yet.

You can see some of his drawing contribution across the top of the flowers.

You can see some of his drawing contribution across the top of the flowers.

He decided to try something new with this sheet and dipped his fingers in the water instead of the brush. He tried painting some of the water on with his fingers but also thought it was good to just lick the water off his fingers. I gave him his sippy with some water but he continued to want to dip his fingers into the water. Then he noticed the cup I had for putting more water onto his tray and asked for that. He helped pour the rest of the water onto his paper, then was mad that it was all gone.

"I'm upset because Mommy won't get me more water to make a big mess with."

“I’m upset because Mommy won’t get me more water to make a big mess with.”

He seemed to have fun painting with the water, although it was hard to tell how much he was really noticing/understanding that the water was making the colors spread. We saved the first two pictures and let them dry, then I hung them on the fridge. The flower picture got ripped and went into the trash.

The next day he found a paintbrush and was walking around with it. He brought it in the kitchen, took the pictures off the fridge, and pretended to “paint” on them for a little while with the dry brush. We will definitely be re-visiting this activity!