Teaching through games lets is a good way to hide a little learning among the giggles of playtime with your toddler. Different games can carry you and your toddler from the easiest recognition of different shapes all the way to finding shapes in the house, the yard or the neighborhood.
Before you begin to teach your toddler to recognize and name shapes, help her learn how to match them together. Add the extra dimension of increased sensory input by cutting shapes from sandpaper and from felt, then helping your child stick them together. When she can do this pretty consistently, mark the outlines of the shapes with masking tape on the floor and help her match the cutouts to the outlines. You can also make puzzles by cutting shapes out of heavy cardboard, leaving the outlines for matching.
Once your child understands what the shapes look like and is able to find the ones look the same, she’s ready to learn their names. It’s probably best to focus on a single shape at a time, adding another one when your toddler can name the first one most of the time. Use “piggyback” songs, like “Do you know what a square looks like, a square looks like, a square looks like?” sung to the tune of “Do You Know the Muffin Man?” to introduce the names. Sneak a little learning into sandbox play by burying plastic shapes and asking your child to find the square, triangle or other shape. Once she knows several shape names, place the shapes in a bag and let your toddler draw them out and name them. For a more advanced game, ask her to name the shape just by feeling it inside the bag.
Practice shapes and get the wiggles out by helping your child form different shapes with her body. She might be able to make a triangle by touching her toes, or she could use her thumbs and forefingers to make a square. Enhance fine motor skills by letting your little one make the shapes from modeling clay or from craft sticks, or give her 12-inch cardboard strips and encourage her to make shapes on the floor.
Now it’s time to help your toddler transfer what she knows about shapes to new environments. Start with a “crossing the mountain” game. Put large construction paper shapes on the floor and challenge her to cross the room (the mountain) by stepping only on the shapes you call out. Next, help her identify the shapes in real-world context by using pictures of shaped objects instead of plain cutouts. For example, you might use a picture of a beach ball or a cupcake in place of the paper circle, a picture of a window or door for a square or rectangle, or a photo of a traffic sign for a triangle.